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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-one, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-two.
It might be for the convenience of the House, if you, Mr. Speaker, and the House agree, for us to discuss this Motion together with the two other Motions in my name, the object of which is to continue certain Defence Regulations and enactments. That would have two advantages. It would allow me to explain the pattern of the legislation which comes up for renewal and it would leave the House free to divide on each of the Motions should it so desire. It would, of course, be without prejudice to any Amendments which may be moved.
I think it would certainly meet the convenience of this side of the House and, I believe, of the House generally if we could have, on the submission of the first Motion, a general discussion that would cover all three on the understanding that there would be no general discussion on the second and third, but that if necessary a Division could be claimed and that a discussion could take place on such Amendments as you, Mr. Speaker, might select to the second Motion. That would follow the precedent set on 23rd October, 1950, when similar Motions were submitted and would, I believe, enable us to avoid repetition, and, I am afraid, getting considerably out of order if we tried to separate what we wanted to say on the three Motions.
I am agreement to following the course suggested by the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). It means that we shall have a general debate on the three Motions on the understanding that the debate is not repeated when the individual Motions come up. It might be for the convenience of the House if I say now that I do not select the Amendment to the first Motion standing in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). It amounts simply to a direct negative, and I find that last year a similar Amendment was disallowed by my predecessor on that occasion. When we come to the other Motions, I propose to call in turn the Amendments on the Order Paper.
I am sure the whole House is grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for accepting the suggestion that has been made and for laying down this plan for our debate.
Before I deal with the legislation covered by these three Motions, may I shortly remind the House of what is the procedure on the first part of which we are engaged today. The procedure is for Addresses to be presented by both Houses of Parliament to His Majesty in the terms of the Motions on the Order Paper. When this is done, Orders in Council are made, and one of these— that made under Section 8 of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, providing for the continuance in force of that Act—has to be laid before Parliament after it is made.
The legislation covered by these Motions falls into three parts. The first I can describe generally—and the House will not hold me to more than a general description—as economic and financial powers. They come under the Supplies and. Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, and the Defence Regulations kept in force by that Act. Again, without giving a complete coverage of the Regulations—they cover such matters as shipping, land, industry, price control, labour, safety, welfare, housing, and general and ancillary regulations for putting these into force.
The second are the Defence Regulations kept in force by the Emergency Laws (Transitional Powers) Act, 1946; the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1947; and the Emergency Laws Continuance Order of last year. These are the Regulations set out in the Schedule to which there are Amendments on the Order Paper and to which again reference has been made.
The third group are other emergency enactments continued by Sections 3, 6 and 9 of the Emergency Laws (Transitional Powers) Act, 1946. They keep alive emergency Acts relating to the marketing of wheat. land drainage, the beet sugar industry, the administration of oaths and the taking of affidavits by officers of the Armed Forces and the defraying out of capital of management expenses of settled land and land held on trust and for sale. That is a subject of very limited interest to hon. Members of this House.
That being the body of legislation we have to cover, may I deal shortly with the purposes for which this legislation is required? These purposes have a wide variety. One is the purpose of defence— for the purpose of the re-armament programme and the prosecuting of hostilities in Korea. The second is for economic purposes. The third point, which must not be forgotten, is that other parts of this legislation deal with war-time or immediately post-war problems which in their nature take a long time to resolve. In the fourth category there are a few Regulations which may need to be replaced by permanent legislation.
May I make this general remark about this body of legislation? The empowering of the Executive to make Regulations which in turn beget Orders, licences and directions, was the method by which a Parliamentary democracy organised itself for war, and as its use has been prolonged until six years after the war, a great deal of our economy is now affected by this legislative method, and no one could deny that serious consequences would follow if such legislation were allowed to lapse.
If I may, I will give just one or two examples which show how deeply our economy and the structure of the community is affected by the body of this legislation. In the case of defence, the Ministry of Transport would lose their control over shipping which is essential as long as hostilities continue in Korea and large parts of His Majesty's Forces are maintained overseas. The provision and extension of aerodromes and the provision of anti-aircraft gun sites, new factories and projected oil storage would be seriously retarded. The holding of manœuvres under the present security conditions would cease to be possible and factories engaged in essential work would have to be closed.
In the field of economics, the following important matters are now affected by subsidiary legislation: food and fuel rationing, the control of raw materials, utility clothing schemes, the control of building materials, the control of building operations, and a large part of the price control system. There are considerable parts of the financial controls which are similarly affected, and parts of the home production of food and certain coal mining operations. Therefore, in the economic field subsidiary legislation affects an enormous part of our economy and has to be considered in that light.
I referred to enactments and regulations relating to war-time and immediately post- war problems the solution of which takes time. I give the House only two examples. One is the question of the housing of agricultural workers. Another is the trading with the enemy procedure, which of course takes a long time to wind up because of the various problems that arise.
I will, if I may, give an example of an ancillary Regulation which is closely connected with an obvious field of inquiry. Regulation 20AB amends in certain respects the National Registration Act, 1939. We shall wish to consider the future of national registration and the continued use of identity cards, and we may decide to repeal the Act. But national registration depends upon the Act and not on the Regulation, and so long as the Act remains in force it would only cause confusion to drop the Regulation and thus reverse minor amendments which have been considered improvements in the Act. That, I hope, gives the House, in as short terms as I could find, a general view of the legislation and its effect on our economy. I pass to the case of renewal—
I hope I am not anticipating something which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was about to say. I was wondering whether what he said applies to such a Regulation as 42CA relating to unlawful gaming parties. He will remember that last year before, as the Prime Minister puts it, the point of view had changed, he made a very eloquent and convincing speech—which I was glad to support—against applying this power of delegated legislation to give police officers in non-wartime circumstances a power which the ordinary law would not have given them.
I do not think —if I may be modest—that the hon. Member has in mind a speech of mine. I did not speak on that Regulation. I admit his point, of course. That came under a category which I have mentioned, namely, those Regulations which we have to consider whether to replace by permanent legislation. The hon. Member will remember that I dealt with that category. If my recollection is right, that is one of the matters covered by Amendments in the names of hon. Friends of the hon. Gentleman. Therefore, I anticipated there would be discussion on the Amendments and I did not go into detail. I hope the hon. Member thinks that is reasonable.
I come now to the case for renewal, and it is a perfectly short and blunt case. In the short time since we have come into office, it has been impossible for the Government to examine the situation in detail and to go through all these Regulations. We cannot imagine, and we do not believe, that each and every one of these enactments and Regulations should be continued indefinitely or even continued for a year. But the need to continue some of them is obvious. Therefore, we ask the House of Commons to maintain the status quo for a time by renewing virtually the whole of this body of legislation. We will then carefully review the whole of this legislation and also other powers which are not due to expire in December.
We shall conduct the review with four possibilities in mind. First, we may be able in the course of the present Session to propose that some of these powers should be abolished. Secondly, we may propose that some should be embodied in legislation requiring annual renewal by Parliament. This will be appropriate where powers are needed for some time ahead but where Parliament should have the opportunity to discuss them in detail and examine the need for them at annual intervals.
Thirdly, we believe that it will turn out that a few of the enactments concerned should be embodied in permanent legislation. For example, the probabilities which appear to me are the arrangements for the marketing of bacon, livestock, meat and wheat. Fourthly, we think that some regulations may be continued where powers are required for a time to complete the winding up of war-time activities or to provide for the emergency needs of the defence programme.
We now come to the period of extension. We are asking Parliament to pray for the renewal of the enactments and Regulations for one year. In some cases the period is laid down by Statute. In other cases the period could be shorter because the relative enactments provide for renewal for periods "not exceeding one year," but in our view it is clearly sensible to adopt the same period of renewal in all cases. Nothing in the present proposals binds the Government to a fixed period of continuance.
Regulations can be revoked at any time, and decisions reached during our review can be put into operation as soon as they are reached. The revocation of enactments in the sense of Acts of Parliament requires legislation, but legislation will almost certainly be needed sooner or later to deal with the matters covered by the Acts now being reviewed and the renewal for 12 months does not, therefore, prejudice any course on which we may decide as a result of the review.
Parliament is not being asked to renew absolutely everything which was renewed last year. Certain things are being allowed to lapse, such as Regulation 61, which relates to trespass on allotments and other agricultural land, and Regulation 68CA which relates to a small part of the conversion of housing accommodation for non-residential purposes, which we believe is now covered by the relevant Planning Act.
I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is able to say something further about that Regulation. Before the House comes to a decision, it is important that we should know something more of the Government's view about the matter.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have looked into this carefully. I have consulted my right hon. Friends the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Scotland and they believe that the Planning Act, 1947, gives them an adequate power of control to enable them to prevent conversions which will conflict with the public interest. They have considered it very fully and have formed that opinion. It was only after having come to that view that we decided to dispense with the Regulation. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the point.
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate that up to now local authorities who might not be planning authorities have had certain powers in this respect which were, I know, welcomed by very many authorities. It should be clearly understood that they will lose these powers if the Regulation is allowed to lapse.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that one does one's best to cover points from other Departments. I know that both of my right hon. Friends looked into this, and they did not think that there would be any deleterious effect, and they bad very much in mind the object about which the hon. Member has spoken. I assure him that, if it is found to have any adverse effect, we shall be only too glad to look at it again. The power still remains to make the Regulation if any case for it were made. [Interruption.] Does the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) wish to pursue the matter, or have I interrupted a private conversation?
I want to be quite sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right when he says that, if he revokes the Regulation, he still has power to renew it if it is required.
I do not think there can be any doubt that we have the power, because the statutory power is being continued and the Regulation could be made again. We are speaking about Regulation 68CA, and there would be no difficulty about renewing it.
My hon. Friend has not appreciated the Regulation with which we are dealing. We are dealing with Defence Regulation 68CA, which relates to restriction on the conversion of housing accommodation for non-residential purposes. There is no doubt that the Regulation could be made again. It will be in force until 10th December, and that gives us a period of a month to consider whether there is anything in what I may describe as the further fears which have just been expressed. I at once give the right hon. Gentleman opposite the assurance that, if it is found that there is anything in the further fears, it will be possible to take action. We do not think there will be anything at the moment, but we are very anxious in these matters to consider any reasonable suggestion made in any part of the House. That is the spirit in which I am approaching the matter.
I agree with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman now seems to be saying. If before 10th December the Regulation is not continued then after 10th December there will be no power to make it again?
I apologise to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for trying to argue a legal point with him. As I understand it, up to 10th December the Regulation is being continued. If it is dropped before 10th December, there will be no power after 10th December, except by a new Act of Parliament, to re-enact the Regulation I believe that is the exact position.
I think the position is—I hope we have agreement upon it—that up to 10th December we can continue the Regulation, but, if we do not decide on the next course of action before 10th December, we should then be in difficulties. I am sorry if I did not make it clear at the beginning. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has approached the matter.
Surely a Defence Regulation can be made whenever His Majesty is so advised. The original Act still remains, and under the original Act we could re-make the Regulation.
At any rate, I think we have a practical way of dealing with this. If the House will permit me, I should like to proceed, but I say with sincerity, and not merely from the Parliamentary point of view, that I welcome any suggestions of that kind and I shall do the best I can to answer them in my speech, because I am very anxious to make this a practical approach to our problems.
There are also Regulations which are being revoked in part which are of a minor character—Regulation 54B, which deals with the destruction of pests, for instance. We think that can go following the coming into force of the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act. Another Regulation being revoked is part of Defence Regulation 68, which relates to timber, and that is by reason of the Forestry Act, 1950; and another is part of Defence Regulation 61, which is the one I think my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), had in mind, which provided specially high penalties for trespass on allotments, and that is because the penalties provided by the Allotments Act are now considered adequate. Another is part of Regulation 33, relating to midwives in Scotland, because the problem dealt with by the Regulation does not arise in Scotland today.
I think the House will appreciate that the fact that these powers are being allowed to go does not invalidate the general argument that we have had no time to review the emergency legislation as a whole. The powers which are being allowed to lapse are those which seem to us manifestly, and without scrutiny, to be no longer needed. I may say that the Defence Regulations and all the other emergency enactments are subject to continuous review. This is a suitable time to revoke those which, with the passage of time and the introduction of new legislation, have become otiose, and we shall go forward as quickly as possible with the examination of those which remain.
In view of your announcement, Mr. Speaker, that the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), would not be called, I should like to say a few words about Parliamentary control, again simply from the point of view of inviting from all quarters of the House suggestions on what I consider is one of the most difficult and interesting points in modern Parliamentary practice.
I do not think it would be out of order if I reminded the House, as far as I can, of what powers of control exist at present. The opportunities are, of course, first what we call a Prayer—that is a negative Resolution to annul which has to be put down within a period and which is taken after the Government business of the day; secondly, there are Parliamentary Questions; thirdly, there is the raising of matters on the Adjournment; fourthly, there is the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech; and fifthly, there are opportunities like today when we are dealing with renewal.
Relating to that, there is the problem by what form of Resolution should our subsidiary legislative powers be put into force? I have dealt with the negative Resolution, with which we are most familiar. There are two other forms of Resolution—what is known as the superior affirmative Resolution, laying a draft and then moving a Resolution on that, and there is also the simple affirmative Resolution, as well as the negative Resolution to which I have referred.
The third sphere of control is the Committee on Statutory Instruments, and I remind the House of certain matters which are covered by their terms of reference, although most hon. Members are familiar with their operation during the last few years. These are the things which exist and, according to the side of the House on which one sits, their deficiencies as a form of control become more and more apparent. I think that is a fair way of putting the position. It is difficult to exercise control through them, although when I listed them, as I did, one no doubt recognised that there are probably more opportunities of exercising control than hon. Members had recalled at once.
Against that is the great difficulty, as the Session develops and gets busier, in the period between January and July, of giving Parliamentary time for this sphere of our work. That is not a problem which is special to any particular Government. There is a matter of principle in it as to how far hon. Members think Parliament should devote itself to what I might call great issues and how far to examining matters, which, although secondary in importance, may touch very closely the lives of their constituents.
That is a most difficult point, especially at a time when both international and national affairs present so many problems. I have said that because I am very anxious that, amidst all the heat and differences which have existed, do exist and will continue to exist between us, the skill and attention of all parts of the House should be devoted to this problem. I give my assurance—not simply the assurance of the Government but, for what it is worth, in addition, my personal assurance as one who has always been very interested in this problem—that I shall be very glad to hear any suggestions from those who are interested, whether they care to make them in debate or to send them to me or to communicate them by word of mouth. I did not like to pass the hon. Gentleman's Amendment without stating the problem again, very shortly, and stating my own interest in it and my great readiness to receive suggestions from him or from any other hon. Member.
I hope I have not trespassed on the patience of the House. I have tried to explain the problem and to explain quite frankly and without any frills the difficulty with which we are faced, having been in office for only a fortnight. I can only assure the House through you, Mr. Speaker, that we will give this matter immediate and careful attention and will try to approach it in the spirit of those seeking a solution to a difficulty which confronts the House as a whole and which the House as a whole desires to solve.
I am quite sure the House will have welcomed the manner in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has put forward his case for this Motion. I do not think it is very different from that which, in other circumstances, would have been the case put forward by whoever was able to tear himself from Welsh affairs to look after the duties of the Home Office.
There are one or two things which I think it necessary to say. I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has continued the practice of publishing the White Paper setting out in detail what it is proposed to do. so that the somewhat dry and narrow Motions can be clearly understood; and I hope that that practice will be continued whenever this kind of renewal has to be asked for.
I also agree with him on the four divisions into which these various Orders will ultimately fall. I imagine that the main difference between the two sides of the House would possibly be about the date at which one may expect finality with regard to such grouping of the various Regulations and Orders and the heads under which they may come; but I think four such heads undoubtedly exist, and it will be a matter of difference how the various matters shall be allocated between them.
I should like to start by dealing with the last points made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman with regard to the issue raised by the Amendment which appears on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). It may be within the recollection of some Members of the House that we used to discuss this question of the utility of the negative form of procedure in the early hours of the morning on several occasions earlier this year, and I think I then made it clear that I myself, although then sitting on that side of the House, had the misgivings which the right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to think were engendered only when one was sitting on this side of the House.
In the interventions I then had to make on occasions to let some of my hon. Friends get one night out of two in bed, I always indicated that I did have misgivings with regard to that, and I am quite certain that the House will be faced with the decision, which it will have to take from time to time on the merits of particular cases, as to how far this delegated legislation can be kept within adequate Parliamentary control, and whether, in some of the long and complicated Orders which will have to be raised, no matter who happens to be in the Government, it is fair to throw such things at the House and say, "Take it or leave it," and I hope that there will be a continuation of conversations with regard to that particular matter.
I am bound to say that I think the power to amend after an Order has been made will always give considerable administrative difficulties, for after all, it is somewhat difficult now. An Order is made, and from the moment it is made it is valid, even if the House prays against it, until the time at which the Prayer takes place. I am not quite sure—I am not sufficient of a lawyer to be dogmatic on this point, and I am always supicious of lawyers themselves when they are exceedingly dogmatic—whether it then ceases to be valid when the House prays and agrees upon the Prayer or when His Majesty in fact says the Order shall be annulled.
I have told the hon. Member before that he has a way of reminding me, when I listen to him, of what Hume said of Macaulay—"I wish I could be as certain of anything as Macaulay is of everything." I will call legal advice, and if it differs I will then refer it to the hon. Member as an impartial arbitrator.
It is important that the House, as it gains experience of this type of delegated legislation, should make up its mind what steps it is going to take to secure that there shall be adequate Parliamentary control over the subject matter, and I sincerely hope that we may be able, in the course of this Parliament, to deal with that matter. As far as my hon. and right hon. Friends are concerned in the carrying forward of the various Regulations and Orders that we are continuing today, we shall hope to be not less vigilant than hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were, but we do not intend to use this very powerful Parliamentary weapon in the way in which it was used for a few weeks under the inspiration of the "Banstead Harriers."
The right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues on the Front Bench will expect that from time to time certain Motions will be placed on the Order Paper that may be of an exploratory nature in order to get an adequate explanation of some Orders that are not always too plain on the face of them. When an explanation has been made, if it is reasonably satisfactory, it may be assumed that there will be no Division on that. However, there may be others to which we shall have to take fundamental objection, and on which we shall expect that it will be necessary to divide the House.
Let me also remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman while I am dealing with this part of the subject that, of course, there were occasions in the last Parliament and in the Parliament preceding it when, on very important and lengthy Orders, the discussion took place before the normal hour of Adjournment. I assume that, if the Government find it necessary to bring in such Orders, that practice will be continued, and the necessary arrangement made through the usual channels.
I think that that deals with that side of the subject, and I want now to deal with the general case for the passage of these Motions tonight. I am not certain that there is not in some quarters of the House d belief that at some unspecified date in the future we are going to get back to a Victorian normality with regard to this type of affair.
It is the view of my hon. Friends on this side of the House that any normality we ultimately reach will be one to which we go forward and not one to which we go back, and we have to face the fact that this type of legislation is required for dealing with a world that is entirely different from the Victorian world into which I was born but about which the noble Lord knows only by hearsay.
We have to face up to the fact that the days when this country received, in return for its overseas investments, vast quantities of food and raw materials have gone, and that for the future, if we are to keep 50 million people, or anything like that number, alive and reasonably prosperous in this island, we shall have to face very different conditions from those that prevailed at the beginning of this century. It is the need which that situation creates which will make it essential for any Government, no matter what its political complexion may be, to keep in existence a considerable number of the powers that we are asked to renew today.
It will be necessary to ensure that our incoming trade shall be drawn from the most suitable quarters and that our outgoing trade shall be directed towards the most suitable quarters, and that the internal distribution of supplies that can be made available, whether they be of food or of raw materials, are controlled so that they will not be dissipated or flow surreptitiously into channels which will not serve the over-riding national interests.
There is no doubt that, for the moment at any rate, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is reconciled to that point of view. No matter whether the reconciliation has been easy or not, he contemplates the use of this type of power to at least as great an extent as, if not a greater extent than, anything that we have seen during the last six years. We believe it is an illusion, in the altered circumstances of the world, to think that in a year or two, or in four or five years, the need for this type of legislation will pass, and we shall therefore very carefully scrutinise all the proposals that may be made to abolish some of these controls. Some, I have no doubt, can disappear, but I am quite certain that any large holocaust of them is impossible, and we think it only right now to make that position quite clear.
I did notice a pronouncement in another place last night by a Minister that he never made a promise; that he only said the people would like something, and he therefore thought that anybody who liked what he would like and voted for his likes had not been misled. Of course, nobody likes controls—at least, controls that affect themselves, although they sometimes view with some complacency controls which affects somebody else adversely but which slightly benefit them or leave them perhaps untouched. But the kind of controls that are being maintained today by these Motions will inflict very considerable hardship on certain people, and can only be justified on the ground that they are essential for national recovery and in the national interest.
After all, we pledged ourselves to this system of controls at a time when they were not as likely to be popular, as they will be in the near future when some people in the country face the very harsh realities of the situation for the first time. We announced our belief in this system before the 1945 Election, and we do not think that it can be abandoned in the altered circumstances of the nation, in our position now as a debtor nation—a circumstance which has been forced on us by our action in two great wars, in which alone of the great nations of the world we were in from the first day to the last on both occasions. That is a strain which no other economy has had to undertake, and it places us in an entirely different category from any other of the great nations which now have to face the problems of the modern world.
We ask the House to realise that it is quite futile to imagine that in a couple of years' time anything that can be done will have relieved us of the over-riding difficulties which confront us, and which must remain with us until there has been a very considerable re-grouping of the world's financial and economic plans.
Now I turn to the question of price controls. In the last Parliament there were put down some Prayers on maximum prices control Orders which were entirely hypocritical, and which were brought forward and abandoned—at any time after the trains had ceased to run—by the hon. Members who moved and supported them, and undoubtedly hopes were raised in people's minds by that process that the return of a Conservative Government would mean that that kind of control would end. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, of course, says today that he has not had time to look round and make up his mind which they will drop.
I make this prophecy; that within the next few months there will be at least as many Orders made with regard to price control as were made in any similar number of months during which the party to which I have the honour to belong was in office. We shall examine these Orders to make quite sure that they are justified. But we are quite certain of this, that unless such Orders are made many of the essentials of life will reach prices that will place them quite outside the range of the ordinary people of our country.
There is one last reason why we must continue this form of control. Re-armament has increased the need for planning our economy and, no matter what the scale of our re-armament may be, it will mean the diversion into the hungry maw of re-armament preparation of a good many things which I am quite sure all of us would rather see devoted to making life more comfortable for our fellow citizens. If the people of this country are to be kept determined on the issue of re-armament, I am quite certain that they will have to be assured that the best possible use is made of all the goods that come into the country, and that re-armament, while it gets its fair share, will not be allowed to get anything that could more justifiably be placed at the disposal of the ordinary citizens.
I am quite certain that the Government will agree with me that unless people can feel that they are being safeguarded against the diversion of goods that they ought to have into unnecessary extravagance and waste in re-armament, the Government will find the task of carrying on re-armament becoming progressively more difficult. The more one believes that it is necessary for this country to be strong and well armed, the more essential is it to assure people that substantial justice in this matter will be done.
I do not complain that right hon. and hon. Members opposite in their Election addresses and their speeches held out high hopes of being able to remove controls. I do not complain. After all, if they had not said that, what could they have said? But last night it was said by the Leader-of the House—I am glad to see he has now arrived— that we were rather dazed. I cannot help feeling sometimes, when I listen to hon. Members opposite speaking on this issue, that they are rather amazed to find themselves where they are, and that if they had really thought that they would have to face the responsibilities of office, they would not so lightly have said some of the things they did say.
We support these Motions. We believe that they are essential. We shall watch the proposals that are made to amend these schemes from time to time. We ourselves abolished a considerable number of Regulations and Orders during our period of office, and they were continually under review. We shall watch them in order to make certain that no Order or Regulation which protects the public weal shall be withdrawn or abolished or unnecessarily weakened. We shall view with very considerable suspicion any efforts to abolish those which protect the people from the worst effects of the modern state of the world, and we shall hope that from time to time the Government will give an indication that they realise how essential it is that these powers shall be used to protect from unnecessary hardship those who, unless they do get this protection, will find life unbearable in this country in the hard times that we shall have to face.
I hope the House will consider these Motions and that at the end of the day we shall pass them. But I want to assure the House that we on this side will continue to watch very vigilantly the use that is made of these powers that we are now granting the Government, and we shall expect them to use them in the public interest every time.
I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the former Home Secretary indicating that which indeed, with respect, is obvious, that there is no option but to agree to this Motion in the interests of the country. The only thing about it which I feel happy about is that the maximum continuance which it gives to these Regulations is a period of one year. I say that because surely the gloomiest form of reenactment that we are ever required to undertake in this House is this form of re-enactment.
Once again, subject to certain differences which my right hon. and learned Friend has indicated, the patient has to take the mixture as before, although the prescription was made up when the malady was at least in part a different one, and although it may still contain ingredients which may not at all be suited to our present state of ill-health. There is not, at the moment, any other way of doing it, and for my part I wish there was.
I take great heart from what my right hon. Friend has been saying about the future of these enactments. In so far as they are to go into permanent legislation, then all is well. The House can look at them and amend them if it wants to. In so far as they are to go into temporary legislation in the sense of legislation to be subject to annual review, all well and good. What I should like to know from the Government is, in so far as there are Regulations which have to be continued as Regulations, whether we shall have in some form an opportunity of amending them.
I do not know that I take the same view about these matters as some of my hon. Friends, judging from their interventions. I should like a world in which all our lives could be governed only by full legislation in this House, if that were possible. But I am not so optimistic as to believe that that will ever be possible again. I think we have always got to endure delegated legislation in some form, and it seems to me that our principal task at this stage is to invent the right way of controlling that. I do not believe that we have it now. I submit that we do not want to have to take the sledge-hammer of a Prayer for an annulment to effect a relatively simple amendment if we can make the machinery for effecting the amendment.
I want to stay entirely in order, but I hope that I may be allowed to illustrate my point by reference to two groups of Regulations, because they comprise an easy instance by which to illustrate what I mean. I should like to refer to Regulations 55 and 56A concerning the control of building operations. So far as I know, they have contained from the beginning, and still contain, those enactments which impose minimum penalties for contravention. They oblige even His Majesty's judges—I had better not say anything about Recorders subject to a very strict exception. to impose a minimum penalty. I do not know what are the views of other hon. Members, but my own view is that that is a bad form of enactment now, that by doing that we are wasting the skill and experience of His Majesty's judges in sentencing. Anyway, I should be glad to have the opportunity of submitting that matter to the House for the views of hon. Members.
There is no machinery for amending such a Regulation, and it is not at the moment clear to me that on the form of review which my right hon. Friend was proposing there ever will be an opportunity, should it be thought fit to continue those enactments as Regulations, of seeking to amend, for instance, a matter of that kind. We cannot pray against them now, but even if we could it would be preposterous to try to eliminate the entire Regulation, because what we really want is an amendment merely to a matter relating to the imposition of penalties.
I am much too ignorant of constitutional affairs and in the affairs of this House to suggest remedies on the Floor of the House, but I would ask the Government to consider among other things, whether or not it is possible to do what I believe has been done in some foreign legislatures with a measure of success, and that is, just as we regard the Floor of the House as the right place for amendments of major legislation like the Finance Bill, to treat the matter on a scale and to allow amendments to subsidiary legislation to be referred to a Committee.
I suggest that something might be done about amending delegated legislation such as statutory instruments or, even above that, statutory Regulations by referring those matters to a Committee of this House and appointed by this House. I confess I have not considered whether it could be done simply—
I desire only to remain in order, and I apologise to you Mr. Deputy-Speaker for wandering from the subject before the House, but I confess that I thought it was desirable that we should, in this debate, suggest how amendments could be introduced if we had any suggestions to make.
While Mr. Speaker was in the Chair, the Home Secretary made an appeal for suggestions on this matter, and the whole House was invited to debate it. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) dealt with it before I did. In view of the fact that Mr. Speaker has indicated a tacit approval of a rather wide latitude in this matter, perhaps we might continue to exercise that latitude.
I had not the pleasure of hearing what Mr. Speaker said, and I was merely carrying out the rules of order. I was not given any instructions about the matter, and, any way, I imagine the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) has now finished that part of his argument, on which I thought he was rather long.
I have finished what I had to say on that point. I said that it might be considered and I do not propose to pursue it further. I always approach this matter with great reluctance, because I do not think that this is a satisfactory way of re-enacting anything. It is, therefore, with reluctance that I support the Motion but I do so because it is quite obvious that the House has no option in the matter.
I think the whole House felt a good deal of sympathy with the Home Secretary in the task which he had to perform this afternoon and, if I may say so, I think he performed what was obviously a very difficult and a very delicate task with his customary skill. The House was obviously quite aware that what the Home Secretary was endeavouring to do was to advocate something which his party have strongly opposed on all former occasions.
While I appreciate the offer of the Home Secretary to listen to any suggestions that might be made for improving Parliamentary control over delegated legislation, I feel sure that when the Home Secretary made his offer he could not be unaware that he would not have very far to look for any suggestions on that point. It was his colleagues who now adorn the Front Bench, who, for the past six years, have been complaining that there is inadequate and insufficient Parliamentary control over delegated legislation. That complaint has been repeatedly reiterated in this House, and yet the Home Secretary has the effrontery to come here and, first of all, say that he thinks that there is adequate Parliamentary control over delegated legislation.
I never said that, as a whole, there was adequate control. I made what I thought everyone in the House realised was an attempt at a jocular allusion to the fact that one's views as to the adequacy or otherwise of control are inclined to change according to which side of the House one is sitting on. I think everyone understood that I was not being morbidly serious when I made that point.
I think this is a serious matter, and the House is entitled to know what are the views of the Home Secretary and the Government on it.
We have had quite a number of illustrations during the debate on the Address of the wide discrepancy between the promises made by the Conservative Party during the Election and their actions when they assumed office. I am not going over any of that ground again, but I thing that this is something even more serious. We now have this complete discrepancy between the course of action which members of the present Government advocated a year ago and what they propose now when, for the first time, they have the opportunity of giving effect to the proposals which they had then advocated.
On 23rd October, 1950, we had a similar debate to this, in the course of which a great many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, who now sit on the Government Front Bench, went out of their way to complain of delegated legislation and of the inadequacy of Parliamentary control over it. The House is entitled to know whether the speeches made a year ago were serious or not, because they are completely inconsistent with the line which the Home Secretary is now taking. For example, the present Leader of the House fulminated against delégated legislation when there was a Motion before the House in identical terms to the one we are discussing today, and when the Leader of the House indicated that he was prepared to give only very reluctant consent to a renewal of those powers for another year.
This is what the present Leader of the House said in the course of his speech:
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.
Other Members on the then Opposition benches made similar speeches advocating that they would like to see a complete review of the whole process of delegated legislation. The Home Secretary referred to Parliamentary control. Here is what the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said during the course of that debate:
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."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2514–2536.]
Other Members, including the Solicitor-General and the Minister of Transport, made speeches to the same effect. Now they have an oportunity of implementing them and showing their sincerity. They have not taken that attitude. As the Rome Secretary said in his speech, which he now says he intended to be jocular, they have taken the view that it depends on which side of the House one sits as to what one's views are. That is not the attitude of those who sit on these benches. Unlike hon. Members opposite, we who sit on these benches have always and consistently taken a very great interest in the rights of Parliament to control the Executive, and on a number of occasions when some of my hon. Friends who are present today and I were sitting on the benches opposite, either below or above the Gangway, we were most active in maintaining the prerogatives of Parliament over the Executive.
The country will recognise this as a glaring illustration of the insincerity of the speeches that have been made on this subject during the last six years by hon. Members opposite. So that there may be no misunderstanding about it, and in order that the Home Secretary and the Government may have no excuse in carrying out what I gather they have indicated are their intentions, I should like to show two or three ways in which the Government, if they are sincere, can improve the present means by which this House is able to control, as it should control, the actions of the Executive.
I do not quarrel, and have never quarrelled, with the necessity of giving the Government of the day power to introduce delegated legislation in this way, but we have always maintained, and shall continue to insist upon, the need for having adequate Parliamentary opportunity for controlling, reviewing and criticising, and if necessary changing, that legislation.
One of the specific matters to which I would invite the attention of the Home Secretary is the proposal that in future this House should have the power not merely to annul by negative Resoiution any statutory instrument but should also have the power to amend it. I hope that this specific proposal—I have a Motion on the Order Paper in that sense which Mr. Speaker has said he does not propose to call—will commend itself to the Home Secretary in the same way as it did to a great many of his colleagues when they were in Opposition, and who spoke in favour of it during the debate on this subject a year ago.
The Home Secretary did not indicate what his attitude to this proposal would be, but the case for it is, in my submission, overwhelming. It happened over and over again in the last Parliament and in the preceding Parliament, that it was continuously a matter of complaint by those who put down Prayers that they were placed in a very invidious and ambiguous position because, if they wanted to make some change in a statutory instrument, their only course was to put down a Prayer for its annulment.
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but the Home Secretary, in opening the debate, dealt with this subject at great length and indicated what he thought were the various objections. He dealt specifically with the proposal in my name on the Order Paper and with what he thought were the objections, which, he said, were three. One was a question of time, the second was a question of principle and the third was a question of administrative difficulty. With great respect I should submit that in view of the speech made by the Home Secretary, I am entitled to say a word on each of those three specific objections. I will be as brief—
Naturally, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I do not seek to question your Ruling in any way, but it is the fact that the Home Secretary invited the House, in the course of his speech—he said it specifically in debate—to make contributions to the discussion of what obviously is a very difficult Parliamentary problem. There may be no other occasion when it can be done. The Home Secretary himself discussed the matter at some length, and so did my right hon. Friend who spoke from this side. We hoped that it might be in order for the rest of us to contribute an idea or two, if we have any.
Mr. Speaker's Ruling was that we could discuss collectively all these Motions, in an open, wide debate. Further, in precisely similar circumstances 12 months ago and in precisely a similar debate these matters were discussed at length. I submit that when we are discussing a Motion by the Home Secretary whether we should adopt and perpetuate this method of introducing delegated legislation it is strictly in order to discuss the utility of the method and whether any other method should be substituted.
Perhaps it might be in order if I refer you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to a debate which took place in similar circumstances last year. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If you wish to look up the reference last year you will find it in HANSARD, column 2512. The present Leader of the House was then in order in discussing a book by Sir Stafford Cripps, "Problems of a Socialist Government." Indeed, the whole column of HANSARD is devoted to quotations from that book, which dealt with methods by which problems could be dealt with by delegated legislation. In view of the fact that Speaker Clifton Brown permitted that discussion, and that Mr. Speaker has permitted the present Home Secretary to make the observations which he did. I suggest that we should be in order in following what was in order last year arid the precedent of the Home Secretary this year.
I shall endeavour to keep strictly within the rules of order, as you have directed, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. After all, what this House is really being asked to do is to decide whether or not we should continue to give this Conservative Government, of which we disapprove, these very extensive powers for a whole year.
I do not think we should give the Government these powers except on definite conditions. One of those conditions is that, as the Home Secretary indicated, the whole subject of delegated legislation would be reviewed, and reviewed within the next few months without waiting for the full period of 12 months to expire. The Government should come down, as I gather they are going to do, with comprehensive proposals for the review of the whole mass of this complicated system by which administrative Orders are made. Although the Home Secretary gave that pledge this afternoon there is nothing whatever about it in the King's Speech.
Allow me. The hon. Member is under a misapprehension of that point. The relevant passage in the King's Speech is:
You will be asked to authorise for a period the continuation in force of certain emergency enactments and defence regulations which are due to expire next month. My Ministers will, however, review the whole subject with the aim of reducing the number of
these controls and regulations and, wherever possible, embodying those which must be kept in legislation requiring annual renewal by Parliament.
That is what I endeavoured to say.
I am very much obliged to the Home Secretary, because that puts the matter in its true perspective. I gather that what the Home Secretary says is that it is in pursuance of that passage in the King's Speech that we are definitely to get some legislation during this Session to deal with that subject.
I invite the Home Secretary, in advance of that legislation, to review the broad principle and to consider this separate subject of what additional powers could be given to the House of Commons to control and review delegated legislation.
As I was saying, the House has hitherto found that it has been very embarrassing when hon. Members have desired to make some precise amendment to a statutory instrument, because they have no alternative to accept the instrument or to put down a Prayer for its annulment. That has very often put hon. Members, and notably the present Minister of Transport, who made a great complaint of it, in what they regard as an embarrassing position. I hope, therefore, that we shall have whatever is the necessary amendment of the Statutory Instruments Act to enable the House, in addition to putting down a Prayer, to put down a Motion that the Prayer be amended in a specific way.
It is said that time may be a difficulty. On the subject of time generally, I would hope that the Leader of the House will bear in mind that there is a good deal of difference between the degree of time which this House will desire for reviewing administrative action and that, for reasons which are well-known, which was formerly available. The past Government had a vast volume of legislative action to carry through, and it was carried through at the request of the country and for the good of the country. It necessarily occupied a good deal of Parliamentary time. To that extent, therefore, there was a necessity to limit the Parliamentary time available for reviewing delegated legislation.
This Government will have no such excuse for denying the House all the opportunities it wants for reviewing delegated legislation, because it almost makes a boast of the fact that it has no legislative programme, except of a purely negative character, and, therefore, there will be no excuse for the Government denying the House the full opportunity it wants of reviewing delegated legislation, either by praying against it or putting down Amendments.
I gather that the Home Secretary said that a question of principle was involved. He did not tell us what was the question.of principle. I do not know of any principle which denies to the House the power to amend Statutory Instruments, if it so desires. Surely, the principle is, that the Sovereignty of Parliament should be exercised to the full. There may be arguments about time and about convenience. If I could have the attention of the Home Secretary for a moment, would he tell us what he means by saying that a question of principle is involved?
As the hon. Gentleman asks me, the question of principle which I adumbrated was this: Whether the House of Commons should give most of its time, and should take as the first charge on its time, the discussion of wide principles of public interest, or whether it should devote more time to secondary matters which may touch more closely the life of our constituents? That is a matter which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, has been discussed practically in every textbook on Parliament and constitutional law for the last 100 years.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me, it seems to me that there is no question of principle, apart from the question of time. I think that it would be conceded that if a choice had to be made the time of the House is more profitably devoted when the House is discussing wide general subjects than matters of detail. But if we are to look forward, as I gather we are, to a Parliament in which there will be comparatively little legislative activity and extensive Parliamentary Recesses, then I think it would be very wrong for the Government to deny to this House all the opportunities it wants of reviewing the administrative action of the Government which, according to the Govern ment's own spokesman, is going to be the major output of the Government, at any rate, during this Session.
Then there was the argument about administrative convenience to which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) also referred. Surely, there is no ground of administrative convenience or inconvenience which ought to outweigh the rights and, indeed, the duties of this House to review and amend delegated legislation. It may be that it is administratively inconvenient when the House passes a negative Resolution annulling a Prayer. I think that there was a certain amount of administrative inconvenience last year, when the Cheese Order was annulled. There would have been no greater inconvenience if it had been amended.
One knows that these Orders take effect from the moment they are laid, but that should not interfere with the right of this House either to annul a Statutory Instrument, or, if it so wishes, to amend it. It ought to have that right because it is, in certain cases, the only appropriate remedy. If there is any administrative difficulty it is one which I am quite sure is not beyond the skill and wit of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to deal with.
I ought not to detain the House any longer. I hope very much that before this Session has progressed much further, we can take the right hon. and learned Gentleman at his word, and hope that we shall have some suggestions from the Government for improving, particularly in this regard, the powers of the House to control the actions of His Majesty's Government.
The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), at the beginning of his speech, talked about the party opposite having upheld the Parliamentary principle of checking the Executive. My experience of the last six years is that they have been prodding the Executive vehemently to proceed to acquire further and further powers at every stage. I think that the hon. Gentleman would find it extremely difficult to prove on a public platform, or before any constitutional lawyer, that he had really been safeguarding the rights of Parliament and of the people in the last six years.
I regret that I did not follow completely the complex middle passage of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but at the end he talked about the time required by the House to review all this legislation, and the various Acts of annulment there may be. I do not quite see it in that way. I should have thought that very often by administrative action a great many of these powers would lapse in the course of a year, and that it would not be necessary for them to come before Parliament at all.
Indeed, we might go for a whole year, except for one or two of the regulations, with considerable and most desirable administrative changes being made from our point of view, without the necessity of the Home Secretary coming to the House at all for any annulment of those regulations. For example, Regulation 53 —Requisition of property other than land. He might just cease to requisition that property or, if it has been requisitioned, simply give it back and not have to come to the House to have that Regulation annulled. The same is true of the control of industry. We may cease to control industry on a large scale, and at the end of the year simply produce one or two small Regulations.
I do not think the hon. Gentleman need get into any kind of state about lack of Parliamentary time, because my earnest hope is that we shall not have to occupy ourselves with this business at all. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), if I may say so without offence, seemed to me to speak with peculiar pontificality and complacency today in his review of the general scene of affairs. He seemed to think that my right hon. and learned Friend and the new Government would fall exactly into the shoes lately occupied by him and his right hon. Friends, and would begin to come under the influence of the Civil Service and say, "All these things were most right and necessary and must be maintained."
I take a very different view of what is going to happen. I have no desire to be challenged about wanting to go back to a Victorian life in this country. I have no desire whatever to go back to Victorian qualities of life, but I think that there is a great deal to be said about going back to the Victorian form of administration, system of government, manners and modes.
The right hon. Member suggested that my right hon. Friend would come to an inevitable realisation of the circumstances in which this nation is living today and went on to talk of the necessity to keep 50 million people alive in this land and the question of re-armament. Why, those on this side of the House have been to the hustings on the whole issue and secured a majority for a Government which believes that only by the abandonment of controls on a fairly comprehensive scale will it be possible to keep 50 million people alive in these islands and only by the abandonment of a great many of these controls, particularly on the financial and economic side, will it be possible to re-arm this country at all.
Only by the abandonment of these controls can we get the necessary amount of productivity which will enable us to rearm and to maintain our present standard of living. My hon. Friends have been making speeches for the last three or four weeks to that effect. It is a fundamental belief and doctrine of the party of this side of the House and let him not think for a single moment that because other words and another form of address have been used by my right hon. and learned Friend today, there is not burning in his mind, as I am convinced there is, a great zeal and determination to carry through a reduction of these controls.
As my right hon. and learned Friend explained to the House, he has been in office a matter of a fortnight and it is not possible to come to the House and state categorically what controls are to be reduced. As I started my speech by saying, it would not be necessary for him to do that because, with any luck, imagination and drive, it would be done administratively and right hon. and hon. Members opposite would have to find their own occasions for raising the issues involved. There will not be any question of an approach by my right hon. and learned Friend on the question of annulment of Regulations and the like.
I am convinced that my right hon. and learned Friend means at the earliest possible moment, as he said today, to review the working of these controls to see which can be abandoned and that steadily during the winter months, while many of us are taking a little holiday and other forms of enlightenment and educa tion in other parts of the country, will proceed to apply these de-centralising and de-controlling measures without which this country cannot live and will never rise to prosperity again.
It is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). Many times I find myself in great agreement with what he says and many times, as now, in great disagreement, but one thing I think everyone on this side of the House appreciates is his sincerity. He is not one who advocates in the Election one thing and then comes to the House and advocates another. If that marks him out and differentiates him from his colleagues, it only makes us have the more affection for him.
We all regret the absence of the Leader of the House, because he served notice on his own Front Bench just over a year ago. I had the good fortune to sit through the whole of the similar debate last year, not because I was taking part in it, but because, on the Adjournment, I had the opportunity of discussing the roads in my constituency and was waiting an opportunity to get in. I therefore recall the Leader of the House saying this:
I think that all parties in 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.
He went on to deliver these very significant words:
I do not know what Administration will he here in 12 months' time but the machinery will go on whatever the political heads.
So he was anticipating a possible Conservative victory at that time and he went on to say what he would do. It is a pity he is not here and we all regret his absence because he cannot explain why he has not done it. He said:
we expect an 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.
That was not the proposal of the Home Secretary. He only suggested that we should make suggestions as to on which Fridays we shall not be here when we
ought to debate the matter. The Leader of the House said:
If there is no change at all in 12 months' time, then the House of Commons will be very critical of the Administration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2517–8.]
I am glad that the noble Lord has joined in that criticism.
It was not only the Leader of the House who was critical of this scheme, it was also the Leader of the Liberal Party and we regret to say that we do not see very full representation on the Liberal benches, because the Amendment then ruled out of order was an Amendment to remove all controls immediately, at once. Why, if that could be suggested a year ago, cannot it be suggested with the same force and vigour now?
I am glad that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is here, because he made a contribution, and a very valuable contribution. No doubt he will be able to intervene and deal with it. He dealt with one of the Regulations we are now carrying one, Regulation 58A, and said this:
After all, Regulation 58A is to continue, and under it, therefore, it is completely open to the Government to introduce control of engagement at any moment that suits their convenience.
There was something in the Gracious Speech which gave some of us an indication that hon. Members opposite might be thinking in these terms. I do not know whether this is so or not, but what I ask the Home Secretary to do is to give an assurance that if that was in their minds they will carry out in regard to control of engagement the line of conduct laid down by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. He said:
That is a very grave matter indeed. 1 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 he effected by statutory instrument.
I ask the Home Secretary this question: Does he agree or not agree with that? Will he, or whoever it is—perhaps it will be the Financial Secretary—who replies, tell us? Will the Financial Secretary tell us if, when in office, he is in agreement with what he said only a year ago when out of office? Then he said, after an intervention, by the then hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr.
Lang), who supported him on that matter:
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 the full possibilities of amendment that alone arise when we can deal with the matter by statute, should be employed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2537–8.]
I ask whoever replies on this issue to deal with that speech made by the Financial Secretary and say, if there is to be any question of control of engagement, whether they will give a pledge now to follow that procedure.
I am also sorry that the Leader of the House is not here because I wish to refer to what he said about the Prime Minister. It is no use hon. Members opposite saying they had no policy in this matter. The present Leader of the House said that their policy was this—indeed, he quoted a speech made by the Prime Minister at Edinburgh on the matter in which the Prime Minister 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2510.]
But as the Home Secretary will appreciate, we are not by these Regulations really maintaining full Parliamentary control. These orders were brought forward with the idea at that time of having a permanent statute which would mean that we could really examine the whole matter. But this present system does not enable us to examine these statutes in detail.
The Home Secretary will know that of the Defence Regulations at present in force only 34 are subject to amendment one by one in the House. The greater bulk of them, much the most important ones, some 65 in number, we have to discuss at once under the Motion which we are discussing. It is only when we come to the Act of 1947 that we find ourselves in a position to enable us to deal in detail with these Regulations.
But the great bulk of these Regulations have to be accepted on the one Motion. Mr. Speaker last year ruled that it was impossible for us to put down any Amendments to except any particular Defence Regulations. Therefore, the scheme put forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not a fulfilment of the pledge given by the Prime Minister. It is not an opportunity for Parliament to consider all these matters one by one.
If one looks at the matter further, it is highly undesirable—I yield to the Home Secretary if I am mistaken—that these Regulations with which we are dealing not only amend either by implication or expressly 68 Acts of the British Parliament but, by implication, 10 Acts of the Northern Ireland Parliament. It really is undesirable that we should on the one hand set up an independent Legislature in Northern Ireland and at the same time present Regulations here without, so far as I can see, the presence of a single Northern Ireland Member, in which we take away from them their power to legislate. It is a most unsatisfactory and undesirable state of affairs.
I do not think that the hon. Member has yet spoken in the House; if he did it is an experience that I missed. Not having had that opportunity to congratulate him I should like to say, on behalf of us all, how pleased we are to see him restored to health, and to welcome one who was a distinguished Northern Ireland civil servant who will be able to contribute to this point of the constitutional issues with which I am about to deal.
The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), pointed out that if a road is stopped up in Northern Ireland, although they have an independent Parliament they cannot discuss it there: they have to raise the matter here by means of a Prayer. That is a most unsatisfactory way to have to go about it. Instead of having a Minister for Wales we ought to have someone in charge of Northern Ireland affairs to try to sort out the constitutional position.
May I illustrate to the House what I consider to be the difficulty of really raising questions of principle on any of these Regulations? Most of them amend only in part or deal with in part something that is a very general issue. I will take one Regulation which I think will admirably illustrate what I mean. It is one of those which we are renewing. It is not subject to any detailed discussion. I refer to the Defence (Burial, Inquests and Registration of Deaths) Regulations, l942.
The terms of those bulky RegulationŚ deal with the war-time position. One prohibits a coroner from holding an in- quest on any American soldier. A second says that a coroner must not hold an inquest on the body of anybody if it is certified to him that an American person may have been involved in his death. That seems to involve a very broad principle of the rights we should give to other people in this country. It is not something suitable for debate on a general Motion to continue Regulations of this sort.
If one may go one stage further, this Regulation applies to Northern Ireland. There is no need for it to apply there because as the Home Secretary will know —I am sure he has made a study of civil liberty in Northern Ireland in order to frame suitable legislation for introduction here at a later stage—that under the Northern Ireland Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act there is a provision by which the Minister of Home Affairs, who is empowered under this Regulation to act in Northern Ireland, can prohibit any inquest altogether. It was put in, as the Minister of Home Affairs explained at the time, because it was felt that there were some coroners who were not very sympathetic to the Government.
We are not concerned with the motives of Conservative legislation. We are now only concerned with what the effect is. Why should we have a Regulation here enabling the Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland to prohibit an inquest on an American soldier when be can prohibit any inquest he likes under his own legislation?
The real problem with which we are involved in discussing this Regulation is not the narrow one of what we can have Prayers about or what we cannot but the whole question of Parliamentary procedure. It is no use trying to deal with the Prayers question quite irrespective of other questions which affect Parliamentary time as a whole.
We have, fortunately, a very long period of Recess ahead of us. Let us shorten that period by a week. Let us return one week earlier and devote it to a discussion of Parliamentary procedure and the setting up of a Select Committee to go into not only this question but all the allied questions. I do not propose to develop that point any further because I should be going as wide as some people went in the debate a year ago, and we all agree that that is undesirable.
I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it really is not a question of time. There is, fortunately, plenty of Parliamentary time. It is just a question of getting the Government to persuade Members on their own side of the House to vote for a Motion which will enable us to use it wisely. That is a most important Parliamentary question. There is no matter on which they have laid greater stress than the Parliamentary control of Regulations. Fortunately, there is a whole week of Parliamentary time in which we can discuss it. Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman will use his influence to see that we have that opportunity.
The speech which we have just heard from the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) has set the tone of the other speeches from that side of the House during this debate—with the exception of that of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)—blazing insincerity. Here we are dealing with one of the most important points with which Parliament has had to deal over many centuries. It is a matter which we and our predecessors have had to tackle on many occasions during our history.
The point really is not so much the procedure we may adopt in any case but how we can, in the best ways that we can work out, safeguard the liberty of the subject of our fellow citizens all over the country and prevent them from becoming the victims of the misuse of those powers. During the speeches to which we have listened from hon. Members opposite I have felt that it is a pity that they, who are asking for so much more time in order to exercise their privileges and duties in safeguarding the freedom of our fellow citizens, should waste so much time on this occasion, when they have that opportunity, in making some very cheap platform speeches on points from the last election campaign.
I wish to return to three of the Regulations which particularly affect the liberty of the subject, and the principle which lies behind them. Those three Regulations deal with the use of identity cards. I would remind the House that when the National Registration Act was introduced in 1939 the then Minister of Health, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut. -Colonel Elliot), used some very fatherly and gentle arguments in commending the principle of identity cards to the House on that occasion. He said:
For instance, a lost child whose parents may have moved since the child was evacuated could very easily be traced and the parents and child could be brought into touch with each other"—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 4th September, 1939; Vol. 351, c. 376.]
through the use of the identity card system.
There was no question in those days of the identity card being used, as it has been more recently, by the police in connection with traffic offences, or by Post Office officials in connection with the withdrawal of money from the Post Office Savings Bank.
But this matter came up very recently in regard to a case last June of Willcockversus Muckle; and I think it illustrates very clearly the problems which this House and the Home Secretary faces when reviewing the Regulations we are discussing this afternoon.
It was the Lord Chief Justice who said during the case of Willcock against Muckle:
This case has arisen because motorists consider that the powers of the Act have been used for a purpose other than that for which the Act was passed. I can only say I hope the practice will cease. It annoys a great many people.
The Lord Chief Justice may appear to be a trifle idealistic in thinking that the convenience—
I was at that particular point reading an extract from "The Times" report of the summing-up of the Lord Chief Justice in that case which, in the time at my disposal, I was unable to commit entirely to memory.
To continue. Although the Lord Chief Justice may appear to be a trifle idealistic in thinking that the convenience and conscientious scruples of ordinary people carry weight in these days against administrative expediency, in fact it is most important that we in this House should do our best to ensure that that idealism comes into practical effect. Although the court in this case upheld the decision of the magistrates against Mr. Willcock, certain strictures were passed by the Lord Chief Justice, and the other justices sitting with him, upon an interpretation of the Act which enabled the police to use their powers, and which I think are very relevant to the particular Regulations which we are discussing.
After all, I cannot believe that in 1939 it was ever envisaged that these identity cards should be used in accordance with Regulation 60CC, set out on page 61 of the Defence Regulations, 1950. In that Regulation it says:
Subject to any instructions given by the Postmaster-General, any officer of the Post Office, as defined by the Post Office Act, 1908, dealing in the course of his duty with any matter in relation to which evidence of the identity of any person is material,…may require the production of the identity card… issued under the National Registration Act, 1939,..
We may ask ourselves why is that done? Why was this Regulation introduced, and why should what is undoubtedly an inconvenience and annoyance to ordinary citizens, who rely upon the Post Office Savings Bank to provide them with the services which other people expect from their joint stock bank, be subject to this particular inconvenience which ordinary banks do not exact from their customers?
The answer which may be given is that it is introduced to prevent fraud, and, therefore, I should like to put to the House some of the statistics with regard to fraud in connection with withdrawals from the Post Office Savings Bank before the war and since. In 1938, before identity cards were introduced,£117 million was withdrawn from the Savings Bank and there were fraudulent withdrawals during that period amounting to£3,608 or.003 per cent. of the total withdrawn
In 1949, repayments were£400 million and the fraudulent withdrawals were£33,093, or.008 per cent., whereas in 1950, when the total withdrawals were about the same—£400 million—the fraudulent withdrawals were still.005 per cent. of the total withdrawals. What I wish to bring out from those figures is that the use of identity cards in this particular case is quite obviously of no value whatever in preventing fraud.
That being so, when the Government and the Home Secretary, as promised, review these Regulations during the months immediately ahead, I hope they will not allow themselves, in any circumstances, to be convinced by the administrative arguments which will certainly be put before them by their Civil Service advisers into maintaining in existence Regulations proved by statistical evidence not to have had the effect which was desired of them. In that way we shall be gradually reducing some of the controls referred to by my noble Friend the Member for Dorset. South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke).
The right hon. Member for South Shields is wrong in supposing that the Conservative Party is opposed to the use of authority by the Government. Right throughout history we have always stood for the use of that authority and we intend at the present, as in the past, to maintain it. At the same time, we are opposed to the unnecessary use of authority in any circumstances where it can be shown that the use of that authority does not achieve the end desirable in the national interest; and when it improperly and unfairly limits the freedom of the individual. What we have tried to bring to this great problem is a sense of balance, without approaching it in the doctrinaire fashion which has so often been evidenced in the speeches of hon. Members opposite.
I am sure that all hon. Members on this side of the House were very grateful to the Home Secretary for his promise that these Regulations, and particularly the Regulation dealing with identity cards, would be reviewed within a comparatively short time. Within the next few months we hope to see a reduction of the existing unnecessary Regulations and particularly the Regulation which affects the freedom of the subject.
I believe it to be the duty of Private Members on both sides of the House, indeed it is one of our main functions, to ensure that we bring to the attention of the Administration, in the interests of our constituents generally, any examples of the misuse of power by the great administrative machine. We all realise that this machine has grown tremendously during the last few years—perhaps inevitably. That means that there is all the more reason why we should exercise the powers that are given to us as individuals to ensure that we can prevent the misuse of the far greater powers which exist in the executive and the administrative machine of this country.
I must apologise to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and to the House for speaking in somewhat unaccustomed tones, but unfortunately I contracted a very severe cold during the unexpected and unprecedented food and fuel crises of last week. And, so far as I can see, I shall have to go on with the cold now, fuel-less until the House adjourns for the Summer Recess, next April.
I have listened to the speeches from the other side with great interest. I listened to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary with very great interest. I wondered just how he would handle this situation. I felt that there was going to be staged a real fight at last and that the old challenger, who had been challenging for six years, was going to put on the shorts of the champion, burst into the ring and fight from a different corner. But it has not quite been that. It has been a sham fight. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), was in the right-hand corner, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary was in the left-hand corner, the fight being refereed by the Minister in charge of Welsh Affairs for a purse presented by the former Recorder of Oldham.
There are issues of political decency involved, and I was hoping that at some time we should hear one speech from the opposite side of the House supporting the Motion which the House is asked to approve. No one has said a word in support of it yet from the other side. Indeed, there have been words of bitter condemnation. I observe in his place the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling). I hope that we shall hear from him, as we have in the past.
There are important considerations in this matter. These powers were granted to the Government in 1945. It was one of the first Acts passed then. They were powers which we sought to have after the Japanese war had ended. I remember the debate that took place on that occasion. I remember being deeply moved by some of the speeches which were made, and particularly by a most emotional utterance from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South. He referred in most moving terms to his reactions. He said:
I had not intended to join in this debate, but I think I should like to support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Renfrew, East….
who himself had made some rather striking observations about these powers being given to His Majesty's Government when we had six million troops abroad and when we were engaged in the unprecedented task of restoring our peace-time economy—a task better accomplished here than anywhere else in the world. The right hon. Gentleman said that this was—
I am very sorry. The hon. Gentleman who sits on the right said:
It is a significant confirmation of what Lord Acton had well said, that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Their first public demand since coming to power has been to ask this House of Commons to lay chains on the people of this country for five long years.
Then he said:
I am not a young man, but I was eager to believe that, having fought in two wars, I might look forward to the approach of three score years and ten with a degree of liberty.
I am bound to say that I shed a few quiet tears at that moment. He continued:
What is the sentence pronounced on me this afternoon? I was horn a free citizen, I have lived as a free citizen, and I have, as a soldier, been prompt to fight for this land of liberty Yet, at the conclusion. I have no hopes that the bonds of serfdom will be lifted from me. Five years is the sentence which…will he laid upon us."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th October, 1945; vol. 414, c. 157–8.]
Now the hon. Member is here again, apparently approaching three score years and sixteen, having served six years of
penal servitude, and, having come down with all these hopes of the restoration of liberty, he hears the Home Secretary say, "We are going to forget everything we said 12 months ago, and we hope that you will forget all we have said in the past." I hope that we shall have some observations from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, so that we can see whether he is still fighting for the cause of liberty, as in the past.
The Home Secretary was a little disingenuous about this matter. Really, he is a former recorder and he knows something about the question of previous convictions. The whole of his speech was an appeal to forgive and forget, an appeal to let us all start afresh. The Government Front Bench has ceased to be a Government Front Bench and has become a penitent's bench. Every speech we have heard in the last few days has been a speech by a right hon. Gentleman opposite saying that we should forget what they said during the Election and during the last Parliament. Every right hon. Gentleman who has spoken in the last few days from the Government Front Bench has said. "Let us be friends. Forget this wretched business of keeping you up all night. Let us all be gentlemen now, and let us start again."
There is one instance about which the right hon. and learned Gentleman ought to be reminded. It took place on a Friday afternoon somewhat unexpectedly on the Third Reading of the Bill, when the Conservative Party challenged a Division and the present Home Secretary voted against the Bill. Had his vote been effective then this Bill would not have been here and he could not have asked us to pass it again today, With very great respect, one thought that he would have come and said, "Well, I have altered my mind." But he has not. He has come to the House, in my submission, with a worse story than has ever been put before the House.
He has come along and said, "We have not had much time to think about this. We have only been in office for 14 days." Does he really mean that every Amendment put down in the past was put down without thought? Does he really mean that every attack launched upon this was made without any consideration? The Financial Secretary to the Treasury shakes his head. After all, he was responsible more than anybody, and no doubt his present office is his reward for attacking the system day after day. Was it all done without thought? Was it all insincere? Do not hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite know which Regulations they approve of and which they do not?
On the Order Paper today there is reference to Regulations all of which were the subject of discussion 12 months ago. Was all that discussion without thought? Of course, we sympathise with the Opposition. Everybody realises that during the last 18 months the Conservative Party crowded in the lavatories and nooks and crannies of Westminster waiting to spring a surprise on His Majesty's Government. Of course, they had very little opportunity for concerted thought or for any form of collective action except a dash to the Lobby. But really we should be told what is the view of the Conservative Party on this matter.
What is the view of His Majesty's Government, and what is to happen? The Home Secretary comes along and says, in effect, "I do not much like this. I am asking the House to give an assent to a whole series of measures, but do not think that I am committing myself to saying that I really passionately want them. But we have not had time to think it over and it is rather difficult to withdraw everything I said in the past in one lump. So will you accept an undertaking from me that we will go on thinking"—apparently from 7th December to 29th January—"and when we have done a little thinking, it may be possible to make some amendments."
The whole matter is really very surprising, because when these Orders and Regulations were before us for renewal 12 months ago, we on this side of the House killed a great many of them. Now the Government come along and renew virtually every single word of the remainder. It is true that they have dropped a sentence or two out of a couple of Orders, but they have come forward with almost the identical things after 12 months' time. We are four weeks away from 7th December, and there was no desperate need to rush this matter for-ward, because there are quite a number of subjects which we passionately want to talk about and which we should be very happy to have the opportunity of discussing. Surely, that would have given the opportunity for the matter to be given some consideration, and would have enabled the Home Secretary to tell us what he wanted to do, whether he wanted the Orders or not, or, at least, to tell us which he wanted and which he did not.
We have not heard so far in the whole debate any explanation why they want these powers. Are they going to keep the system of controls or not? I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). If the Government would say to us that they really need these powers, I think we should be inclined to give the powers to them, but we are entitled to be told what the system is to be.
We have heard a speech from the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), who put a perfectly honest point of view, and one which is widely held in the party opposite, though it is one which, I suggest, will be less and less expressed by hon. Members opposite as they come under the firm discipline of the Government Whips. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite must face up to this situation, and they will be forced to the conclusion that all these frivolous speeches and ail these carefully tabled Motions will have to be apologised for one by one. We are not going to abuse our Parliamentary position. We have seen some of our own colleagues lose their lives in the process of building up that position, and we cannot forget it lightly. We are prepared to consider every appeal for consideration in the light of the way in which it is made.
The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South, was a little ungenerous to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), in misrepresenting one of the things that my lion. Friend said. There are some of us here, including my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East and myself, who time after time have protested against many measures of delegated legislation, and about their unnecessary complexity and prolixity. In one of our earlier debates, the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), was good enough to quote something that I said in November, 1945, when, even at that time, I had spoken in that sense, and he quoted me with approval, which he does not often extend to observations from me.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman must think of a way out of all this. I agree with those hon. Members on both sides of the House who say that there is, and has been under many Governments, a tendency for delegated authority to be exercised a little lightly and frivolously, and obviously without full consideration. If there had been any proper consideration of some of the Orders which we have had to read, they would not have been so easily made. Although we realise that there are certain special cases in which it is necessary to deal with a matter urgently, it is very much better for the Order to come into being after a lapse of time. Bills take some considerable time to get through the House and they cannot take effect until a full debate has taken place. There are very few of these Orders which could not have been postponed for a week or two without any harm being done, while the interval would have given full opportunity for consideration.
The third point—and the really important point—is the question of giving information. Everybody knows today that it is almost utterly impossible for anybody to find out what the law really is. Every practising solicitor knows that people walk into his office and put down a summons on the table, about which he has to say, "I did not even know that it was an offence." We search through whole lists of the Regulations, and it has frequently happened that the investigations have taken a long time, and the individual has been proceeded against for an offence alleged to have been committed six months before when the Regulation had probably since been repealed and dropped in the waste paper basket. In these circumstances, we have to keep an elaborate system of filing in order to keep track of these Regulations, and this business has become a fantastically difficult matter.
Everybody will understand the difficulties that face the Government in regard to this mass of legislation, but I really think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a little airy about this matter. He cannot really do much that is very effective in the way of reform of the whole mass of delegated legislation for some considerable time, and he will find that he has taken on a very difficult job. It may very well be a matter on which he will consider setting up a Parliamentary Committee. It may be a matter for consideration by a Select Committee of this House, which could make detailed recommendations for amendment of Statutory Rules and Orders before they come into force. No one who has approached this problem has failed to realise the very great objections.
We are not going to abuse our position. Of that I am quite sure. We are not going to waste Parliamentary time so as to make a mockery of our democracy, as was done over the last 18 months. We shall try to be a constructive and helpful Opposition, but I suggest that right hon. Gentlemen opposite should be a little less disingenuous in future. If they care to make a full confession, if they care to come here in a white sheet and ask forgiveness, then we are prepared to be magnanimous. What I suggest they should not do is adopt the attitude of the old offender and say, "Let us forgive and forget everything, and say nothing about my previous convictions at all." The right hon. and learned Gentleman will not tolerate that in his legal career, and he should not expect us to tolerate it either.
The House has been enlivened and entertained by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), and by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), although I thought that their brilliant and witty speeches would have had more effect during the last few years if they had been addressed to the former Government which they supported.
If they were, as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) suggests, the hon. Members must not be disappointed if they have no more effect on the Government today than they had on the Government in days gone by. If a Government will not listen to their own friends, then the hon. Member for Oldham, West, is surely not sufficiently simple as to imagine that the present Government will listen to him.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Oldham, West, for referring to one of my speeches; it is a very attractive compliment which he pays me, but I want to tell him that I am much more hopeful than he. I do see some signs of carrying out the policy, in which he and I believe, for lessening these restrictive controls, on the Treasury Bench today. I never saw any sign of it in the last six years.
I think that less than justice has been done to my right hon. and learned Friend who said—and it is indisputable—that he has had only a few days in which he has had an opportunity to consider these matters, and a few days in a dire and serious crisis—a crisis which was provoked, not by His Majesty's Government and their supporters, but by those right hon. Gentlemen who ran away from their responsibilities and who were so terrified of the spectre rising on the horizon that they threw down their responsibilities without any notice or preparations whatever. They are the last people to blame this Government which, having accepted serious responsibilities, has had but little time in which to give attention to them.
I am satisfied when my right hon. and learned Friend quite definitely tells us that he is considering these matters, and that there will be some renewals; but, of course, he gives no guarantee to the passionate admirers of controls that anything like the number that we have endured in times past will be continued. He mentioned the subject of classification, which is quite valuable. When classified, we find that these Regulations come firstly, under the heading of the defence of the Realm, and, very properly, we shall do nothing to limit or interfere with the defence of the Realm.
I am in full agreement with my right hon. and learned Friend. I am sure the hon. Member for Oldham, West, is in agreement with me that the second of these categories comes under legislation. As for the others, I suggest they should disappear when the needs disappear, and I follow the noble Lord in looking at this remarkable list.
It seems to me— and this is a phrase which I learned from Socialist literature—that these might well "wither away." The power of the State might wither away regarding a number of these. For example, the "taking possession of land." Why should the State not stop taking land? Is there any reason why it should continue to take land? My view is that my right hon. and learned Friend might well give instructions that this Regulation shall become a dead letter and that no more land shall be taken.
Who would want to perpetuate No. 54A, which is the Power to permit nuisances where necessary. My right hon. and learned Friend will surely allow that to wither away. I am on more serious ground when speaking of No. 55AB (Supply of Goods and Services). I do not think that, by and large, the price control of goods and services has been entirely a social benefit. We have been continually engaged in artificially meeting a situation which, when we try to meet it, eludes our control. The attempt to control prices has not in the main been successful, and in certain ways has been a great disadvantage.
I am inclined to think that there is justification for letting the market have a chance. Therefore, I am inclined to think that that might wither away also. The Control of Employment might well wither away, and when we come to 60M, which it is proposed should be kept in force— Destruction of valueless documents— if it means what it says, then it is a little difficult to follow. We intend to keep in being the Regulation for the destruction of valueless documents.
I know that one can make an amusing speech with regard to these Orders. I am satisfied that many of them are unnecessary, and I would like an assurance from my right hon. and learned Friend that they will, in fact, cease to operate. In particular, I want to refer to No. 77 which concerns Inquiries. Inquiry, I take it, is the general right of the police and other officers of the Crown to make investigations in civil cases. I was particularly irritated by the action of the former Government concerning inquiry into savings bank accounts. I consider that very damaging to the sense of decency which honorable men and women try to maintain. I hope that the system of inquiries will be among the others which should very properly wither away.
I do not consider that any of these Regulations are essential to the body politic. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred somewhat scathingly to the days of Victorian normality. I look back with considerable pleasure to those days. I do not belong to a party which lives on crises. That is the pabulum which has been offered by the party opposite. I look back nostalgically to Victorian normality, and I am surprised that the right hon. Member for South Shields, who is not in his place, does not feel very similarly, because he had a very fair share of those agreeable days.
The Prime Minister has said on many occasions, "Let us free the people; let us do away with controls." Controls are an invention of the modern Welfare collective State. It was a great and free society which came into greatness and freedom without controls. I am prepared to take the risks of freedom. I know there are great difficulties in removing controls. It will set great problems, but there arc very great problems connected with the continual increasing of controls.
We have been told of the 50 million people who live in this island. We cannot live as a fettered people; we can only expand as a free people, and in so far as the Government have indicated that in principle they are opposed to controls and will dispense with them at the earliest opportunity, I am quite satisfied, and will support my right hon. and learned Friend in the Division Lobby this evening.
It gives me particular pleasure this evening to rise in support of this Motion. I made my maiden speech as the first back bencher to speak on the Second Reading of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Bill in 1945. I remember at that time the Tory Opposition were already giving notice to amend that Bill, which subsequently became an Act, by limiting its life to two years, and I, from my personal experience of 30 years in the City of London, was able, at that time to assure the House that that period would be definitely inadequate and far shorter than would be essential for a large number of controls to operate.
If I may for a moment reminisce, I would suggest to the House that the problems which need emergency action under the controls and powers which the Government possess are not new problems, but problems which have arisen over the last 30 years. From 1919, at the end of World War I, the problem took the form of the gold reserves of Western Europe, and, indeed, the greater part of Europe, passing across the seas to the North American Continent so that by 1939 the United States had two-thirds of the world's gold which was mainly buried away in a condition of uselessness. During a considerable part of that period we were slowly but steadily selling our foreign investments, and World War II brought us practically to the end of that policy.
Therefore, the position in which we now find ourselves, in spite of the Victorian ideas of the noble Lord and of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), and not only this country. but the whole of Western Europe, is that of quite a changed world economically from that which we experienced in earlier generations. The Victorian period, I need hardly mention even to the younger Members on the benches opposite, saw a world in which we had almost a monopoly of important and secondary industries. The Second World War has still further spread throughout the industrial world the difficulty which now affects all the, major countries of the world. In these circumstances, we must expect periodical waves of difficulty.
I am not going to use the word "crisis." A difficulty can become a crisis, but if it is foreseen and acted upon it is only a period of foreseeable difficulty which can be catered for by the emergency powers which any Government should possess. I would ask the Government Front Bench whether the present Government could have acted with such promptitude had they not possessed these emergency powers. Could my own office have received by last Friday licence forms for the re-imposition of licensing for imports of paper if this Government had not possessed the power which enabled them to act promptly? There have, no doubt, been some delays arising from the General Election and the cessation for the moment of normal Government activity, but these powers were capable of being brought into operation at once. Indeed, the sooner they are brought into operation, the less danger there will be of any emergency or crisis.
Therefore, the existence of these powers is a very good thing and should be considered very seriously if it comes to a question of permanent legislation because, as I hope to show, this is not an isolated occasion in our economy. To some extent we are attached to the European economy. I do not see any Liberals in the House, but the Liberals especially have been calling out for complete free trade. They have stood for the liberalisation of trade in Europe.
But what has been the main effect of that liberalisation? We have been importing large quantities of luxuries which have eased life and made it more pleasant for those with the bigger incomes. But that is one of the factors which have made our economic position more seriousvis-à-visthe rest of Western Europe. We are in a perpetual state of shortage of dollars, and the major part of the world will remain in that state until there has been a revolutionary change of feeling in the United States and they have become fully conscious that they are the greatest creditor nation in the world and that they will have to import more than they export in future if the rest of the world is to prosper.
I say, quite frankly, that the recent Labour Government were a little misled by that peculiar economic position that arose in 1949. People who took only a short view felt that there was a surplus of many commodities. Many prices were falling, though the general price level remained more or less stationary, during the summer months of that year. American aid had previously camouflaged the essential economic position, pointed out by economists and many commercial newspapers earlier, that the pound was over-valued in terms of the dollar immediately after the end of the war, and devaluation was held off.
That meant that throughout that summer period, from March roughly to October of that year, there appeared to be a surplus of goods because the sterling area could not sell anything to the hard currency and dollar areas, nor could the Scandinavian countries whose currencies were tied more or less to sterling. In those conditions many controls were dropped prematurely and then conditions changed in 1950. When we approach a crisis or a difficult economic period and adopt measures of austerity and afterwards ease up a little, every vested interest in the country says, "Cannot you do this, and will you not do that?" Pressure is exerted for a greater variety of food, more holidays abroad and so on. Thus, within a year or two another difficult period will emerge in the economic conditions in which the world finds itself today. It is a world very different from that of the Victorian era. Those who think in terms of that era have no contribution to make to modern conditions. We should treat them as museum articles.
In those circumstances special emergency powers are required. Therefore, I welcome their continuation for another 12 months, while the Government are thinking about the extent to which individual Defence Regulations are still essential and to what extent they should be incorporated in permanent or semi-permanent legislation. The Government are making a quite legitimate request, but I ask that when they are considering a change they should be very careful to retain all those things that are necessary if an emergency should arise. For, whatever Government are in power, if they give way to pressures and release sums of money ad lib. for foreign travel and allow luxury commodities to be imported freely, the crisis now foreshadowed will re-emerge in a relatively short period.
The Government have no option but to introduce this Motion today if they are anxious to prevent economic chaos in this country. If there had been no such Motion chaos would have intervened in a short time.
Would the hon. Member say what removal of controls contributed to the present troubles as compared with 1949? Which controls that he says have been removed would he have retained?
That is a rather lengthy question to answer, but I would say travel should not have been allowed so freely. Price controls have been abrogated in many directions, and of course many non-essential commodities have been brought in in much larger quantities than before 1949. It is all right for greedy people. They have had a considerable measure of satisfaction since 1949, although at the expense of those who perhaps could not afford to be greedy. At any rate, greater austerity becomes more essential following a period of relative laxity such as we have had since 1949.
Surely the hon. Member will agree that the powers were retained and that all that was done was that they were not applied with the same severity. All he is now suggesting is that the powers should be retained. What I have difficulty in seeing is this. If the hon. Member is talking about the necessity for exercising these powers from time to time, what is he now suggesting should be done?
Of course the powers were retained. Their application was either lightened or withdrawn, and now we are very thankful the powers have been retained because they can now be used. I was trying to suggest to hon. Members opposite, and indeed to warn them, that if these powers are withdrawn or their application is lightened, immediately things begin to look better, and if one has just overcome a period of trouble, one is only inviting a new period of trouble at an early date. We should get to a very stable condition for some years before making things easier and upsetting the balance of trade between ourselves and the rest of the world.
Powers must be retained which enable the Government to handle a situation as soon as it becomes clear, after some two or three months of adverse figures of international trade or something of that kind, that those powers must be used quickly. I support this Motion strongly because chaos would arise very rapidly if the Government ceased to have these powers or failed to incorporate them in permanent legislation. My right hon. Friend in replying to the Home Secretary made a speech of vital importance. He also claimed that for many years to come these powers would be necessary because the world would be pretty short of these goods for some time. The Co-operative movement of this country, at any rate, with its demands for rationing and fair shares, necessitates Regulations or permanent legal sanction for the Government to carry on with that policy.
Raw materials of many sorts are demanded all over the world today. In Canada, Argentine and elsewhere where industry is arising there is an increased demand for raw materials. The allocation of raw materials needs special powers. The best utilisation of raw materials needs special powers which, I believe, will be needed beyond the period of re-armament in this country. I therefore have great pleasure in supporting this Motion, and I hope the Government will give serious thought to the considerations which I have put forward.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Holman) seems to me to be a bit of a pessimist. He said that in these times, as opposed to Victorian times, we can expect in future years recurring crises and that he could foresee only difficulties. We have had a crisis during six years of Socialist misrule, which goes to prove that the Socialist Government never foresaw any of the difficulties. He also referred to a permanent shortage of dollars. I agree that there are difficulties which may last for some years ahead, but I refuse to be such a pessimist as the hon. Gentleman. I refuse to believe that there will be recurring crises; I refuse to foresee only difficulties, and I refuse to believe that there will be a permanent shortage of dollars.
I do not wish the hon. and gallant Gentleman to misinterpret what I said. I said that there would be recurring crises if we continued to relax and give more opportunities for imports of all descriptions, including luxuries and so on, when things began to look better. That is the sort of thing which brings another crisis.
We shall have to look at HANSARD tomorrow to see whether I have misquoted the hon. Gentleman. If I have misquoted him, I will apologise, but I do not think I have done so.
I rise with some general feeling of criticism of the necessity for renewing holus-bolus masses of Regulations in this way. I recognise, however, that it is absolutely necessary on this occasion to do so. The Government have been in office for only a fortnight, and I think it was a little unfair of the hon. Member of Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), earlier this afternoon to criticise the Government for not having made up their minds what to do with this mass of Orders.
I take the line that was adopted in the Gracious Speech:
My Ministers will … review the whole subject with the aim of reducing the number of these controls and regulations and, wherever
possible, embodying those which must be kept in legislation requiring annual renewal by Parliament:
There obviously are some Regulations which will have to be kept for defence reasons. There would seem to be others which ought to be embodied not only in legislation requiring annual renewal, but permanent legislation, and I hope that the list will get progressively smaller as years go by as and when we are able to enact in this Parliament permanent legislation or legislation requiring annual renewal.
I should like to ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary one question about Regulation 33. In the last Parliament there were two Consolidation Bills dealing with midwives, one for England and one for Scotland. Those Consolidation Bills repealed the Acts referred to in Regulation 33. I have no legal knowledge of these matters, and I should therefore like to know whether it is in order to continue an Order which refers to an Act which has been wholly repealed.
The other point I should like to raise relates to Regulation 60CC. No doubt my right hon. and learned Friend has left this Order in prior to dealing with the whole question of identity cards. It seems to me that in these days the Post Office might well be deprived of the right to require the production of an identity card by anybody who wants to open an account in the Post Office Savings Bank. Before the war the Post Office never had those powers. They had to take the identity of the individual on trust or make such other inquiries as they could. This has nothing whatever to do with defence, and I suggest that in these days the Post Office should revert to the 'pre-war practice of ordinary business and commercial dealings with their customers who want to open Post Office savings accounts. I hope that that Regulation will not appear again.
I should like also to raise the whole question of identity cards. The Ministry of Food say that they cannot issue ration cards without identity cards, but those of us who go and renew our ration cards from year to year regard the whole procedure of having to take our identity cards with us as a farce. A large number of people in this country have lost their identity cards but they get new ration books without producing them. I think it is generally understood by those in the military intelligence service, at any rate, that the identity card without a photograph is no proof of identity. It seems to me, therefore, that the time has arrived when the Government should look into the whole question of identity cards and see whether they can get rid of them once for all.
This is a war-time measure, and although it may have been necessary in war-time, it has lent itself to an enormous amount of forgery and evasion during the, war and still more since. I hope, therefore, that this will be one of the first things, as mentioned in the Gracious Speech, that His Majesty's Ministers will remove. I hope this Regulation will either become very much shorter or that it will be replaced where necessary by permanent or temporary legislation which can be discussed in Parliament, and amended and dealt with in the proper democratic spirit of a democratic country.
Mr. James MaeColl:
I wish to direct the attention of the House to something which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), and that is the proposal which is mentioned in paragraph 2 of the Explanatory Memorandum to revoke Defence Regulation 68CA, which deals with the restriction of the conversion of housing accommodation to use for non-residential purposes.
Before I come to the merits of the Regulation, I should like to put to hon. Members opposite a point relating to something which I gather the Home Secretary implied earlier on, namely, that if it were found in practice that this Regulation was needed it would be possible to re-enact it under existing legislation. It is not for me to try to teach the Home Secretary law, and I do not know whether he is right or wrong, but I must say that that surprised me very much. I think we ought to have a categorical assurance that it will be possible to re-enact it. My view would be that the proposal to revoke this Order was an astonishing proposal, one which, it seems to me, has been taken without really considering all the implications involved.
Having made that general legal point, I should like to express my astonishment that on this, the first occasion on which the new Government have appeared to introduce legislation affecting local government and housing, there is no representative of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in the House. There is nobody here to tell us what will be the effect of this proposal on the housing situation. I have not been a Member of the House for very long, but even in the short time I have been a Member I have seen occasions upon which hon. Members opposite, when they were in Opposition, created a big fuss, not because there was no representative of the Ministry present, but because the Minister himself was not present.
It used to be embarrassing for my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East, whose ability and Parliamentary skill I think everybody recognises, because of the almost slighting things which were said of him, implying that he had no right to be there to represent his Minister and asking where his principal was. Yet here we have a proposal to remove this very important Regulation, which has been used for a very long time, when nobody is present from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to explain to us the reason for its removal and the effects its removal will have.
I gather from the copious note-taking which is going on that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is to make a contribution to this discussion later. Nobody has a more sincere admiration than I of the Parliamentary skill and resourcefulness of the Financial Secretary, but if there is one subject upon which his mind is an innocent virginity, I should have thought it was the subject of local government, and I am rather surprised that he intends to launch out in this debate.
Perhaps I may come to the merits of this Regulation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members would be wise to realise that it is important to check what precisely we are doing before we discuss the merits of what we are doing. I do not know whether we are, as the Home Secretary suggested, merely making a technical change which does not matter or whether we are doing something which may go to the very roots of control of housing accommodation in this country, as I very much suspect is the case.
This is not a dead Regulation; it is in constant use, and it was used in my constituency only about a month ago. The purpose of using it in that case was to deal with a proposal to take over a house which housed a large number of working-class families and to turn it into a very worth-while thing—a Conservative club. That was the proposal which came before the local authority for them to examine from a housing point of view, and of course it does happen from time to time that somebody comes along with a proposal to take over accommodation which has been used for housing and to use it as a bookmaker's office or as the headquarters of the local Conservative association or for some other purpose of a rather speculative character and of limited social importance.
That may not be a bad thing, but it is important that the housing authority responsible for housing in the local area should be able to say whether or not it is desirable that this change should take place. That is all that is involved it is not an absolute prohibition but is a question of leaving to the local housing authority the responsibility for saying whether or not a change ought to be made. Are we to understand that the Regulation is being revoked because it is no longer necessary? Is it that we have so far advanced in our housing programme that we can now afford to dispense with it? I must say that I gathered yesterday that the Government's housing programme was receding into the future. Are we to believe that by this date in December we shall have built sufficient houses to afford to allow housing accommodation to be converted for other purposes without any control whatsoever?
It may be said that this matter can be covered by town planning Regulations and that the planning authority can deal with it. I want to make two observations on that point. First, I want to ask a question of the Financial Secretary, if he is to reply. If, in fact, the neighbourhood in which the property coming under this Regulation is situated is zoned for commercial use, would it be possible for the town planning authority, on housing as opposed to amenity grounds, to say that the property should not be used for business purposes? I quite agree that where somebody proposes to launch into a business in a residential area, the planning authority is seized of the problem and can take action; but if it is an area in which there is a small amount of housing accommodation but which is commercially zoned, is it possible to prevent that property from being converted to a non-residential user? That is a point upon which the House ought to be clear before it agrees to this proposal.
It is astonishing that the new Government, who have talked so much in the past about the importance of preserving local authorities and particularly the virility, the independence and the autonomy of the small local authority, should choose, without any real explanation, without even the responsible Minister taking the trouble to come to the House, to make this proposal to hand over responsibility from the housing authority, which is the district authority, to the county council, which is the planning authority.
That seems to me to be a major change in the organisation of our local government— and a major change introduced by a side-wind; and I think we should have the views of the Minister of Housing and Local Government before a proposal of this sort is made. When we have a district authority which is the housing authority, and we say to them, "You are responsible for housing in your area," it seems entirely wrong that their work should be hamstrung by having the county council acting under town planning powers, even if those town planning powers are adequate, about which I have the very gravest doubts.
Is it not a fact that in the vast majority of cases these matters are dealt with under delegated powers which, of course, belong to the same authority as the housing authority? Would the hon. Gentleman in fairness also tell the House that the appeal under this Regulation goes to the same Minister as does the appeal in respect of a planning refusal, and that there is, therefore, liable to be too much conflicting and competing jurisdiction if both are allowed to be exercised, as it were, in a parallel way?
I think the hon. Gentleman is showing a startling belief in the virtue of central government. I am astonished by what he is suggesting. What it amounts to is that because Whitehall can tie up all this business, because the appeal is to go to the same Minister at Whitehall, it does not matter at all what the local authority thinks about it and it does not matter at all what is the discretion of the local authority. The argument is that it can all be tied up. What I am saying is that if we leave to the local district authority, the local housing authority, responsibility for housing, we should also leave to them responsibility for controlling the non-residential user of premises.
The hon. Gentleman also made a point about whether this was delegated power. I think delegation varies from area to area, and I do not believe it is possible to make any generalisation about it. When power is delegated to the divisional planning authority, it does not always follow that the authority will be the same as the bousing authority. In some large boroughs it may be. In some large boroughs that may be true, but in other cases it may not be true.
Finally, I ask whether there has been consultation with the local authorities' associations about this. After all, we have been told enough in all conscience since we came back about the Government not having been in office for very long. I know the working of local authorities' associations and I know that they move very slowly. I can hardly believe, therefore, that the Government, in the short time during which they have been in office, have had time to consult all the local authorities' associations who are affected by this change. I think that we really do require some explanation.
I say again—and I repeat it without qualification because I think it is a major point that ought to be repeated—that on this first occasion when we discuss local government and housing we want to know specifically whether there has been consultation with the local authorities' associations, which is obsolutely vital in the whole of our administration of local government. Nobody from the responsible Ministry is here to give us the assurance, "I have consulted with the A.M.C. or the Standing Joint Committee of the Metropolitan Boroughs"—whatever body it is—"I have consulted with them and can assure the House that they are satisfied." There is nobody here who can tell us that. This is one of the most deplorable examples of the over-riding of the independence and autonomy of the local authorities, and of doing it in a manner calculated to mislead the House as to what is really happening.
I am afraid I cannot follow the points that the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) has raised; except simply to say that he seems to have assumed more than he knows. I hope we shall hear from my right hon. and learned Friend that there has been full consultation.
The point I want to deal with is a point upon which I know there has been consultation with the local authorities. I want to refer to Regulations 68AA, 68AB and 68B which deal with the reconditioning of houses which were condemned and making them available for occupation during the present housing shortage. It was brought to my attention in my constituency before the Election that there had been consultation with the local authority on this matter with a view to terminating these Regulations. The effect of that would have been, of course, that a number of people would then have been houseless, because if the Regulations were terminated it would not be lawful to occupy those houses.
I am glad to see that these Regulations still figure on the list, and I trust that means will be taken to ensure, whether through the incorporation of the Regulations in permanent legislation or otherwise, that it will be possible for some houses to continue to be occupied —subject, of course, to the usual condition, that they are in a suitable condition for occupation—so long as there is a need for them.
Of course, there must come, and there will come, a point in time when it would be wrong to maintain this power in operation, as it would inevitably tend to give some local authorities an easy way out, to leave people in houses that have been condemned rather than rehouse them. However, I do not believe that that time has come yet. From experience in my own constituency, I say that it is necessary for these particular Regulations to be kept in operation at any rate for the time being.
I think that most hon. Members on this side of the House would like to see a reduction of as many controls as possible and the incorporation of the rest into permanent legislation. I certainly do not share the view of an hon. Member opposite that we have run into our present crisis due to the failure of the operation of the controls. So far as I can see he would never in any circumstances relax any import restrictions, although the import restrictions that have been relaxed have been relaxed generally in compensation for some advantage given to this country in return. That is the proper way of relaxing restrictions.
We all deplore the fact that we have to impose import restrictions in the present emergency. We recognise that such restrictions inevitably tend to cause other countries to make restrictions against us. We hope that such restrictions will be removed wherever it can be shown to be to the advantage of this country, and I believe that this Government, over the period during which they will occupy office, will be able to affect a substantial reduction in these controls.
I want to compliment the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) on being the first Member from that side to compliment the Government on their course of action tonight. I have listened to practically all the debate, and I must say that it has been a weird and wonderful experience. I understood the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) to criticise my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) for following in the footsteps of those speakers who were coming after him. I know that my hon. and learned Friend is very able, but I did not know that he had that amount of prescience.
Then my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), did succeed in taunting the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), into making an intervention. But what a halfhearted affair it was. He showed that he was only too happy to remain a villein under a new overlord, because he hoped that eventually he would achieve the complete anarchy for which he really stands. I can only say to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, who does not happen to be present now—I hope he will read what I am saying—that if it is going to help him make a better and more forceful speech we shall be pleased to reserve a little space among us here on the back bench, whence he was accustomed to launching his tirades in the past.
With the exception of the hon. Member for Dumfries not a single Member from the other side of the House, sitting behind the Government Front Bench, has dared to support the action taken by the Government tonight. The hon. Member for Colchester attacked the Government for insisting that identity cards would still be needed to make withdrawals from the Post Office. I shall watch with great interest later tonight the efforts of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to answer all those criticisms, because he indulged in that very sort of criticism when he was on this side of the House.
I must say that the case for these Motions was admirably put tonight by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). He made out a very strong case for maintaining the delegated legislation which is covered by these Motions, and that is certainly more than the Home Secretary succeeded in doing. The Home Secretary showed that he was very uncomfortable. I hope he is not letting Welsh affairs dwell too heavily upon him. He certainly did not look happy in his task of reversing and taking back all that he has said on this subject in the past few years. I must say that I am surprised at some of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen over there daring to take office in this Government.
I see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport has just opened his eyes. I should like to congratulate him upon accepting the responsibility for looking after all forms of transport, including civil aviation. I hope that he will shortly be taking a flight somewhere or other. Most Ministers seem to be fixing up trips abroad during the long Christmas Recess, and I hope that he will take the opportunity of testing out an air route somewhere in that time.
What did he have to say on the Second Reading of the Supplies and Services (Defence Purposes) Bill earlier this year? He said:
The people are getting very tired of being pushed around and having their private lives controlled because the State has fallen down on its job… controls have become intolerable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February. 1951; Vol 484, c. 1341.]
How can the Parliamentary Secretary now have the effrontery to support a Government which is continuing these controls about which he spoke in such strong language on that occasion?
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch had something to say about continuing these measures in force by means of a Motion on which it is impossible to put down reasoned Amendments. He has been supported in that in the past by no less a person than the new Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Again, I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the hon. Gentleman on entering the realm of financial affairs; I think it was the only matter on which he had nothing to say on the last two Parliaments. In fact, looking through the appointments to the Government Front Bench, I would say that the Prime Minister has taken the opportunity of playing a sort of musical chairs by shifting everybody away from the subject on which they have spoken in the past.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall forgo that pleasure until we reach the next Budget, when I shall have the much greater pleasure of comparing it, line by line, with what the hon. Gentleman has to say about the Budget of 1952.
I want to turn for a moment to what he had to say on the equally important subject of delegated legislation on a Motion which is put down once a year. Speaking on 3rd April of this year he said:
that power "—
referring to this power to carry on the Regulations—
has been taken by…singularly objectionable procedure of continuing them in force by a Motion.
Does he still agree that that is an objectionable way, or will he support it in his winding up speech tonight? I shall be interested to hear. He went on to say:
On that Motion it will be quite impossible…to amend the powers at all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 91.]
A little later, in supporting the suggestion that they ought to be made into Statutory Instruments, so that they could be discussed in his House, he said that they were asking for the "lowest form" of Parliamentary control. Does he still think that?
I will accept the invitation of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who hands me a quotation, to turn aside from the Financial Secretary for a few moments to draw the attention of the House to a speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, in which he said:
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 re-armament. 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"—
incidentally, I break off to point out that I have yet to reach a full stop. I must express the hope, now that the hon. Gentleman has gone to the Ministry of Education, that he will pay particular attention to English in the Curricula of the schools for which he is now responsible—
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"—
I hope that today the hon. Gentleman will appeal to the better feelings of his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and ask him to withdraw the Motion, because that is what he is saying here—
that really he ought not to do the business he is doing this evening by rather jauntily indicating"—
there I must agree; there was no jauntiness about the Home Secretary today; he was looking most despondent and dejected, if I may say so—
'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'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2558.]
In thanking my hon. and learned Friend for that quotation, I must say that, faced with observations of that kind it is rather extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman is today sitting there on the Government Front Bench ready to support these Motions, which are to be put to the test in a very short while. I cannot dwell further on the activities of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, because on looking through the reports of the debates in the House I decided not to enjoy the pleasure of reading his speeches.
I return to another quotation from the new Financial Secretary, who, on 20th November, 1947, said:
No House of Commons worth its salt will give a Minister sweeping powers unless and until that Minister has made it perfectly clear that there is a real necessity for them."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 1445.]
This afternoon, the Home Secretary did not bother to indicate that there was a necessity. He was anxious to rush through his speech as quickly as possible to evade the issue. Again, I should like the Financial Secretary to say, in reply this evening, whether he thinks there is any real necessity for all the Orders and Regulations which he has attacked consistently in the past six and a half years, since the end of the war.
I should like to turn for a moment or two to Regulation 16 (Stopping up or diversion of highways for purposes of open-cast coal and generating stations), because I want to ask whether all that is really necessary. My authority for asking that is no less a person than the new Solicitor-General, whom I compliment upon his accession to power, and I express the hope, if I may, that he will continue to give the House the advantage of his long learning in the law upon the many difficult and tricky subjects that come up in the course of our debates.
I want him to say what he thinks of this legal opinion that he expressed on this matter of stopping up highways, given by him on 20th November, 1947. Referring to Regulation 16 he said:
In the Second Reading debate"—
this was in Committee, when he was repeating his opinion—
on this Measure, I indicated that I thought it was wrong that the Minister of Fuel and Power should have this power, and not the Minister of Town and Country Planning.
A little later he said the reason why he said so was
because one part of the Government does not know what another part of the Government has put in one of its Bills…. I suggest that this Regulation is not really necessary." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 1370–1.]
Before the Financial Secretary winds up the debate, I should like the Solicitor-General to intervene for a moment or two to explain whether he thinks that a Regulation that he thought was "really not necessary" in 1947 is now necessary in November, 1951. In fact, if he cares to indicate his views I will gladly give way to him now. I can see that the Solicitor-General is already so overburdened with the legal problems in his Department that he has not had time to give his attention to this subject. I hope that on some other occasion when he is called to the Despatch Box he will have the opportunity of indicating why he is supporting the Government today and is completely reversing the views which he expressed on more than one occasion in the past.
I now come back again to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I am sorry to have to come back again to him, but I will say as a compliment to him that he was one of the most active back benchers of the party opposite during its days of Opposition and he has only himself to blame if we find many more quotations from his utterances than we do from the utterances of his more silent hon. Friends. When talking about government by Motion in the same Debate, he said:
… this is a clumsy and inefficient way of perpetuating them.
He also said:
This is a slipshod method …"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 1375–6.]
When he winds up the debate tonight, will he say that this government by Regulation is a slipshod method of conducting the affairs of the nation? Will he admit that he is engaging upon a clumsy and inefficient way of running the affairs of the country?
I reaffirm what I said at the beginning of my remarks, that it was my right hon. Friend who made out the case for the Motions we are discussing today, and that the Home Secretary and most of his right hon. and hon. colleagues on the Government Front Bench dare not take part in the debate for longer than was really necessary because they knew that they would have to eat their words in supporting their own Motion.
In conclusion, I should like to accept the Home Secretary's invitation to hon. Members to put forward suggestions for dealing with what everybody admits to be the difficult and tricky problem of delegated legislation. I am sure that some of my hon. Friends would like to take advantage of that offer after giving careful consideration to all that is involved. I want to mention one way in which the Home Secretary can help with the problem. He will know—if he does not, he can consult the Leader of the House—that whenever the Government wishes to move the adjournment of the House at any time before 10 p.m. it has to put the Motion to the test of a Division.
He will also know that, because of the order in which it stands on the Order Paper, a Prayer is usually taken after 10 p.m. He will also know that, under the present rules of order and the tradition of the House, if the Government cares at any time after 10 p.m. to move the adjournment of the House, the Motion is carried forthwith without debate. It is the only occasion on which the Government of the day is able to close the free discussion of this honourable House.
If the Home Secretary wants to make a contribution towards enabling the House to maintain its rightful control not only over delegated legislation but also all other Government activities, he should take steps to have the Standing Order altered so that, whenever the Executive wants to control the affairs of the House by moving the adjournment, it should always have to put it to the test of a Division, and, even after 10 p.m., the Government should keep its supporters here to see that its will prevails.
I commend what I have said to the occupants of the Government Front Bench, and I hope that they will take an early opportunity, on some other occasion if not tonight, of explaining why they were able to support the Motions before us to- day after all they have had to say about them in the past.
The hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Adams), was more than unjust when he said that my right hon. and learned Friend evaded the issue this afternoon. The trouble was that the hon. Gentleman completely missed the issue. Does he believe that the Government should be able to go through all these Orders and Regulations in 14 days and bring forward a review at this time? It is only 14 days since the Government came into Office.
Does the hon. Member suggest that, when various Amendments were moved on the last occasion when we discussed this subject, the hon. Gentlemen who moved them did so without considering the Orders to which they moved the Amendments?
I am talking about the whole question of Regulations and the principle of delegated legislation. All my hon. Friends have supported the Government argument that there should be a full review of this legislation. That is the point, and my right hon. and learned Friend put it fairly and squarely to the House.
I also thought that the former Home Secretary put forward very clearly the principles of delegated legislation by which the Socialist Government carried out a great many of its policies in the last six years. He put the Socialist point of view clearly, and it is because he did so that I feel I must rise at this late hour to say how profoundly I disagree personally with the principles that he enunciated. I feel very strongly that, on principle, the method of delegated legislation should not be adopted where it can be possibly avoided. I thought there was something in the suggestion that Amendments might be made to Regulations and Orders before the House, and I shall be interested to hear what is said by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in reply to it.
I want to make it clear that, in speaking for myself, I also express the views of certain Liberals who support me in our joint association in Sheffield. The free- dom of the individual is very dear to them. It should be said at this time that the review which my right hon. and learned Friend said he will undertake comes under four heads. Some of this legislation will be abolished, some will be turned into annual renewable legislation, some will be embodied in permanent legislation, and some will be continued in its present form if it is used for a certain time or for defence problems.
I put the following questions to my right hon. and learned Friend. Is that a comprehensive view? Can we be satisfied that within a year all these regulations will have been put into one or the other four categories? If so, may we hope that the last category will be a small category? I sincerely hope that we shall not find a great percentage put into the fourth category. I believe that they can well be put into the first three categories. That being so, I am satisfied that hon. Members opposite will find that the principles of freedom which we on this side have maintained for generations, together with similar Liberal principles which have been maintained in this House—
On a point of order. Is the hon. Gentleman in order in constantly referring to the Liberals in this debate without apparently having given them notice? No Liberal Members are present.
I am obliged for that Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I want to tell the hon. Member that I have the honour to be supported by many Liberals in my constituency, and it is on their behalf, as well as my own and that of the Conservatives in my constituency, that I feel that these points of principle should be raised.
I appreciate the problem with which my hon. and learned Friend is faced within such a short time of taking office as a result of the vast labyrinth of delegated legislation. It is obvious that the course which he is asking the House to take is the only one that we can take, and I look forward to the review which he has promised, for I am certain that it will be in accordance with the principles which we on this side of the House have held for many years.
I intervene shortly to deal further with the point I raised with the Home Secretary when he said that it was proposed to revoke Regulation 68 CA 1 before 10th December of this year. As some three or four hours have elapsed since I made this intervention, I should have thought that by now the Minister of Housing and Local Government, or his Parliamentary Secretary, would have had the courtesy to come to the House. But of all the galaxy of Ministers, senior and junior, who have attended on the Government Front Bench throughout the last three or four hours, the only ones who have not been present at all at any time are the Minister concerned and his Parliamentary Secretary.
As one who has been involved in representations of this sort in the past, I think it is right that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary should set some sort of decent example to the House. It is most important to us that we should have clear answers from the responsible Minister as to what steps he is taking about this particular Regulation to assure himself that the local authorities concerned have been adequately consulted and their views fully known.
I have had some responsibility in the past for the operation of this Regulation, and I know that local authorities, which of course include many other than planning authorities, are jealous of their power. I am far from satisfied that they are willing to see this Regulation revoked in this manner. I understand from some of my hon. Friends that local authorities in Lancashire and elsewhere have made protests about it. I am not expressing any view as to whether it is essential that this power should be retained, but it is necessary that the House should be assured that those chiefly concerned have been approached and that their views are known to the responsible Minister. The responsible Minister is not here to tell us, and it is taking matters a little far not to insure, whatever his previous intentions may have been, that he was present after all the time we have given him to appear. It is discourteous to the whole House that neither he nor his Parliamentary Secretary have appeared.
I would point out that it is not at all clear as to what the position would be if it should be found desirable to re-enact this Regulation. As far as I can understand it, the view of the right hon. and learned Gentleman was that it would be within the power of the House, if it so desired at a later date, to re-enact these provisions. That goes against all I should have thought to be the case.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says, "Could be made"; but is it being revoked? It is a little important that we should get this matter clear in view of the intervention of the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) and the certain amount of obscurity which has been placed upon it as a result. I understand that the Regulation at present in operation is being maintained under the Act of 1945, but the proposal now is to repeal it by order. If that proposal is carried out, I apprehend that the Regulation could not be re-enacted in the way the hon. Member for Croydon, East suggested.
I have now ceased to be a lawyer, but I still respect the legal attainments of the ex-President of the Board of Trade, and, as the right hon. and learned Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross) has raised the point, I shall check my own view that it could be continued up to the 10th December.
If I may be allowed to continue after these legal arguments, the only thing that seems clear is that there is a great deal of doubt as to what the position is.
I think it is treating the House very lightly that a matter of some real importance about housing should be passed through in this light-hearted manner without the Minister responsible even caring to appear in the House at all. We should insist that, before the Financial Secretary replies to the debate, he should have an opportunity of consulting with the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and that the right hon. Gentleman should make an appearance in this House to express a point of view upon the Regulation. I know that local authorities that are not planning authorities regard very jealously their powers in this respect, and I should be very surprised indeed to hear that they were prepared to allow the Regulation to be revoked without expressing opposition in some pointed way.
In some of these cases it is quite true that appeals were made to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. In some cases the local authority was upheld in its view, and in some cases the Minister allowed an appeal made by a private person who wished to convert housing accommodation for business and other purposes. It is important that the local authority most concerned should have the power to express its view, and should, in the generality of cases, have the power to decide what use should be made of these premises.
The House will be most unwise to allow this to pass without the clearest expression of view from the right hon. Gentleman responsible for the matter, because I know it is one of great concern to local authorities throughout the countries as well as to the constituents of hon. Members.
I must make it clear at once that I speak here merely as an ex-President of the Board of Trade, and that I do not (propose, therefore, to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), into the legal difficulties which arise on these proposals to repeal one of these Regulations. Though I speak also in the presence of the ex-Attorney-General and indeed in the presence of the existing Attorney-General, I should have thought that there was no doubt at all that once this Regulation is repealed, if repealed it be, between now and 10th December, in accordance with the intentions of the Government, there would remain no power to reintroduce it. That being the position, and the Government decision having apparently been taken without any legal advice about these matters, I have no doubt that the decision to repeal the Regulation will now be made the subject of grave re-consideration.
I am very disappointed in this debate. I doubt whether the public at large, the public who listen in the Gallery to this debate or such portion of the public as take the trouble to read the reports of this debate in HANSARD or in the news- papers tomorrow will realise for a moment the great importance and significance of the matters we have been discussing this afternoon.
Here was the occasion—the one and the great occasion for hon. Members opposite —I can hardly see any hon. Members opposite; the benches are nearly empty—who were elected to support the Government to come here and vindicate and implement what was, of course, one of the greatest pledges ever made by the Prime Minister, his pledge "to set the people free." Here was a moment at which to strike a blow throwing off the system by which our efforts—and again I quote the Prime Minister—have been "cribbed, cabin'd, confined" and our energies "paralysed by this system of controls." Here was the moment at which at long last hon. Members, if they troubled to be here at all, could have cast off the bonds and the fetters which wicked Socialists like myself have imposed on the economy of our country.
What happened? Instead of their coming here to carry out their Election pledges, to do the things they promised to do in their Election speeches and their Election addresses, hon. Members have remained silent or away. Indeed, we have listened to the Home Secretary proposing to condemn the people of this country to a further year of the bondage which has been the main subject of their attack for the six years past. I must say it was a very subdued Home Secretary, if I may say so with the utmost respect and friendliness, who approached this no doubt unwelcome task. He appeared as if he had just come back from a severely adverse judgment in an important case in the Court of Appeal. He gave us a catalogue of the actual Regulations which were involved in this matter. He made vague reference—and I welcome it in spite of its vagueness—about future legislation, but not one word of why it is necessary to renew these Regulations or the purposes for which the Regulations would be used.
I think I am right, and if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would like to correct me and say now what are the purposes for which these Regulations will be used and the reasons for which particular ones are necessary, I will readily give way to him, because that is what we have all been anxious to hear. I think what he said was that in the course of the next few months, or in the course of the next year they will consider which ones should be done away with altogether, which should be embodied in one kind of legislation and which in another, and which might be the subject of permanent continuation. But as to how particular Regulations were to be operated, which were to be maintained permanently, which were to be made the subject of an annual Act, not one word was said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
The truth is, of course, that hon. Members opposite—those hon. Members who are opposite—unable to support the Government, were either by their silence or by their absence very wisely trying to refrain from making the fact too obvious in the newspapers. I am not going to make too much of that. I am not going to comment at length on the fact that a great many hon. Members opposite are devoting a great deal of sweat and, I dare say, a great many tears to the no doubt painful and rather sick-making exercise of eating all the speeches they have previously made while, at the same time, surreptitiously hiding away all their Election pledges and shuffling hurriedly away from all the principles and policies for which the party opposite has stood as the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts), said, "for generations."
No doubt they will repeat that performance on many occasions in this Parliament and no doubt we shall come to regard it as a matter of course. We shall regard it with no more surprise and no greater edification than we regard the ordinary and more sordid incidents of everyday life. After all, there is no reason why we should complain about this matter because it was the Prime Minister himself, at a much earlier stage of his long, very full, and distinguished career who said that "consistency is the virtue of fools." One must admit he has lived up to his own axiom with a great deal of gallant enthusiasm. If, now, hon. Members opposite, admitted for a short term to the hard school of political responsibility. are having to learn the hard facts of life, one must rejoice that it should be so and one must welcome, as one does in the case of the repentant sinner, their conversion. So I shall say nothing more about that.
The noble Lord the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), said just now that an observation I made about hon. Members opposite eating their speeches was nonsense. I agree, as far as he is concerned, that it was nonsense. It was indeed only when the noble Lord spoke and was followed a little later by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), that we had for a short moment a breath of fresh air coming from the other side of the House.
The noble Lord really let the cat out of the Government bag. He spoke, and his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South, spoke, with the true voice of Tory policy, Tory policy "for generations" as the hon. Member for Heeley subsequently called it, and the theme which underlay the speech of the noble Lord and that of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, and also that of the hon. Member for Heeley, by which they sought to excuse the Government Motion so far as they felt it in their hearts to excuse at all—was that the Government had not really had time to deal with these matters.
The Government did not know what the position really was and, anyway, the present conditions were very exceptional. It was an emergency; a crisis, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, kept saying, and perhaps during the present crisis some of these controls would have to be kept on, but the intention of the party opposite was to do away with them as quickly as possible. That was the burden of their apology.
But that really will not quite do. The hard core of these controls, the hard core of this legislation, the subject which gives it its main importance at present, is that part of the Regulations which establishes the whole system of economic planning and control. Did not the Government understand the gravity of the economic situation? Had they not had ample opportunity, in the course of the last year or so, to consider which of these controls would be required to deal with the economic situation, if indeed any of them were required, whether it would be desirable to embody them in permanent legislation, or how otherwise the matter should be dealt with?
This alibi that hon. Members opposite are attempting to set up—this alibi that they did not know the gravity of our economic position—was always a bit thin and it is being worked now to a point where it is positively threadbare and indecent. I do not complain that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not been able today to produce the legislation of a more permanent kind which he contemplated in the course of his speech. That I can readily understand, but what I cannot understand is that he has been quite unable to inform the House what part of this body of Regulations, particularly what part of the Regulations dealing with economic matters, it is proposed to operate now and what part of it will be embodied in more regular legislation, whether annually renewable, or of a permanent kind. That is what I found it very difficult to follow.
It is not open to hon. Members opposite—and I invite the Financial Secretary to direct his mind to this point, because I am going to speak on it at a little length—to say, as they have been attempting to say, that they did not have before them the facts which would enable them to anticipate in advance of their coming into office, as, presumably, they hoped to do, which of these controls they desired to continue to operate, which to modify and which to embody in some more permanent and regular form of legislation.
The truth is that in a way in which no Government had ever previously dared to do, all the facts regarding our economic situation and the statistics concerning it have been disclosed from period to period so that the public might form an appreciation of the situation. I know it is a nuisance to have to go through all those statistics and work out things for oneself, but not only were all the facts and the statistics disclosed but my colleagues were constantly making speeches of almost brutal frankness in the course of the last year, drawing attention to the dangers of the present situation and the measures that would have to be taken to deal with it.
I will not go into these in detail. I do not like to quote my own speeches, but it is rather easier to do so because one has the notes of them at hand. I saw this morning that among many speeches in which I dealt with this matter—I noticed it particularly because the Prime Minister the other day referred, as I had often done, to the risk of "bankruptcy" if the danger to our economic situation was not corrected and yesterday the Leader of
the House referred to new facts being "exposed"—very soon after I became President of the Board of Trade I said:
The result is that we are bang up against a very dangerous deficit on our balance of trade—a deficit of£522 million in the first six months. That is balance of trade, not balance of payments. There are many adjustments to be made: invisibles to be brought in and so on. But it is certain that not only shall we not have a surplus on balance of payments as last year but a serious deficit, indeed on the dollar balance a grave deficit.
I said about the reserves:
It is true that last year we built up our gold and dollar reserves very considerably. We can hardly hope to continue that in face of the worsened terms of trade and need for more dollar imports. In any case the ratio of reserves to imports is not at all satisfactory. Even last year, although the amount of reserves went up, the ratio to imports decreased. In terms of purchasing power it is only a quarter to a third of pre-war.
In speech after speech by colleagues and I drew the attention of hon. Members opposite to the facts of our economic situation. Month after month they had the opportunity before the Election campaign of making up their minds what they were going to do on the problem of the controls which today the Government are asking should be renewed.
When the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South, spoke he indicated clearly that in the view of what he said was the great majority of the members of his party this system of controls—particularly referring to the economic controls—was one which should be done away with as quickly as possible, and he anticipated that in the next few months that would be the Government's concern and endeavour. I was glad that the noble Lord put the matter in the way he did.
That certainly does raise what appears to us to be a very fundamental question, the question of whether this system of planning and control embodied at this time in the present Regulations is something which is simply an emergency system to meet a situation which in the end will disappear or whether it is expected by His Majesty's present Government that the Government of this country will always require to have an interest and concern in ensuring that the resources of the nation are used to the best advantage of the nation.
I invite the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to indicate clearly what is the position of His Majesty's Government in that regard because after the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South, the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, and the speech of the hon. Member for Heeley—and those are the only speeches from the Government benches which have alluded to this matter at all—we must know what is to be accepted as representing Government policy.
If the noble Lord and his hon. Friends are right, there is, of course, a fundamental cleavage between the other side of the House and this about this matter. We on this side of the House dislike control for the sake of control. All those on the Socialist benches are, of course, intense individualists. I would myself support hon. Members opposite in any action they might take to do away with any form of regulation or delegated legislation if any there be which really has the effect of infringing the personal liberties of the subject—I mean the classical liberties: freedom of speech, freedom from arrest, liberties of that kind.
But we on this side of the House have always thought that just as in war-time it is necessary to promote, develop, mobilise and deploy the resources of the nation for the purposes of national defence, so in peace-time it is both right and necessary that none of our resources should be wasted or dissipated in ways which do not promote the prosperity of the country. [Interruption.] I will come to the more detailed part of the question but I am first postulating what we regard as the right principle.
We regard that as right in principle and necessary in practice because we, unlike the noble Lord, believe that nowadays a return to the old days of a haphazard economy, to the fates and chances of a catch-as-catch-can policy, the kind of policy which brought so much misery to our people in days gone by, would bring absolute disaster to the country if adopted now. I would like to know if the Financial Secretary, speaking on behalf of the Government, agrees with me or with the noble Lord on that matter. We affirm that the community has the right and indeed the duty, not to interfere where intervention is not necessary, but certainly to assert and exercise a reasonable supervision over the nation's economic resources so as to ensure that all the resources are used to the best advantage of the nation as a whole.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman really cannot discover anything in my speech that divides me from the view and opinion that the nation's resources should be used in the national interest. I have made that plain all the time. It is a question of how it is done.
I am very glad to hear the noble Lord say that. He will have to come over to this side of the House. We shall welcome him here for, although I have had occasion in the past to be very critical of some of his speeches, I have always conceded the sincerity with which he speaks. In this matter the real difference between the noble Lord and, I rather fancy, some of his own Front Bench and Members on this side of the House, is that he thinks the resources of the nation will be used to the best advantage of the nation if the whole matter is left to the fates and chances of private enterprise.
We must remember by whom the Tory Party is now led. When we remember the pledges which the then Leader of the Opposition repeatedly made about "setting the people free" we must consider whether any account at all is to be taken of those pledges of the present Prime Minister.
I have always understood—though I may be wrong about this—that the Tory Party have previously attacked this Measure which we are now invited to renew for a year on the ground that it was one which interfered with personal liberty. The Financial Secretary called it an intolerable system, his colleagues attacked it on the ground that it was one which imposed a kind of economic dictatorship. In the course of the debates in this House we have had all sorts of other high sounding and equally vacuous but derogatory expressions used in regard to the system which the Government are now asking us to renew. I am bound to say that if the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Colegate) is not one of those who have criticised this system of controls he must be almost alone among the 200 or 300 members of the Conservative Party who, during their Election campaign, adopted the pledge of "setting the people free" and said that they would sweep these controls away.
It really is a pity that before hon. Members opposite—and I exempt the hon. Member for Burton since he assures me that that is the case—before they attached themselves to these doctrinaire and dogmatic ideas about private enterprise, never paused to think about what the effect would be if this system of controls we are now asked to renew had, in fact, been done away with in the way they have led the electorate to believe it would. Take, for instance, the question of building. I have seen posters up on the hoardings inviting the public to "let the builder build houses" for them, or some such phrase, inferring that the proper remedy for these building shortages was to set the builders free. In speech after speech, in terms even more explicit than that, it was said by hon. Members opposite, when they were seeking election to this House, that that would be their policy.
I hope I am not disclosing any Cabinet secrets if I say that I have taken part time and again in conferences at which competing claims for one class of building or another have been discussed. One Department has said that they must have more schools in a certain area because classes were too big. Another Department has said that the hospitals were over-crowded and that they must have another hospital in a certain area. Another Department has said that they must have a defence factory, or barracks. And my own Department have said that exports are very necessary and that we must have some more factories to deal with some particular export production. All these claims are very real and important, and their relative importance has to be subjected to very grave consideration and assessment so that that priority can be properly settled in the interests of the nation.
That is the system, and the hon. Member apparently agrees with this, That it was contemplated previously that that should he done away with. I should like to know from the Financial Secretary whether it is intended to operate the existing system of building controls, if the House agrees to this Motion being carried this evening; whether that system is to be embodied in permanent legislation, and, if so, what form it is to take?
Take the question of the balance of payments, about which the Financial Secretary will no doubt fast become an expert and indeed to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already faced up with a great deal of courage and realism. It is not a new or a temporary problem. I emphasise that again, because I wish to stress that the need for these economic controls, which are the main core of what we are dealing with today, is not a temporary or an emergency need. No doubt the war aggravated the position with regard to the balance of payments, but 1935 was the only year during the 1930's when this country was not being run—under a Tory Administration—at a serious deficit.
I remember two or three years ago Sir Clive Baillieu, I think it was, who was then President of the Federation of British Industries, taking the deficit in 1938 and translating that into the prices and terms of trade existing at the time at which he spoke. He said that if that was done—and that is the fair way to make the comparison with the existing figures—the deficit in 1938, including visibles and invisibles, would have been no less than£1,200 million.
In 1938 the position was grave it is grave now, and it will always remain a matter of great seriousness which will require the constant attention of the Government. We shall never avoid grave danger unless in our little and overpopulated island we plan and control our affairs, and we can only do it by means of delegated legislation, although whether it arises under a permanent statute or under this statute may perhaps not be a matter of very great concern.
We can only avoid the balance of payments leading us again into difficulties equally as grave if we succeed in so planning and controlling our affairs that no more goes out of the house than we earn and get into it. Budgeting and planning is as much necessary in the national economy as in one's own domestic economy. If, in our domestic affairs, we do not plan in advance to control expenditure according to our earnings, we go bankrupt. And so does the nation if its affairs are not similarly controlled.
So it is the opposite. Let us see what would have happened if we had done the opposite and taken the controls off. Take first, our imports. More things would have come in. That might be very nice for some people. There would have been more motor cars. That would have been very nice, because there is a shortage of motor cars although they would have come in to the detriment of our motor car industry which has done so much to help our economic position. More luxury foods would have come in, which would have been very nice for those who could afford to pay for them. More nylons would have come in, and that would have been very nice for our wives; but it would have been to the detriment of our own textile industry. For a time we would have had many more things coming into the country. But when the time came to pay the bills from abroad the hills would have been found to have mounted up.
If at the same time, as the noble Lord would have had us do, we had taken off the system of controls which ensures production for export; if we had done away with the system of allocating scarce raw materials to export production and the system by which capital investment is organised in such a way as to give priority next after defence to export production; if we had done away with the arrangements that ensure that some things are either wholly or partly devoted to the export trade, we should have been earning less although we had been spending more.
In my own domestic affairs, I have always been told that that is the way to bankruptcy. Our system of control has been the only way we could have avoided bankruptcy for this country, and the only way we can avoid it in the future.
We have avoided it, and I hope the position is not now to be jeopardised by reckless irresponsibility on the part of hon. Members opposite who have not bothered to study the most elementary facts concerning, our economic position.
I wonder if the noble Lord would have taken off the exchange controls. They do not arise under these Regulations, and no doubt the Exchange Control Act forms an illustration of the kind of legislation which it may be a good thing for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to introduce in the place of these Regulations. But I wonder if the noble Lord would have taken the same view of the exchange control Regulations as he does about import restrictions or the Regulations designed to build up exports? I do not know, but in view of what the noble Lord has said, I hope the Financial Secretary will assure us that these Regulations, also, are to be strictly and carefully enforced.
Then there is another matter about which I would like to invite the Financial Secretary to give us some assistance. That is the grave danger of inflation. Up till now the Government have not said much about it. Are the Regulations which are involved in this Motion sufficient to enable the Government to deal with that problem? Which Regulations do they propose to use, and how do they propose to use them?
I have been talking about the balance of payments. Of course, this question of inflation is very much connected with it and, in a way, it puts the Treasury in something of a dilemma, because the very measures which are necessary to restore a manageable deficit in the balance of our foreign trade may tend, if they are not properly looked after, to act as an inflationary force drawing goods away from the domestic consumer and, on the other hand, bringing decreasing supplies of essential imports to industry.
What action do the Government propose to take about this? I am asking this question seriously and I hope that I get an answer, because the proper operation and employment of these controls may be vital in regard to this question of inflation. Our export objectives, unless they have been changed in the last fortnight or so, involve a loss to the home market of goods totalling some£600 million. The defence contribution in 1951–52 will involve something of the order of£1,300 million. There are increased wage claims which may total£200 million. These are all matters which will tend to increase the inflationary pressure, and against them we can probably only set an increase in production of something between£400 million and£500 million.
Have the Government sufficient powers under these Regulations, and do they intend to exercise them if they have, to apply the necessary corrective measures? I ask that question because I know it is thought by some hon. Members opposite—and the idea was. I believe, canvassed in the "Economist" only the other day; and I dare say that the noble Lord the hon. Member for Dorset, South, would agree with it—that the proper policy to adopt in regard to the inflationary danger now is to allow prices to rise and to let the law of supply and demand come into equilibrium.
If that is the method the Government intend to adopt in regard to this measure, I can certainly say that we will fight them —I will not say on the beaches—but we will fight them in the Committee, we will fight them on the Floor, and we will fight them in the Lobbies. If, on the other hand, they propose to use the Regulations, the renewal of which they are asking for now, to apply corrective measures, we will support any necessary corrective action which, although it may be painful, does not cause hardship where no hardship need arise, and which distributes the inconvenience and the burden of this situation fairly onto the shoulders of those who are best able to bear it. I should like to hear the view of the Financial Secretary about the operation of these controls in connection with the inflationary situation.
But the truth is—and some day I hope that the noble Lord the hon. Member for Dorset, South, will appreciate it—that just as law has helped, on the whole, to promote the steady growth and progress of our civilisation, so planning and proper control will help to promote economic stability and prosperity. The alternative in both cases is anarchy. I am glad to know that, in spite of all their speeches in the course of the last six years, in spite of the notable contribution which the Financial Secretary himself has made to the attacks on the present system which he now asks the House to support, the Government reject the alternative of anarchy in regard to these matters.
I suggest to hon. Members opposite that they really should now devote themselves rather to improving the efficiency of this system than to attacking the necessity for its existence. I should certainly like to see, and I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends would too, a system of permanent legislation putting these matters on a proper Parliamentary basis. I do not mean excluding delegated legislation. That, of course, we cannot possibly do. We cannot clog the House of Commons with the full detailed discussion, word for word, line by line, of all the detailed measures by which these economic and other plans have to be implemented and controlled.
But, on the other hand, it does seem to us desirable that either in one comprehensive Act, or, if it appears better and more convenient, in several particular Acts dealing with particular matters like the exchange control legislation, Parliament should define the scope and determine the manner of exercising, subject to all proper Parliamentary safeguards, the controls which form the basis of the present planned economy.
It is true that the existence of this system now is in a sense fortuitous, the result of war-time legislation which it was never contemplated would remain permanently in being. But we believe that the planned economy is something which must remain permanently in being, and we will support any efforts which hon. Members opposite may take to introduce permanent legislation authorising its operation.
There is room, I think—and hon. Members opposite might devote themselves to this—for administrative improvement. But, on the whole, having had something to do with it, I think that, having regard to the immense difficulties of the matter and of the situation in which we have worked, the controls have worked reasonably well.
I must say, also, that, on the whole, industry has co-operated very loyally and very well, often undertaking voluntary arrangements without the necessity for imposing statutory orders. But sometimes troubles have arisen and frustrations have occurred. I dare say that there has been overlapping now and again, and perhaps sometimes even conflict between different Departments. In all this there is room for improvement.
We should certainly agree that this system, vital and necessary as it is, should operate as smoothly as possible, should be as simple as possible, and should function as expeditiously as possible, avoiding whenever possible inconvenience or dislocation to industry. That was the end to which the Labour Government were directing themselves, and if His Majesty's Government continue on the same lines we shall support their action and welcome their conversion.
I shall have occasion during my observations to make some reference to that matter, which I hope will satisfy Members opposite. I must admit that there were moments during the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross), when I became a little anxious lest the eloquent support which he was giving to the Government Motion might dissuade some of my hon. Friends from supporting it. While grateful, as all Governments are, of support for their proposals, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not think me discourteous if I do not respond to his invitation to follow him into a disquisition upon the higher themes of future economic policy.
I decline that invitation on two grounds. First, I apprehend that I should have to march with equal delicacy to that shown by the right hon. and learned Gentleman upon the outer perimeter of the rules of order. In the second place, I decline because the policy of this Government in economic matters was set out, with a clarity and a lucidity which all quarters of this House appreciated, by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer only a week ago.
I think I need only to respond to the right hon. and learned Gentleman by saying that it is obvious, and it must indeed be very clear to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that some of the measures forecast by my right hon. Friend will naturally require to be supported by the exercise of some of the powers with which this House is strictly concerned this evening.
I follow the right hon. and learned Gentleman on only two points. In the first place, he said or suggested that His Majesty's Government should be in a position at this moment to tell the House precisely what were their proposals with respect to the mass of delegated legislation, because before the election, we had been warned by right hon. Gentlemen opposite of the economic position of the country. The answer to that is twofold. The first answer is that, accepting at their face value those warnings, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will himself be aware of the grave deterioration in our position which took place subsequent to those warnings during the month of October. figures in support of which were given by my right hon. Friend last week.
The hon. Gentleman refers to October. May I recall what was written in October in "Britain Strong and Free" in regard to delegated legislation? It said:
Such powers, but no more, as are required for the present critical situation should be incorporated in new Statutes requiring annual renewal. New Orders will have to he made under these new Acts, and thus all the Regulations and Orders under emergency powers will have to be reviewed by Parliament.
Will he deal with that pledge?
I am perfectly well aware of those words, which, lucid and forceful as they are, have, I am bound to say, no relevance to the argument I am advancing. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had given to the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the attention which courtesy demanded, he would have appreciated that one of the reasons why my right hon. and learned Friend is asking this House to renew those powers is to give time for precisely the kind of review of this whole mass of delegated legislation which is forecast in the document to which he refers.
No, I really cannot allow the hon. and learned Gentleman to indulge in a second and, therefore, manifestly calculated irrelevancy.
I come back to the arguments of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Helens. Any relevance which the warnings to which he referred might have had is very much diminished by the fact, which he knows perfectly well, of the acceleration of the deterioration of our national position which took place subsequent to those warnings during the month of October. Whatever may be the responsibility of the present administration, it was no responsibility of ours that, at that particular moment H.M. Government did not feel able to cope with the situation.
I must say that I myself know of nothing which occurred during October which in any way altered the basic nature of the problem with which the Government have to deal. It was because we appreciated, even if hon. Members opposite did not appreciate, the seriousness of the situation that was developing that we went to the country in October, in order that we might have the opportunity of a Government strong enough to put into operation, under these very Regulations, the measures that were necessary to correct it. From time to time, even in October, the Chancellor of the Exchequer published and made plain to all the world, including Members of the Tory Party if they had the time to read, what the facts of the developing situation were.
I am much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his new interpretation of the reasons for the advice tendered to the Sovereign by the late Prime Minister towards the end of September. I think I should be out of order were I to pursue that intriguing matter any further, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not and cannot dispute the fact that, while he can contend that the basic economic situation remained the same, the gravity of that situation accelerated its deterioration during the month of October.
The other contention is very easily dealt with. With respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, it is really nonsense to pretend that anybody is in a position to undertake a real review of this infinitely complex body of delegated legislation until the skill and resources of the principal Departments of State are available. Indeed, it has been the theme of a great many speeches in this House this afternoon that these matters are infinitely difficult and perhaps unnecessarily complex.
That has been said from both sides, and it cannot really be seriously suggested, particularly by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who has held high Ministerial office, that an effective and detailed review of this system, of how it works, and of the inter-action and interrelation of Statutory Instruments, unless and until all the information at the disposal of the Government was available to those who are to make the review. That is the essence of the problem with which the House is faced tonight.
One or two hon. Members have been so courteous as to recite at generous length quotations from certain observations which I have made in this House from time to time. I myself think they were over-generous, but the fact that some people treasure a reminiscent interest in my speeches has been a great encouragement to me this afternoon.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps a close study of these speeches could not but have a high educational value.
I think these very quotations did indicate, if indication were necesesary, that I myself do not view this complex and variegated system with uncritical and unqualified enthusiasm. We are faced with the inescapable fact that, unless action is taken by this House, all this mass of delegated legislation comes to an end on 10th December. That is the fact which both the Government and the House have got to face, and it is in the light of that fact that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have to make up their minds what it is that they are going to do about it.
There are three courses open to the House. One of them, of course, and it has the merit of simplicity, is to allow the whole of this mass of delegated legislation to lapse. That would mean the end of the whole system of rationing, of price control, of the innumerable measures necessary both for the Korean and the Malayan wars and for re-armament. It would mean the end of a whole variety of measures affecting every great Department of State, and I do not think there is any hon. Member in this House who, faced with having to make a decision, could seriously say that they should be allowed to lapse.
That course, I think, must be dismissed, and I would point out to any hon. Gentlemen who have been hankering for that course that I am told that even when it comes to curing a sufferer from dipsomania it is not current medical practice to deprive him immediately of his favourite tipple. It is, on the contrary, the correct treatment, generally, to scale it down.
The second course, is to ask the House to renew some of these Regulations and to dispense with others. In some very small degree that is what we have attempted to do, but the very difficulty which has arisen in connection with one of the Defence Regulations, 68CA, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) and by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Adams), has, I think, illustrated the difficulty of proceeding too rapidly in a matter of this sort, and I am authorised to say this to the House upon that particular Regulation.
The position, as I understand it, is this. It was renewed and remains in effect, if no other action is taken, until 10th December. Until that time, consultations will go forward with the representatives of the local authorities and with others to see whether the view initially taken, that this matter was one which could be properly dealt with under the planning legislation passed by the late administration, is necessarily 100 per cent. water-tight. Consultations will take place, and in the meanwhile the Regulation will remain in effect. To that extent, therefore, the picture which was given to the House earlier is modified, and that Regulation will be a matter for consultations with and discussions by those affected.
Do I understand from what the hon. Gentleman is saying that this proposal has been included in this Explanatory Memorandum without first securing any advice from the local authority associations, and that the Government are only now going to get that advice after the matter is brought to their attention?
I am not in a position to state how far or to what extent consultations have taken place, but it is with the object of securing that full opportunity is given for such consultations to take place that the action which I have announced is being taken.
When the hon. Gentleman has reassumed his self-control, I can tell the House that the statement which I am authorised to make is made on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and I hope that will satisfy the hon. Gentleman.
On a point of order. We have now had a debate going on for four hours in the absence of the Minister, We are now told about an alteration of Government business affecting that Minister who, as I say, has never been in the House in the last four hours. Are we not to be told, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether he has been consulted, whether he has been told of the alteration, and whether he is a party to it, and also why he has not been here? I think we are entitled, as a matter of courtesy to the House, to ask for the Minister responsible to be present.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West, with his not inconsiderable experience of Parliamentary procedure, knows perfectly well that statements of the sort I have just made—
Once again, I would say to the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who I know has sufficient experience of the ways of this House to know, that statements are not made by Ministers at this Box on behalf of his Majesty's Government without consultation with all those concerned.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point. He says that the Regulation will remain in force until there has been consultation. It is quite obvious to anybody who knows the working of the local authority associations that it is unfair and discourteous to them, as well as undemocratic to their constituent bodies, to ask for a decision between now and 10th December. Does the undertaking which the hon. Gentleman has given mean, in fact, that this Regulation will be re-enacted in order to give the local authority associations time to express their opinion?
I think the hon. Gentleman apprehends what I said. It is the intention that the Regulation should remain in force during the consultations and pending the consultations. I hope that makes the matter clear. If I may proceed, that was the second course. The third—
On that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I would respectfully submit to you that whatever view you may take on the merits of the proposal, we are not at the moment discussing individual Regulations, but the Motion moved by my right hon. and learned Friend which does not specify the particular Regulations concerned.
Further to that point of order. I should like to be quite clear on this. I think my hon. and learned Friend has raised a valid point. I had understood that we were now discussing the whole matter generally, that later on we should be discussing particular Amendments, but that we were discussing both the Supply and Services Motion and the Emergency Laws Motions. If that is right, it will be necessary either now or when we come to deal with the Emergency Laws Motions to have a Manuscript Amendment reinstituting this Regulation, will it not?
With my hon. Friend's permission, I do not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman has got the position quite clear. This is one of the Regulations under the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act. These are not scheduled, the Regulation has not been annulled and therefore the Regulation will be continued. I only expressed the intention to annul it, and that intention is modified, as my hon. Friend has said, on the lines that it will not be annulled until those consultations have taken place; and of course the question of annulment would only arise if after consultation we take that view. This is not one of those which have to be scheduled; it is one that will have to be dealt with en bloc—
Further to the point of order. May I submit that in view of the very contradictory statements we have now had from the Government Front Bench, and in view of the confusion which this whole subject has been thrown into, would it not be more satisfactory if the debate were adjourned until the Minister responsible could come to the House and explain the position precisely?
I have dealt with the alternatives, and I now come to the alternative which the Government have adopted. I think it is a common sense and practicable method of dealing with this problem. It is to ask the House in substance and with trifling exceptions to renew the existing corpus and, having renewed it, then to examine and review the whole body of it in the light of the considerations which the Home Secretary put forward earlier today. That seems to me to be a practical way of dealing with the matter.
To reassure those of my hon. Friends who have doubts as to our intentions in making this request, I repeat the words from the Gracious Speech. They are:
You will he asked to authorise for a period the continuation in force of certain emergency enactments and defence regulations which are due to expire next month. My Ministers will, however, review the whole subject with the aim of reducing the number of these controls and regulations and, wherever possible, embodying those which must be kept in legislation requiring annual renewal by Parliament.
That part of the argument can be summed up by saying our view is that it is not practicable to undertake this review between now and 10th December. It is therefore necessary to obtain the renewal for the ordinary period of one year. But we ask that renewal on the understanding already expressed in the Gracious Speech and with the firm determination to review this matter thoroughly and—
I am sorry, but I have given way on a great many occasions and I would rather continue with my main argument at this point, otherwise I am afraid I shall take an inordinate amount, of time. In that same connection I invite the attention of hon. Members to the offer made by my right hon. Friend. He invited hon. Members, not necessarily in the course of this debate, to put forward their suggestions on the closely connected though perhaps not immediately relevant subject of the methods by which this House exercises and can exercise its control over delegated legislation. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is the only Member who has misgivings about the workings of this system.
We are genuinely anxious and concerned to secure any possible improvement there can be in the method by which this House discharges the immensely important duty of controlling delegated legislation. But I would say in particular to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher)—to whose speech I listened with great interest, because I know the very considerable work he has done on the Select Committee on this subject—that I thought his speech indicated a confusion of thought between what are basically two quite separate considerations. One consideration, the consideration with which we are directly concerned, is that these powers have to be renewed on 10th December or they lapse. That is the immediate issue before the House.
The other issues that he raised—the precise methods of control—are interesting. My right hon. and learned Friend has indicated a general willingness to consider any such suggestions, but it really does show some confusion of thought when he attacks those who sit on this Bench for bringing forward this proposal without coupling it with other proposals relating to the control of delegated legislation. The hon. Gentleman, with his knowledge of this subject, must appreciate that it would be quite impracticable to expect changes which, if accepted, would involve not only substantial amending legislation but also, I understand, alteration of the Standing Orders of the House to be effected before 10th December.
The matters are really quite separate, and I thought the hon. Gentleman did himself and the House a little less than justice when he worked himself up into a considerable state of emotion at my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and others because we had not connected these two perfectly separable considerations. But I can assure him, if further assurance be needed, that we are far from closed in mind upon these issues, that we are genuinely interested in finding a solution to these problems. But of course, it is inevitably the case that finding a satisfactory solution and putting it into effect must take a considerably longer time than lies between now and 10th December.
In that connection I want to refer to the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing), who attacked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the basis of a quotation from one of his speeches, I think, last year, and on the basis that my right hon. Friend had not reviewed the whole of this matter by now. For the reason I have given and which I think practically all lion. Members accept, it is quite unreasonable to suggest that the whole of this matter could be reviewed by now. It is unreasonable to expect that, and I am bound to say that I do not think even the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch really thought that this matter could be got over as quickly as this.
I thought he was a little less than generous when he attacked us, again on the basis of quotations, for proceeding today by way of Motion for renewal of the Act, because it may not have occurred to him that the procedure which we are following at this moment was not invented by my right hon. and hon. Friends on these benches. We are following the procedure laid down in the Supplies and Services Act, 1945, which was passed into law by hon. Members opposite, and, I have no doubt, supported by the hon. and learned Gentleman. So it really does not lie in his mouth to attack us for using against this very narrow margin of time the very procedure for the continuance of this legislation which his own right hon. Friends evolved and which his own party put upon the Statute Book. If the procedure has inconveniences— I am not standing here to deny that— it is not a procedure of our devising but a procedure left to us by hon. Members opposite, and it is the only procedure left to us.
Perhaps I might intervene so that the hon. Gentleman should not do an injustice to his own party. As he would have seen had he consulted the preface to the book of the Regulations, this procedure comes from the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act and is a continuation after the war of the things which were enacted immediately before the last war.
I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman is really seeking to compare the situation in peace with the situation in war—a situation in war when, as many hon. Members know, this House sat under the direct threat of the malice of the enemy, when Sittings were necessarily restricted, when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House were engaged on other forms of national duty, with a procedure devised and carried into law in time of peace. If the hon. and learned Gentleman cannot see the difference at this time of day it is perhaps a little late to tell him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) raised the question of identity cards and their use. That is a very old subject and a somewhat difficult one. It is certainly one of the subjects which, in the general review which my right hon. and learned Friend promised should be undertaken, will be given most careful consideration.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West, made, as he always does, a most powerful speech which I found, as I always do, a personal pleasure to listen to; but he was perhaps a little below his usual standard of fairness when he criticised my right hon. and hon. Friends for their attitude on the Supplies and Services Act, 1945. If he recalls that debate he will recall that the main objection voiced from the then Opposition benches was to the giving of these powers for the long period of five years. Arguments adduced to the length of time obviously have no conceivable relevance to the proposal at present before the House for a very modest extension of one year, and indeed it seemed to me that the artistically culled quotations which the hon. Member indulged in had very little to do with the matter.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Holman) gave, I thought, a very useful summary of some of the reasons why it is necessary for these powers to be continued, and I appreciated the force of some of his arguments Indeed, they have the incidental advantage that the House will be spared the necessity for hearing them put less well by myself during the next few minutes.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan) raised the question of the continuing validity of Regulation 33, in view of the fact that the Statute to which it originally related had been repealed. The answer to my hon. and gallant Friend is this: that Statute has been consolidated in, I think, the Midwives Act of 1951, and as a result of the operation of the Interpretation Act, the Midwives Act of 1951 is now the relevant Statute as far as that Defence Regulation is concerned. Consequently, that Defence Regulation is still valid and stilt operative, although it now operates, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman will no doubt have appreciated, solely in connection with England and not in connection with Scotland.
A number of hon. Members have raised the general issue of these Regulations as they affect personal liberty. I yield to no hon. Member in my devotion to the idea of the liberty of the subject, and it is, of course, against that background that this vast mass of delegated legislation has to be considered. I believe most hon. Members know in their hearts that we have no option but to renew these Regulations now, in order to facilitate the very review which they themselves have urged. I would remind them that the renewal of these Regulations en bloc does not necessarily mean that any particular one of them will continue in force for a further year. There is full power to withdraw any one of them which, upon examination, appears to be unnecessary, and all that is sought today Is the authority of this House for their continuance in force for a period not exceeding one year.
For the reasons that have been given, I must ask the House to give us these powers, bearing in mind the assurances that have been given as to the manner and as to the spirit in which the Government intend to exercise them.
I beg to move, "That the debate be now adjourned."
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I move this Motion in order to secure the attendance of the Minister of Housing and Local Government, whose attendance has been requested on several occasions in the last five hours of the Sitting of the House. I intervened myself on a point that referred to the Minister of Housing and Local Government some five hours ago now, and there has surely been plenty of opportunity for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to ensure the sending of a message to the right hon. Gentleman concerned to make certain that he attended here in the House to give his advice, and his personal reply to the very important matters that have been raised.
We have had the courtesy of the attendance of the representative of nearly every other Department, apart from this particular Department which is immediately concerned with the point that was raised, and which was raised not only once but on three or four different occasions.
We did seek to ask for the Adjournment at an earlier moment, but, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you said you would give a Ruling on this matter as soon as the hon. Gentleman had resumed his scat. I now, therefore, take leave to secure the Adjournment of the debate so that the right hon. Gentleman shall attend, and so requite a calculated discourtesy on the part of the right hon. Gentleman in not being in his place during the course of the debate.
I beg to second the Motion.
I think it really is quite intolerable that this House should be asked to continue this debate in the present situation, without the presence here in the House of the Minister responsible. This debate has continued for about five hours. Several Members—[HON. MEMBERS: "Here comes the Parliamentary Secretary."] Several Members have indicated their desire that there should be an authoritative pronouncement.
I suggest that this Motion is not only an unreasonable but an extremely old-fashioned piece of obstructive tactics. The hon. Gentleman who moved it, and his seconder, have not only, in the course of the debate, shown that they refuse to face up to every point in regard to this matter, which has been explained, but that they are really doing this from a desire, I submit, to embarrass, and for nothing else.
Sir D. Maxwell Fyle:
I am not giving way. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. If he is going to make suggestions of this kind, then he must really learn to stand fire himself. It is no good, as soon as the counter-attack is made, getting up in a mood of injured innocence before the answer is made.
Let us just consider how this arose. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle - upon - Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), interrupted me earlier, when I explained that the matter had been considered by the two Ministers and that this view had been formed. Let us appreciate what we are discussing. We are discussing over 100 Regulations. These Regulations cover every possible Department of Government.
I am in charge of the debate, and I take full responsibility for my shortcomings. I have tried to make a selection of those Ministers who might be at the service of the House during this debate. Apart from my own Department, and apart from the fact that I am in charge of the debate, I had the assistance of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who has just replied on the general matters. The other Motions will, in their limited field, be dealt with by the Minister of Supply. The Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Ministry of Health were affected by Amendments: the other two Amendments I propose to deal with myself.
After all, the right hon. and learned Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross) spoke for 40 minutes—although I make no complaint—and widened the debate. He approached it in this way: that any subject which might be a matter for regulation was a fit subject for him to discuss. The House listened to him, as it always does, with enjoyment and appreciation. He discussed, at considerable length, such matters as the balance of payments and inflation. I thought that there might be a question on economic controls, and I therefore requested the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to be here in case any information might be required, and he has been with us practically the whole time.
On any view of the matter, I submit that the charge of discourtesy to the House is quite unsustained. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East, puts it the other way and says that the Minister ought to have been here. We have been on the telephone to the Ministry, and we got the information. I suggest that, apart from the tactics of the matter, it was dealt with in a manner most reasonable and most helpful. There is no question now, as my hon. Friend has said, of the disputed Regulation being among those which are to be dropped. On the other hand, it has been decided that it will remain in force till these discussions take place, and if there is not a satisfactory outcome it will continue in force until it comes to be part of the general review.
I have tried to meet the House in every way. My shoulders are broad, and I take responsibility for my own lack of clarity in the early stages. Everyone helped me about it, and I thought that we had got over that point. I am quite willing to admit when I get help, from wherever it comes. Responsibility for that I take myself. I am not asking for quarter. I have been far too long in the House for that, and those who have been here with me would not expect that of me, though they might expect a lot of other things.
I have been some time in the House, and discourtesy to the House is something on a different plane from anything else, and that is why I have replied with some force, and perhaps with more heat than I usually show, on the charge of discourtesy, because, believe me, that was never in my mind. I have deployed the facts, and having done so I ask hon. Members opposite to let us proceed to a Division on the different Motions, if that is desired, and then to discuss the Amendments. If they do not do that, we are, of course, quite prepared to meet them in the Division Lobby, but in view of what I have said I do think that the suggestion which is made from the benches opposite is unreasonable at this stage.
The sudden appearance of the Parliamentary Secretary to the relevant Ministry the moment my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), moved his Motion is sufficient justification for the Motion having been moved. I cannot imagine that the hon. Gentleman had not been on the premises for some little time before he appeared so suddenly and appropriately on the Government Front Bench. We were a bit perplexed by the way in which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury dealt with the question whether consultations had taken place. Had there been any consulations, it would have been perfectly easy for him to say so, instead of which he tried to hide himself behind the fact that he was making a statement on behalf of the Government, and that was sufficient.
At the commencement of the hon. Gentleman's speech, I asked whther the
|Motion made, and Question proposed.|
|5||"That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty under section seven of the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1947, praying that the Defence Regulations specified in the Schedule hereto, which would otherwise expire on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-one, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-two.|
|Defence (General) Regulations, 1939|
|Regulation two BA (Control of explosives).|
|10||Regulation sixteen (Stopping up or diversion of highways for purposes of open-cast coal and generating stations).|
|Regulation twenty AB (Amendments of National Registration Act, 1939).|
|Regulation thirty-three (Exemption of certain women from Acts relating to midwives).|
|Regulation forty-two CA (Unlawful gaming parties).|
|15||Regulation forty-five A (Issue of identity cards to seamen).|
|Regulation fifty (Power to do work on land).|
|Regulation fifty-two (Use of land for purposes of His Majesty's forces).|
|Regulation fifty-five C (Restrictions on registration of new clubs).|
|Regulation sixty C (Amendment of s. 4 of Sale of Food (Weights and Measures) Act, 1926).|
|Regulation sixty CC (Power of officers of Post Office to require production of identity cards).|
|Regulation seventy-six (Handling and conveyance of ammunition, &c., in ports).|
|Regulation eighty-two (False documents and false statements).|
|25||Regulation eighty-three (Obstruction).|
|Regulation eighty-four (Restrictions on disclosing information).|
|Regulation eighty-five (Entry upon, and inspection of, land).|
|Regulation eighty-seven (Permits, licences &c.).|
|Regulation eighty-eight (Fees for permits, licences, &c.).|
Department was to be represented. If the Parliamentary Secretary was, in fact, in the precincts at that time, it would have been perfectly easy for one of the Whips to have sought him out and to have seen that he was here in order to be able to deal with the point which had been raised. We do not accuse the right hon. and learned Gentleman of discourtesy to the House, but I have had the task of conducting debates of this kind from the Government Front Bench and I have always insisted— some of my hon. Friends were a little resentful at the time—that, if a Department was wanted by the House, one of the Ministers should immediately be fetched, and I cannot help thinking that, as the Parliamentary Secretary had obviously been available for some time, it would have been in keeping with the traditions of the House if he had been brought in rather earlier than he was.
|30||Regulation eighty-nine (Use of force in entering premises).|
|Regulations ninety to, ninety-three and ninety-five to one hundred and five (which contain general, administrative, legal and supplementary provisions).|
|The Third Schedule (Manner of instituting proceedings).|
|Other Defence Regulations|
|35||Regulations seventeen E and twenty of the Defence (Administration of Justice) Regulations, 1940.|
|Parts I, II and III, Regulations twenty-five A, twenty-six, twenty-eight A, twenty-nine and thirty, and Schedules I. II and VI of the Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) Regulations, 1939.|
|40||Parts 1 and II and Schedule I of the Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) (Northern Ireland) Regulations, 1940.|
|Regulations one, two, three and six of the Defence (Armed Forces) Regulations, 1939.|
|Regulation one and paragraphs (4) to (10) of Regulation five of the Defence (Burial, Inquests and Registration of Deaths) Regulations 1942.|
|45||Regulations one and three of the Defence (Industrial Assurance) Regulations, 1943.|
|Regulations one and two of the Defence (Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) Regulations, 1940.|
|Regulations one and two and paragraphs (3), (4) and (5) of Regulation three of the Defence (Patents, Trade Marks, etc.) Regulations, 1941.|
|50||The whole of the Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations, 1943.|
|The whole of the Defence (Trading with the Enemy) Regulations, 1940.|
|45||The whole of the Defence (War Risks Insurance) Regulations, 1940, the Defence (War Risks Insurance) (No. 2) Regulations, 1940, the Defence (War Risks Insurance) (No. 4) Regulations, 1940, and the Defence (War Risks Insurance) Regulations, 1945.|
|The whole of the Defence (Women's Forces) Regulations, 1941.—[Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe.)|
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Motion, to leave out lines 10 and 11.
This Amendment has the effect of leaving out Regulation 16. The procedure followed today has been eminently useful. We have been able to clear up a great many doubts and difficulties. We now know that all this matter is still subject to consideration. We know from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that the words in the Gracious Speech are utterly meaningless, or, if they mean anything, that the Ministers will continue to fulfil the function which is imposed on them, that is, to keep matters under constant consideration and take advice. We have seen when the waters began to get troubled, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government arising from the foam in the manner of—I hope he will forgive me for this—but not with the appearance, of Venus Anadyomene.
On the whole we have had a fairly satisfactory afternoon. Speaking for myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with reference to this simple matter, all I would say is that we will not press it to a Division provided certain explanations are given. The Clause is simple and in any case one which we consider in fact, eminently sensible. It provides that the Minister of Fuel and Power, if he considers it necessary to do so for the purpose of making opencast coal or constructing or extending any electricity generating stations, may by Order provide for the stopping up or diversion of highways, including waterways.
This matter was fully discussed 12 months ago, and it arose on a Motion by the present Solicitor-General to delete this Regulation on the ground that it was no longer required. That is unfortunate now, because the Regulation continues, and the Solicitor-General might find himself prosecuting for a breach of the Regulation. It will unhappily be quoted against him that he himself described it as useless and that it ought to have been cancelled some time ago. I can well understand his position. No one at that time dreamt that the hon. and learned Gentleman was likely to become the Solicitor-General. Therefore, it would be unfair to pursue that matter any further. What the Solicitor-General said, and here I am rather surprised that he is not present to deal with the point—was this:
I make no apology for raising the question of the retention of this Defence Regulation again tonight. I do so for the reason that there are ample powers, both under the old Highways Act and the Quarter Sessions procedure and new powers under Section 49 of the Town and Country Planning Act for closing highways where that is necessary to he done."— [OFFICAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2591.]
Not only was there a rather serious attack by the Solicitor-General, but a full explanation was given from our side. The
Minister said, in effect, that we would use this Regulation for one generating station only, Stewart Street of Manchester, and that that would be finished in six months' time. We gave an undertaking that it would never be used again for generating stations. That being so, I hope we will be told tonight that it will not be used for stations, or, if it is, what stations it will be used for.
When Members object to any Regulation, we should be told at least why they have changed their mind, and whether the change of mind comes from moving from one side of the Chamber to the other, or whether some reasons have happened since which we do not understand, and of which we do not know, which make such a change of mind necessary.
Then we come to the question of opencast coal. We have conducted opencast coal operations all over Britain for a considerable time, and one of our principal difficulties was the tremendous opposition to this procedure that came from the Opposition in the last six years. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), whom I do not see in his place at the moment, raised about 15 Questions per week on this matter, and they were always highly critical ones.
Are we going on with opencast coal operations? His Majesty's Ministers should have considered something in the last few days. We have been told today in every single subject under discussion that it is to be considered, and that consideration will start as soon as the facilities are provided for the purpose. Have they considered opencast coal? In other words, are they going to tell the House, "We want this Regulation for the use of opencast coal operations, and we desire to apologise for our attacks on the system hitherto. We realise now that it is necessary in the national interests"? Alternatively, are we going to be told, "We do not know whether we want this Regulation or not. We do not want opencast coal operations, and we know it will not apply to any generating stations, but we would like to retain it"? I think we are entitled to ask that, and it is with a view to getting answers to these questions that I am moving this Amendment
I beg to second the Amendment.
I would suggest, as I hope to suggest on some of the other Amendments, that this is an occasion for, as the Financial Secretary said, "gently scaling it down." I am certain that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power has read the very able speech of the Solicitor-General on this matter when it was previously discussed, and that when he replies he will answer the various questions he then put. As he has read it, I will save the time of the House by not reading it now.
I am sure the whole House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) for bringing forward this Amendment in an exploratory way in order to find out the intention of the Government in this matter. As he said, there is no intention to use the powers further in regard to generating stations and, presumably, the power can only be required to deal with the use of opencast methods of obtaining coal. We would like an assurance from the Minister that he will retain this power to pursue with every means available the difficult task of stepping up coal production.
I hope that if the Home Secretary replies he will indicate which Law Officer of the Crown he has consulted on this matter. It is apparent that if he has consulted the Solicitor-General the Solicitor-General will have told him that this Regulation is really not necessary, as the Solicitor-General made it clear to the House in November, 1947, that this Regulation was not necessary because the Minister of Town and Country Planning already had the necessary powers. He made it clear that in his view this was a piece of governmental bungling to enable the Minister of Fuel and Power to possess powers already possessed by the Minister of Town and Country Planning.
If, on the other hand, the Home Secretary has consulted the Attorney-General, I think it probable that he has obtained a much better legal opinion on the subject and if he indicates that he does intend to proceed with this Regulation we assume that he has had that opinion from the Attorney-General and completely ignored the advice given so long ago by the Solicitor-General. I am sure we shall all be interested to hear from the Home Secretary exactly what he intends to do with this Regulation.
I do not think the hon. Gentlemen need have had very much difficulty if they had read the debates last year more carefully than they appear to have done. It was perfectly clear that we did not consider it last year necessary to have this Regulation for the use of electricity generating, on the strength of what was said by my predecessor. In fact, when I read those debates I was exceedingly surprised to find that this power was still taken and had not been done away with.
I can assure the hon. Members that in so far as this Regulation applies to electricity generating stations it will be done away with, but the matter is not so easy in regard to opencast coal working. There is not the slightest doubt that it must be retained for that purpose. The House will have heard of the grim situation in regard to the coal position announced by my right hon. Friend last week.
I am not going to be drawn by the hon. Member's red herring into introducing a general coal debate tonight. The situation was made perfectly clear last week. A grim situation it is, and it is essential that we should get all the coal we can. We cannot, in fact, risk the jeopardy of any part of the 10 million tons a year which is got from opencast coal workings.
If this Regulation was done away with so far as opencast coal working is concerned, it would involve the introduction of the other methods of requisitioning or, alternatively, obtaining the land for the working of the coal, which have been referred to in past debates. They could perfectly well be used for that purpose but it would involve a considerable delay in the flow of production. It might well involve, in changing to different methods, a delay of some three months because there are about 50 separate opencast workings being worked every year.
If that was done it would risk the loss of something like three million tons a year. For that reason it is quite impossible for us to consider at present doing away with this Regulation so far as it applies to opencast coal working.
If the hon. and learned Member had been listening to what I said he would have known that I indicated that the alternative procedure was perfectly satisfactory if there was sufficient time, but that it took longer and that introducing that procedure would involve the jeopardy of up to possibly more than three months' loss of time in the flow of production.
The answer of the Parliamentary Secretary is quite unsatisfactory. He knows that the coal position today is no more acute than it was at this time last year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Whether that is true or not, hon. Members have to realise that the production this year will show an increase of 40 million tons more than that of 1945. It is, therefore, right that they should recognise that the problem is no more acute this year than it was last year.
The hon. Member cannot go into the whole coal question in this debate. The Amendment deals merely with the power of diverting and stopping up highways for the purpose of opencast coal working. It would be out of order to embark on a general discussion on coal production.
I am not seeking to embark on a general discussion, Sir. I wish only to point out how hypocritical was the attitude of the then Opposition last year when these Regulations were being renewed, because precisely the same position faced the country as faces it today.
Once more another election pledge is going west. We see once more another of the controls which was to be swept away being re-imposed. I agree that it is necessary, but I wish that hon. Members opposite had been as patriotic and understanding last year as we shall be this year and had not criticised what was in the general interests of the well-being of our nation.
The Parliamentary Secretary has made it quite plain that if this Regulation were to go we should risk losing three million tons of coal. So we should have risked losing three million tons of coal last year. Hon. Members opposite may think that a joke, but this is a perfectly good example of the behaviour of the Opposition for over six years.
This Regulation was a nuisance and a frustration. It was their task to educate the country that everything that was wrong and a frustration was the fault of the Government. They taught that to the electorate and now they are the Government and they can take the consequences. Now, once again—and they must be finding this diet rather bad for their appetite—they are having to eat and swallow the words which they spoke in opposition. We shall not vote against this Regulation. It is not our purpose to imperil three million tons of coal.
There is one point about which I would remind the House, and that is the basis of the argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General on this matter. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will follow it and see that I am being quite fair with the quotation. I am dealing with 23rd October, 1950. My hon. and learned Friend said:
In regard to working opencast coal—which I thought was to draw to a conclusion fairly soon—there may be a case for a temporary closing of a footpath and re-opening when the fuel has been extracted, but, in view of the assurance given by the Under-Secretary in 1947, I ask on how many occasions since 1947 use has been made of this Defence Regulation and whether, in fact, any use of it has been made for closing a footpath or highway in connection with an electricity generating station.
Then the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) who was then Parliamentary Secretary, said:
There is a good deal in the case put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. ManninghamBuller)"—
that is the present Solicitor-General—
and seconded by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter)"—
that is my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary.
In point of fact, this Regulation is being used in only one case. That is the case of the Stewart Street Power Station, Manchester, and in six months' time, when that is completed, this regulation so far as electricity power stations are concerned can be dispensed with.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House then said, "Will it?" and then the right hon. Gentleman goes on:
The hon. and learned Gentleman did concede the position in regard to opencast coal because of the problems of footpaths being opened again as speedily as possible, and it would not be possible to restore opencast sites if we had to go through all the procedure of making a new highway. I hope that on that understanding that we shall not use this regulation in another new case in relation to electricity power stations and only want to retain it in connection with opencast coal mining, I hope the hon. and learned Member will withdraw the Amendment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2591–2.1
Then, after a discussion, it was with-drawn—
If the hon. Gentleman will restrain himself for one moment, I should like to make my point. I can well realise that, after being a Whip and enforcing an iron discipline as he has had to do, the burst of freedom at the moment almost carries him to this side of the House. When the burst takes him a little further, we will welcome him with the joy that goes to a sinner that repenteth.
The point I was making was that the question of opencast coal was put most reasonably by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and the Minister said that he conceded the position. Therefore, knowing the fairness with which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) intends to argue his case, I do not think that he can have had that in mind when he made these rather strong statements only a few minutes ago.
I should like to explain to the Home Secretary that I was not a Whip, as he said, in the last Parliament, but because of the satisfactory conduct of the then Government I was able to sit back in comparative silence. It is the advent of this gang of incompetents that leads me to explain more forcibly my views on the Government today. I hope that he will agree with me that the extract which he read just now confirmed that the Solicitor-General held the same doubts last year as he expressed in 1947.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Motion, to leave out line 13.
My object is to give an opportunity for a discussion on Regulation 33, which deals with the exemption of certain women from Acts relating to midwives. A very grave injustice was done to a small but hard-working body of midwives by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, and I am sorry to see that he is one of the absentees from the Government Front Bench tonight.
An Amendment was moved by the Leader of the House to delete this Regulation. The point which was raised, and we can deal with it very shortly—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Gentlemen should not shout "Hear, hear" in that way. We are being very reasonable in getting through this matter which after all, is exempted business, by about 10 o'clock. Hon. Gentlemen should remember that they kept the House sitting until after midnight on the last occasion that we discussed these questions.
The issue is very simple. It really arises as to whether or not the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food and the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. G. Hutchinson), were right or wrong in their law. Their impression was that this Regulation permitted the employment of midwives who had been dismissed in 1936. My hon. Friend who was then the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health explained that this was not so. But despite the explanation, the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North, doubted the law as he put it forward. I thought, therefore, that this would be a good opportunity to remove the slur which has been cast on these midwives.
After all, they came back from retirement to work and to give some assistance in times of difficulty. It is wrong to suggest that they were people dismissed on account of incompetence. It is, I am sure, as hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree, quite a mistaken view. This Regulation does not prevent the employment of such people, and he ought to say quite shortly and frankly that his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food was wrong, and the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North, was wrong, and that these midwives, only about 50 in number, are merely people who happened to retire and have now come forward to help us in our present emergency. I hope that the Minister will do so shortly and frankly.
I must say that I rise with some pleasure on finding that the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), far from opposing the inclusion of this Regulation, is, in fact. supporting the point of view which I have to endorse from this Box.
It is true, as he said, that under the Midwives' Act. 1936, which imposed upon local' supervisory authorities the duty of introducing a whole-time domiciliary and salaried midwives' service, there were certain groups of midwives who at that time surrendered their certificates. They fell into two classes, and it was brought about mainly by the fact that, in some areas, there were more certified midwives than it was possible to absorb and were required in the salaried service in that area at that time.
The two groups who surrendered their certificates were those who surrendered them voluntarily and those who compulsorily retired from the service. Then, under the war-time regulations, it was necessary to increase the number of midwives, particularly in rural areas, where, as a result of evacuation, the existing number of local midwives was inadequate, and it was found necessary to bring back into the service the group of midwives who had voluntarily surrendered their certificates, which surrender had been accompanied by their removal from the roll.
The midwives who are covered by Defence Regulation 33 have given great service to the community. In course of time, their number will decrease, but, at the moment, there are 54 such midwives, all operating under a permission rather than under a restriction of Defence Regulation 33, and it is for the very reason that they are still greatly required in the present midwifery service that we wish to retain the full value of the services of these 54 people covered by this particular Regulation.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Motion, to leave out line 14.
This Amendment concerns Regulation 42CA. I really find it a little hard to understand why this particular Regulation should still be required. It provides that any party—
held for the purpose of playing any game of chance, or of chance and skill combined. for money or money's worth,
shall amount to an offence; in other words, this is the Regulation which appears to make any bridge party at a club, if there are more than 10 people present, an offence leading to serious consequences. Police may enter the place if they suspect that anything wrong is going on, and,
it an officer of police of a rank not lower than that of superintendent is satisfied that there is such reasonable ground
for thinking that such a party is taking place, and, if it is impracticable to apply to a justice of the peace, he may issue a warrant—
authorising any constable named in the warrant …and any other constables, to enter the said premises at any time within forty-eight hours, … and search those premises.
So, here we have a Regulation giving serious consequences to a game of bridge at a club, authorising not only the search of the premises, but the search of the premises on a warrant not issued by a magistrate, but issued by a superintendent of police, and for offences under this statute various alterations are made in the normal method of proof. For instance, paragraph 3 (a) says:
Evidence of the finding in any place in which a party was being held of any instrument or other thing commonly used in connection with the playing of any such game as aforesaid shall, unless he proves that the-instrument or other thing was not intended to he used in connection with the playing of such a game, he evidence that the party was held for the purpose of playing such a game.
That is a very vague and very odd way of interfering with the normal presumption of innocence. What is an
other thing commonly used in connection with the playing of any such game"?
Does it include a horse or a dog? If we find a horse or a dog on the premises, is that evidence that an offence has been committed? I do not know, but I should have thought it was a little difficult to discover, certainly at this stage, a new occasion for requiring this Regulation which did not exist at this time last year, because at this time last year it was hon. Members opposite who were asking to do away with it. The Financial Secretary had this to say about it on that occasion, and without always endorsing everything which that hon. Gentleman says, it seems to have a lot of sense to it. He said:
However, this regulation would seem to have very little connection indeed either with the defence of the realm against foreign enemies or with the setting up of the Socialist State"—
I am bound to say I agree with him.—
which are, I understand the arguments used, with rather varying emphasis, to support the continuance of these regulations in general; and, indeed, the only connection I can see between those considerations and this regulation is that, under the level of taxation imposed in the Socialist State, it is only by gambling that it is possible to obtain an income without having it all taken away by taxation.
Are we to understand that we are to be disappointed yet again, and that there is still going to be a large level of taxation now that the Tory Government are returned, because, surely, now that taxation is being abolished, we really do not require this Regulation any more? There is just one other thing the hon. Gentleman had to say. He said:
It surely is the sort of subject which, if it is to be dealt with at all, should be dealt with by Statute."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2606.]
I think it might be worth-while referring to what my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary had to say about the reasons for it. He said:
The need for continuing this regulation for the next 12 months is increased by the possibility that there will be a considerable number of foreigners over here in connection with the Festival of Britain. I think it is well known to the House that this regulation was originally passed so that we might protect troops visiting London and other big cities from the activities of certain people whom I am quite sure no hon. Member would desire to defend in the way they carry on this particular business."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2608–9.]
Well, that occasion has now gone. The Festival of Britain is over. What occasion is there now for continuing this wartime Regulation, and what reasons do the Government discover, if they are to reject this Amendment, for disagreeing with all the things they said so recently?
I beg to second the Amendment.
This Regulation is really quite indefensible in many respects. I think a provision which says that the mere gathering of 10 people for a matter of chance is of itself evidence of unlawful intent is the most objectionable of all. Last time there was a Royal Commission sitting on gaming, and therefore there was some defence for the theory that we should not alter the law until we received their report. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) referred to games of bridge. So far as I can see, speaking quite seriously, a game of Association Football could be illegal under this provision; and the operation of a league could be illegal if one examines these words. Certainly the formation of the present Government, as a matter into which chance has entered and in which more than 10 people are involved, might bring the officers of the law along to deal with it.
I suggest this provision really ought to go. I can well understand it if the Home Secretary says he has not had time to look at it, because this is not the first thing or the second that one would think of in forming a Government, and no one could say that it is a matter requiring urgent consideration or priority attention. But I hope that, having heard the debate, the Home Secretary shares the view, which I think is shared on all sides of the House, that this provision should go.
One of the difficulties in appreciating the nuances of this debate is how far hon. Gentlemen opposite are inspired by a desire to quote and how far they are inspired by a more deep-rooted desire to express their fundamental beliefs. And when one comes to a question of gaming parties it will be understood in what great difficulty I find myself in trying to understand not only the words but the mental attitude of the protagonists on the other side.
Leaving that delightful essay in psychology, I want to come to the more serious aspect. But, if I may not be serious for one instant longer, the hon. Member for Oldham. West (Mr. Hale), drew a rather sinister significance in regard to my own speech from the set of my countenance. I tell the hon. Member for Oldham, West, for whom I have great respect, that I do not draw a similar sinister significance or impute any insincerity to him because at no time during his speech did he exceed a tempo of 200 words a minute for the first time in the experience of anyone in this House.
Something attempted, something done.
to earn a night's repose. If I may come to the Regulation, I want to explain the difficulty to hon. Members who had not the opportunity of listening to the debate or of reading it since. As many hon. Members are aware, the Gaming Acts apply only to premises habitually used for gaming, and organisers of gaming parties are able to avoid the Act by organising parties in particular premises on one occasion only.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will correct my nomenclature if it is not right, but I understand the common expression in these circles is "fly-by-night parties." Apart from Defence Regulation 42CA, there is no sanction against these parties. The effect of the Regulation is that it makes it an offence for any person to be concerned in the organisation of any gaming party organised for gain and held for the purpose of playing any game of chance and skill combined for money or money's worth, or for any person to be present at such a party for the purpose of taking part in any such game. As has been mentioned, it reverses the onus of proof where 10 or more persons are present, the onus of proof lying on the defence.
I appreciate the difficulty of that provision. I want to tell the House that, on the other hand, I am advised by the Commissioner of the Police for the Metropolis that if the Regulation is allowed to lapse there will be "a spate of professionally promoted gaming parties for high stakes." It is almost entirely a London problem, and that is the problem which lies in front of the Commissioner. I do not think history in any place, where one knows it, would lead us to think that that is a healthy state of things. I do not care what allowance is made for changes in economic circumstances; "a spate of professionally promoted gaming parties for high stakes "these are the Commissioner's own words—would not be a good thing.
I am afraid I am taking a little time because I know hon. Members opposite want me to discuss this matter seriously. The issue before the House is that we desire to retain the Regulation as a stopgap until permanent legislation can be introduced. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) last year put the argument in part on the fact that the introduction of permanent legislation must await consideration of the Report of the Royal Commission on Betting. Lotteries and Gaming which reported last year.
I have made a preliminary study, but I have not made a final study, and everyone in this House knows that legislation which is on the borderline between morals and politics is the most difficult legislation of all kinds. I do not think anyone could seriously dispute that. That is the position and, therefore, I hope that in view of the serious advice I have had from the Commissioner—I have quoted his words—this will not be pressed.
May I say a word about the powers of entry, because that is a serious matter in which I know hon. Members in all quarters of the House are concerned. I may be anticipating another part of the debate, but I think it would be useful to deal with this point in this context. The Regulation itself contains certain powers of entry and, if I may be allowed to mention the fact, Mr. Speaker, Regulation 89 provides that where such power exists reasonable force may be used for the purpose of exercising it. I want to give the full picture.
What I do not think the House has fully in mind is that the only respect in which the powers of entry differ from those in the Gaining Act, 1845, is that whereas under the Act premises may be entered only on a justice's warrant outside the Metropolitan Police district or on an order from the Commissioner of Police within the Metropolitan Police District, under paragraph 3, of this Regulation, premises may be entered in any part of England and Wales under a warrant from a superintendent of police if the case is of such urgency that it is impracticable to get a justice's warrant. So we have that position.
I feel that this is very important. The warrant runs for 48 hours after that time. It is suggested that the superintendent might say, "This is very important and I cannot get a justice." The warrant runs for 48 hours and he should be able to get a justice in that time. Would my right hon. and learned Friend look at that point?
I will certainly look at the point. The point I was making —which is perfectly fair—is that the extension of the powers is really a very small one. There is one matter on which I wish to inform the House on the question of the onus of proof. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Oldham. West, has considered the last words of sub-paragraph (3) (c). One defence is that the party was not organised for games. I think that cuts into the argument which has been advanced, although we will go no further than putting that out for consideration at the moment.
The difficulty which has caused the onus to be so laid is one which exists in these matters. It is curious that the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming recommended in their proposals for legislation about gaming parties that the onus of proof should rest on the defence to prove that an admission charge is not more than would reasonably be required to meet the actual cost of the facilities provided. In other words, even if we were considering the matter from a less stringent point of view. the placing of the onus is something which people have previously considered and have found to be a matter of difficulty.
I share every lawyer's objection to this placing of the onus. I know it has to be done sometimes, but I shall approach the consideration of it with that strong bias in my mind, and whatever I subsequently recommend to the House I want to tell them now that that is the way in which I shall approach it. I hope I shall be able to consider the Report and to consider some final suggestions in this regard at an early date.
May I make one small comment in a quiet and moderate way which will meet with the approval of the Home Secretary? I am sure we are grateful for his explanation of this Regulation. Speaking as a Member who represents part of London, I think we must pay serious attention to the words of the Commissioner of Police which the right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted. There is, however, this point to consider. Paragraph (6) of the Regulation says:
This Regulation shall not extend to Scotland.
I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman would accept a manuscript Amendment to include the name of the country of his adoption—Wales—or else give us an explanation of why Scotland was excluded from the original Regulation but not Wales.
I apologise to the House that I was not present when this matter first arose, but I had not had anything to eat since lunch-time. I am amazed at the expedition with which business has proceeded in my absence. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he said about my contribution to this debate last year. This is a very difficult problem, which is almost entirely confined to a certain quarter of London. It is not merely confined to London but to a certain quarter of London, where very grave abuses undoubtedly existed at one time and might recur in given circumstances with considerable speed if this power did not exist.
I know from my own contact with the Commissioner of Police how he is seized of the delicacy and importance of exercising discreetly the powers which have been conferred on him and his senior officers in this respect. I hope it may be possible for permanent legislation to be put before us which will enable us to consider this matter.
I would also suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it may, perhaps, be wise, if it is possible, to do that ahead of any general legislation on the gambling and betting Report which has just been received, and which, of course, covers a very wide field. I paid particular attention to this matter, especially during the earlier years of my period at the Home Office, when, owing to the clearing up of matters after the war, this matter sometimes assumed rather serious proportions, and I am quite convinced myself that the Metropolitan Police have exercised very wise discretion in exercising the powers that have been vested in them in this matter.
However, this is the kind of thing which unless it is very carefully safeguarded in the legislation under which action is taken, can easily lead to very considerable corruption in the police force, and not so many years ago, and within the recollection of a good many of us, undoubtedly there was certainly one grave case of corruption in the Metropolitan Police, in which innocent junior officers were broken to shield a man somewhat higher in rank who was profiting by very improper transactions in this respect.
It is very desirable for the good name of the Metropolitan Police that, as far as possible, these matters should be dealt with under legislation, which can be quite clearly understood, not merely by participants in the gambling but by the police force, and under which comparatively junior officers who get involved in this matter may know exactly what their powers are, and not be subject to the temptation which undoubtedly at one time existed.
It was a matter of regret to me that could not include anything on this matter in the licensing Act which was passed during my period of office, and if the right hon. and learned Gentleman can find an opportunity of introducing legislation to deal with this particular topic I can assure him that, in the best interests not merely of the Metropolis but of the Metropolitan Police, he will be well advised to do so.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Motion, to leave out line 18.
The object of this Amendment is to obtain from the Government some statement with regard to Regulation 55C (Restrictions on registration of new clubs). I move it because, in view of the comments which were made on this Regulation from the other side of the House, it quite clearly is aimed at plugging a hole in the licensing laws which exist at the moment; but it does seem to me that it is undesirable we should do it in this way. Now that the House has a good deal more time for legislation, and will have less controversial Measures before it, at any rate from the Government side —apart from one or two Measures—we shall have time to deal with this.
Therefore, I would remind the Home Secretary of what the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant) said on another occasion. He and I sometimes correspond on matters connected with tied houses. Possibly under these circumstances the right hon. and learned Gentleman will take time to make a statement on the Government's intentions with regard to legislation. The hon. Member said:
I submit that there can be no dissension from the view, which I support in this Amendment, that the time has come when the provisions of this regulation should be made permanent by legislation. There can be none of us, not even the hon. Member for Ealing. North, who would wish to do away with the three provisions for the restrictions on new clubs, namely, the proof of genuine need, the necessity for inaccurate information to be corrected and the question of the bona fides of the promoters and officials.—[OFFICIAL Re-Four, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2615.]
This does seem admirably suited for permanent legislation, and I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to deal with that aspect of the matter.
I beg to second the Amendment.
A good deal has been said tonight about the effectiveness of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming. On the subject of unsatisfactory clubs we need not wait for any subsequent report from a Royal Commission, because some years back a Royal Commission dealt with the question extremely carefully and came to unanimous decisions.
I am tempted to follow the example of most other speakers tonight and dwell on the helplessness of the party opposite when confronted with its election promises, but on this matter I can perhaps persuade some of them to remember promises that they made during the last election, because the churches and temperance societies drew up a statement of policy which dealt, among other things, with these clubs and their proper treatment under the law.
They did not ask anybody to commit themselves to the views expressed in that statement of policy, but asked them only to consider the statement, and, if possible, to give it their general support. I have seen the Press reports in which the replies of hon. Members opposite were printed, sometimes at length—sometimes in a rather stereotyped form, which made me think that perhaps they had had the assistance of the Conservative Central Office—in which they said they would be willing to see that the provisions of the law governing matters of this sort were kept.
I suggest that the law respecting unsatisfactory clubs was very well kept during the time of the Labour Government, and some very unsatisfactory institions have been closed as a result of the law. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) thinks with regard to the clubs what he apparently thought about gaming institutions, that the unsatisfactory clubs are only in one part of London. I agree that there are such institutions in one part of London, and I described them in a former debate in words taken from the report of a debate in another place. There are clubs run by prostitutes, common thieves and unsatisfactory characters of all sorts, with electrical alarms, spy-holes, and even barbed wire. When it comes to selling intoxicating liquor people will go to almost any extreme to cover up their tracks. These and other similar expedients have been adopted in order to defeat the police, prevent inspection, and thus continue institutions of this character.
I hope that some day there will be permanent legislation along the lines laid down in the Report of the Royal Commission. I gave evidence to that Royal Commission and there were not many other witnesses who could claim what I could claim, that the Royal Commission unanimously accepted my proposal. I suggest that, if and when the Government consider what legislation should take the place of these temporary Orders, that legislation might very well follow the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Whatever I may say about other things the Tory Government have been doing,.I entirely approve the maintenance of these Orders.
I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), will not want more than to secure from the Government a statement that they will be willing to maintain the Regulation with exactness and will insist upon proper police inspection, even to the extent of the right of entry over a short period—I agree that there is a limit to the period—by the police in the case of institutions of this sort in order to see that the law regarding intoxicating liquor is properly carried out. Therefore, I find myself in the unusual position of offering support to a Government which, for the most part, has run away from all its election promises.
I find myself in strange company tonight. The words attributed to me by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), as having been uttered last November were correct, and those views are my views today; so there can be no charge of inconsistency there. I may find myself in strange company in the persons of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) and the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch, but I welcome them to the view which I expressed last year. I feel convinced that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will, after the consideration of all the Defence Regulations which he has promised, come to the same opinion as we hold and will make them into permanent Regulations for the benefit of all of us.
I want, first of all, to show the reason for the Regulation by reminding the House of the permanent law under which a court of summary jurisdiction may, on complaint, strike a club off the register. One provision is that it is not conducted in good faith as a club or is kept or habitually used for an unlawful purpose. Then there is the provision with regard to drunkenness and the illegal sales of liquor and the admission of non-members.
The difficulty which has been found is the difficulty of getting evidence on those points. That was why the mode of approach that prevention, in certain cases, is better than cure was taken in the Regulation. The way it is done is that it requires particulars to be given of the persons concerned in promoting a new club for which registration is sought, and then enables the police to object on the grounds of redundancy or inaccurate particulars or—I quote this provision rather more extensively because of its importance:
…that the character or antecedents of any of those responsible for the club are such that the club ought not to be registered.
I want hon. Members who are in any doubt to have it in mind that there is a right of appeal to a court of summary jurisdiction from the action of the police making that objection. This is not a case where one is withdrawing it from the King's courts to the Executive. I am informed that the Regulation is very useful in preventing the formation of bogus and undesirable clubs and it has the advantage from the personal point of view of the Home Secretary, whoever he happens to be, that it has the effect of achieving a saving in police manpower which would otherwise be occupied in collecting the evidence on the somewhat difficult points which I have mentioned and by the difficult method which would be required.
That is the position at the present time, and that is why I ask the House to allow this to stand. The question of strengthening the law relating to registered clubs has been mentioned, as the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), has said, from time to time for many years. I have in mind that the Royal Commission on Licensing between 1929 and 1931 made recommendations on the subject and the hon. Member will remember that, in addition to that, there have been various Private Members' Bills between the wars, but it is a subject on which it is difficult to get agreement.
I have not got a note of that, but perhaps the hon. Member will give me the reference, because I should like to read the debate again. If I did hear it it has gone from my mind.
I want to make it clear that I am asking for the continuance of the Regulation for another year so that I may give it my personal examination. It would be unfrank and dishonest of me to say it is not a difficult subject. I do not know whether I shall he more successful than anyone else, but I shall do my best and I hope the House will accept that.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Motion, to leave out line 27.
This concerns Regulation 85, which has the subtitle, "Entry upon, and inspection of, land." Let me be quite frank about this matter and say that I have no objection to this Regulation. It seems to me a perfectly reasonable Regulation, and a power which any Government would require for the carrying on of the government of the nation. But that was not the view of the party opposite 12 months ago. When they were so frivolous in debating a serious matter of this kind, the House is entitled to ask a Member of the Government to explain their change of attitude and change of mind.
One quite serious objection which could be taken to the Regulation is the fantastically wide powers of delegation. Powers can be delegated to any class of person. So far as I know—and I do not mean this in any frivolous fashion—there is no reason why powers cannot be delegated to the Primrose League or delegated to the Royal Black Preceptory in Northern Ireland. If the matter does come up for consideration some attention should be given to the final Clause but for the rest I have no objection to the Regulation as it is drawn.
Here, again, it was the fertile brain of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, now working with great activity and great liveliness, who devised all sorts of fancy suggestions. He pointed out then that Ministerial signatures are not always easily readable and that an official could come along with a piece of paper bearing a signature which would be claimed as a signature of the Minister. He pointed grimly to the fact that burglars could be helped, crime committed and many other things take place through people studying this Regulation and exploiting it. Other ideas were developed, such as an honest citizen trying to stop a man who was breaking into the house at night and getting himself arrested, where actually the person was exercising the functions of a public official under delegated powers. And so it went on and everyone appeared to enjoy themselves.
What does the Financial Secretary think about it now, or are we going to be told that he has not had time to consider it? What is the position today? Here is a power that has been exercised, and so far as I am aware no one has ever come to the House and suggested that it has been abused. Indeed, in all the six years when this Regulation has been in operation not one single complaint was made of anything along those lines.
I remember the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay)—I do not know whether he is here now in the cause of freedom—saying most emphatically that he always regarded this Regulation as one of the most obnoxious that we have. Is anybody from the other side of the House going to put this point of view now, or has some curious metamorphosis taken place? Is everyone satisfied that everything that was said 12 months ago is completely wrong, and are they going to tell the House that what was said was purely frivolous and was never meant seriously at all?
I think we are entitled to put these questions and, in the interest of political decency, straightforwardness and honesty, are entitled to ask whether it was last year, or this year, that they meant what they said and whether there has been a change of mind, a change of heart, or merely a change of façade.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I should like to remind the House of what was said on this matter by the Chief Whip of the Liberal Party, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond)
My party would he open to criticism if we did not now lend our support to the Amendment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2620.]
All I wish to ask is, is not that part equally open to criticism now that they do not lend their support to this Amendment, or is there some subtle difference which has taken place, for the Amendment we were discussing is in exactly the same words as that set down a year ago? I think we are entitled to have an explanation from the Liberal Party of why they were open to criticism if they did not lend support in 1950 and not open to criticism in 1951.
I was rather sorry that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) should regard it as being necessarily an indication of frivolity to do what I did last year or what he has done this year. One of the purposes, as I understand it, of the procedure that this House adopts in this matter is that hon. Members should be free to inquire of Ministers who are seeking the retention of powers as to the purposes of those powers.
I make no complaint—indeed, I should be wholly wrong to seek to do so—that the hon. Member, in the exercise of his rights, has put down the Amendment, which secures a discussion of this Defence Regulation. It is perhaps particularly justifiable that it should be discussed in view of the fact that it is concerned with the rights of entry upon the land of the citizen by the agents of the Government, which is a matter about which this House for a very long time has very properly been deeply concerned.
My duty, as I see it, is to satisfy the House that in all the circumstances this is a justifiable power to take and I seek to do it in this way: this power of entry is the necessary instrument by which the Executive actually operates the powers it is given under a whole variety of other Defence Regulations and it would be futile and inconsistent to arm the Executive at the same time in theory with the powers given by the other Regulations while depriving it in practice of the power which this Defence Regulation gives to it to operate those others.
Perhaps I can illustrate it in this way. Under Defence Regulation 50 various Departments of State are given power to carry out certain works on land. I observe that no hon. Member has put down an Amendment to delete that Defence Regulation and, therefore, I take it that no hon. Member has thought it necessary to criticise it. It is no use having in law the power to do work on land if we do not at the same time have power to enter upon that land to do the work.
The same argument applies to a number of other Defence Regulations, with which I shall not weary the House. There is Defence Regulation 52, under which various Departments of State are authorised to take water from land. I apprehend that water cannot be taken from land, except perhaps with complicated engineering machinery, without entering upon it. And over a whole series of these Regulations this power to enter is the necessary concomittant of the power which is taken, and which is not tonight criticised, to do various things upon it.
One of his right hon. and learned Friends was then Attorney-General, and the Attorney-General appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT as having replied to this debate. I beg the hon. and learned Member at least to conceive it possible that his right hon. and learned Friend carried conviction. [Interruption.] It is no use the hon. Member for Oldham, West, saying that I voted against it. In fact, no vote took place.
The hon. Member is quite out of order. First he rises and makes a speech without the Member in possession of the House giving way. Secondly, he assumes to give a ruling that the negativing of an Amendment is a vote. That is subtle view of procedure and, frankly. I do not share his view.
We are concerned not with what I thought last year or with perhaps what the hon. Gentleman thought last year, we are concerned with what it is right to do this year—that is what this House is concerned with on the facts as they are, and I put them to hon. Members to consider on their merits, and it would not do the hon. Gentleman any harm occasionally to consider matters on their merits. On the merits, it would be foolish to give to the Executive, in a number of Defence Regulations which are not even challenged this year, the power in the national interest to do certain things and then to produce the possible situation that anyone who sought to deny them entry upon land which they required in order to do those things could frustrate the purpose of these Regulations.
It is obviously necessary that there should be safeguards. The safeguard in this case is that entry can only be authorised by or on behalf of those of my right hon. Friends whose particular offices are specified in Defence Regulation 49. I hope that the House will therefore see its way, on the same terms as all the other Regulations which we have been discussing, to give us the renewal of this power.
—and that there are four categories of review, namely, that they shall be abolished, that they shall be put into annual renewable legislation, that they shall be embodied in permanent legislation or that they shall be continued as they now are?
Will the Home Secretary look, when he comes to make this review, at paragraph (2)? I accept the point which the Financial Secretary raised about the necessity to have powers but I am particularly worried about the powers to delegate functions to
any specified persons or class of persons.
That seems to me to be too wide, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will give an assurance that he will look specifically at this point in order to see that power is not given to people too low down in the hierarchy of Government. If he could give us that assurance I should be more happy tonight.
I also feel that the reply we have received on this occasion has been highly unsatisfactory. The Financial Secretary made it perfectly obvious that this power was completely and obviously necessary. In that we entirely agree with him. The point which interests us is why it was not equally obvious to Members opposite last year when they voted against our having this power. Was not it another example of the behaviour of the Opposition in trying to exploit any irritation which anybody might have to them by advancing what they have now demonstrated to be an utterly insincere interest in civil liberty?
I think I require the leave of the House to reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts); and with that leave I can tell him that it is quite clear that the review which my right hon. Friend did refer to earlier must inevitably cover the matter he has in mind.
The Financial Secretary has referred to this matter in a casual and insincere manner by answering the question from his hon. Friend which he did not answer in reply to me. Indeed, the attitude of the Home Secretary as he stood at the Box was naked, ugly and ashamed. So far as we are concerned we do not object to this power; we never have. We made it perfectly clear last year that we supported the powers last year and we support them this year. I should have thought that even the Financial Secretary would see the difference between officially proposing it last year and supporting it this year. That being our attitude, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Motion, to leave out line 30.
Regulation 89 says:
Where by virtue of any of these Regulations, a person has any power to enter premises, he may use such force as is reasonably necessary for the purpose of exercising that power.
Anything more obvious than that I should have thought would have been difficult to imagine. If people are authorised by Regulation to enter premises, surely it is necessary to authorise them to use such power, such force, as is necessary to effect an entry.
I am glad that the Solicitor-General is present, because it is his speech last year in particular that I feel would be interesting to the House, and I am anxious to know what has caused him to change his mind, if indeed he has changed it, with regard to this Regulation. What he said then was this:
I am sorry that the Attorney-General is absent at this moment, because I think it would have been useful to the House to have heard his views upon this Regulation."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2629.]
This time the House not only has the advantage of the presence of the Attorney-General, and perhaps the opinion of the Attorney-General today, but also the opinion of the Solicitor-General on the same subject a year ago; and it would be interesting to know how wide the difference might be. Frankly, I should have thought it would not require the assistance of the Attorney-General to tell us that if someone is authorised to enter premises he must also be authorised to use such force as is necessary to do so.
The Solicitor-General had some very grave words to say about this. To attack a Regulation violently is rather different from doing what we are doing, which is merely to inquire why there has been a change of mind. What the Solicitor-General then said was:
One finds that under this regulation power can be given whereby if any hon. Members opposite on going away for their long holiday leave their houses locked up, on 24 hours notice there can be a breaking into their homes, using as much force as may be necessary, and the Home Secretary could not do anything about it, nor could the police do anything about it because it would be lawful under this regulation"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2630.]
Is this danger to threaten us during the long holiday which the hon. Members opposite have given us? Are not we to be protected on that holiday by the withdrawal of this Regulation and, if not, why is what was so urgent last year less urgent this year? We should like to know what is the answer to this change of heart which is now exemplified, I gather, for the sixth consecutive time with only one year's interval and, as far as one can make out, with no change of circumstances whatever.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I want to call attention to one matter which is very serious and was touched upon by my hon. and learned Friend. In the course of the debate last time, some very serious remarks indeed were made about this matter. Whether they were intended seriously or not I have no means of judging, but that the public generally would interpret them seriously there can be no question.
We had the suggestion from the present Solicitor-General that it would be possible that, while a man was absent on holiday, a notice could be put in the empty letter box and, within 24 hours, possibly at night, some one acting in pursuance of an authority by the Government—and the Minister is a competent authority within the meaning of the Regulation—could break into the house and could lay waste to the premises without any intervention at all. That was a pretty serious threat to put out at that time, and obviously it would cause a good deal of alarm.
It was serious, too, because it could obviously lead to the encouragement of nefarious practices by other individuals who might use that sort of advice for their purpose. But the matter was made much worse by one of the interventions of the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). It was a most mischievous intervention indeed. One does not expect the hon. Member for Croydon, East, to be unduly serious about these matters. He asked what was the position of a citizen who walked along at night and saw someone breaking into the house. He asked whether now he dared stop a man breaking into that house because, if he did, he might find that it was someone authorised by a Minister acting under the powers granted in these Regulations.
This is too serious a matter to joke about. If His Majesty's citizens are really to have it on the authority of one whom I am sorry not to see in the Government—and I confidently expected that he would be in the Government—if it is really to be the advice of some one who has a definite position in this House that no one is to interfere with a burglar for fear that he might not be a burglar but someone acting on behalf of the Minister, it is carrying the resources of debate to a fairly advanced state, or a fairly retarded state, according to one's point of view.
I hope that we shall have the matter cleared up once and for all. I hope that we shall have a clear statement that this is a sensible Regulation very properly administered, that we need not be frightened at the way it is exercised, and that no harm has been done to anybody in consequence.
As apparently, quite inadvertently, on a previous occasion I hurt the feelings of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), by not referring expressly to him, I think that I can certainly give him the assurance he wants, that this is a necessary and sensible Regulation; but, in view of what he said, I would ask him to consider the fact that it is one of the rights and privileges of this House to raise the question of the powers sought to be retained by Ministers and that, so far as I am concerned, I make no complaint whatever of the matter being raised and debated, particularly as it has been done in the always effective way in which he does it.
It is of course essential, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has pointed out, that if we give to Ministers, or to Departments, a power to enter upon land, we must give them power which enables them to exercise that right by entering upon land with the necessary force if difficulties are put in their way. It follows logically and inevitably. However, I must say that hon. Members are perfectly entitled to feel and to express apprehensions when so important a power is put in the hands of the Government. If they do so, it gives to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on this bench the opportunity to do a valuable service which otherwise they could not do. That is to re-assure the public as to the way in which these powers are exercised.
Last year's debate brought to us from the then Home Secretary some words which I cannot do better than quote, because those words are as true now as then. They were that the House had heard some alarming descriptions of what might happen under this Regulation. The right hon. Gentleman said that it had been in existence for 11 years and he had never heard any complaint that it had ever been used in a single way conjured up in the imagination of hon. Members on the occasion of that debate. For myself, I would say that those hon. Members who prompted the right hon. Gentleman to make that remark performed a public service very nearly equal to that performed by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton in leading me to repeat them tonight.