Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Amendment to Question [20th November]:
|5||That an humble Address be presented to Her 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-two, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-three.|
|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).|
|Regulation thirty-three (Exemption of certain women from Acts relating to midwives).|
|Regulation forty-five A (Issue of identity cards to seamen).|
|Regulation fifty-two (Use of land for purposes of Her Majesty's forces).|
|15||Regulation sixty C (Amendment of s. 4 of Sale of Food (Weights and Measures) Act, 1926).|
|Regulation seventy six (Handling and conveyance of ammunition, &c. in ports).|
|Regulation eighty-two (False documents and false statements).|
|Regulation eighty-three (Obstruction).|
|20||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).|
|Regulation eighty-nine (Use of force in entering premises).|
|25||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|
|30||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.|
|35||Parts I and II and Schedule I of the Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) (Northern Ireland) Regulations, 1940.|
|Regulations one 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.|
|40||Regulations one and two and paragraphs (3), (4) and (5) of Regulation three of the Defence (Patents, Trade Marks, etc.) Regulations, 1941.|
|The whole of the Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations, 1943.|
|The Defence (Trading with the Enemy) Regulations, 1940, except Regulations eight and nine thereof.|
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman forgive me? I wanted to seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, at an appropriate moment on a point relating to the debate. In previous years it has always been the practice that at some time there should be a discussion on the Motion as a whole. Last year, as I understand, that discussion took place collectively on a whole series of Regulations and statutes. Unfortunately, this year that course was not taken.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that in his opening speech in the collective debate that took place last week he courteously and painstakingly tried to deal with the effect of the proposals of the Government on a whole series of Regulations, but at the end of his speech there was a Ruling from the Chair that we were discussing only the limited matter of the Acts then under discussion; and, therefore, there has not been up to the moment any general debate upon the delegated legislation as a whole or upon the Defence Regulations. I do not know whether it would be the appropriate moment for me to ask you whether that debate will take place at the end of the whole series of Amendments or whether it is more convenient that it should take place at the start.
In conclusion may I say that at this moment, although we always receive from you every courtesy in regard to information, we do not know what Amendments have been selected and therefore how many are being omitted and will fall to be discussed on the main Question because they cannot be discussed on individual questions. The House is in some difficulty with regard to that.
At present we are dealing with the Amendments and in due course the main Question will be put. I may or may not be in the Chair and whether or not it will be discussed I do not know. But that will be the appropriate moment to discuss the main Question. With regard to the Amendments, it is unusual to give any information. I do not know what Mr. Speaker may do. But if the hon. Gentleman will see me afterwards I may be able to give him some information.
I am much obliged. If the discussion takes place at the end we shall know what Amendments have been called and we shall be able to relate our observations to that situation.
I hope that the very brief remarks I am about to make may be deemed relevant to this Amendment because it will assist hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in all quarters of the House. At the end of the debate on the first Resolution, dealing with the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, I did suggest that there should be an inquiry into the control of delegated legislation and I said that Her Majesty's Government would be pleased to discuss that point.
These discussions have taken place, the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the right hon. and learned Member the Leader of the Liberal Party have been consulted and agreement has been reached subject, of course, to the eventual rights of the House, that the matter should be inquired into by a Select Committee of this House. Again subject to the rights of the House to alter the terms when they are brought before them, it has been agreed, as a draft for submission to the House, that the terms of reference should be in some such words as these:
To consider in what respect the existing procedures by which the control of this House over delegated legislation is exercised need to be improved or supplemented and by what means they can best be achieved.
I thought that there was general approval from all quarters of the House about the idea of an inquiry and that it would be courteous to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and to the House, to tell you that the representatives of all parties have not let the grass grow under their feet but have got on with it and produced this result. I am grateful to you and the House for allowing me to say these words.
I think it is a good thing that we can start the night's discussions with something on which there can be general agreement. I should like to thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for approaching us with an olive branch so early in the proceedings. What he will come armed with next time it is not for me to prophesy, but it would ill become me, when I have been offered an olive branch, to be other than receptive to it. The dove brings it in his beak and I stand at the window to receive it.
We are glad that this proposal has been put forward and, if I may say this before turning to the Amendment actually before the House, we particularly welcome the fact that the inquiry will be confined to what happens in this House, because we feel that this is a matter for the procedure of this House to be considered by itself. When we get a report, if it is one that can be acted upon, wider considerations may then arise, but I think we shall do well if we confine our attention at this stage to the proceedings of this House and the control of this House over this particular form of legislation. I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for having mentioned this so early this evening.
Perhaps I might now turn to Regulation 16 which we are proposing, I might almost say in accordance with immemorial custom, to leave out, because every year when the matter was discussed under the previous Government hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite found cause for desiring that this Regulation should no longer appear, and we think that it is appropriate that the Minister of Fuel and Power, who is the Minister now solely concerned with this Regulation, should give us some account of the way he proposes to use it, and also some account of the steps that are taken when the Regulation ceases to apply to a particular footpath and the manner in which that footpath is restored to public use.
I am very nervous about embarking on any question of law with the right hon. and learned Gentleman sitting opposite to me, but I think he will agree with me that as far as the law is concerned it is as much a diversion of a highway to raise it or to lower it as to move it either to the right hand or to the left, and when dealing with footpaths across land which is to be the subject of opencast coalmining that question immediately arises. I recollect being interested in a footpath under which someone was proposing to quarry for gravel, and the highway authority of which I was a member insisted that the footpath should remain; and it was very like the peak of Helvellyn on a small scale standing up above the surrounding swamp—which is what the excavation for gravel very soon became.
I understand that it is the desire in most of these cases that, for the time being at least, the footpath should be stopped up and should not be left in that condition. What I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who I understand is to reply, is, first, what steps are taken to ensure that, where such a footpath is stopped up there shall be some means, if possible by diversion round the side of the works, of easy communication between point A, where the old footpath started, and point B where it ends as far as the excavations are concerned.
I am more concerned, however, about what happens when the workings cease to be used. I understand that there is generally an undertaking by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, or the National Coal Board, or whoever may be the authority dealing with the matter, that the land shall be restored, and I hope that when that is done the original line of the footpath will be restored. The Regulation as drafted does not seem to make exact provision for that, but with regard to the paths across agricultural land that were previously closed by Regulation there was an undertaking given that the footpath would be restored when the time came for revoking the Regulation. I can say, as one who was for two years President of the Ramblers' Association, that we have ample evidence that that pledge has not been honoured in a great many cases.
In the county the footpaths of which I know best, the county of Surrey—though I know quite a few in the county of Sussex also—there are many cases where valuable footpaths have been lost to the public use and a good deal of ill-feeling exists. I feel it the more because I always advised people, when crops were being grown during the war, and a year or two after the war, that the sporting thing to do, in view of the national necessity, was not to go diagonally across a field, even where one had the right, but to go round the edges and take the two sides of the triangle. In the days of my youth, when we studied Euclid—a study that, I understand, now no longer vexes the minds of the juvenile population— these were held to be, as we spent many laborious hours trying to prove, greater than the third.
Every time I stretch a piece of elastic I prove the proposition a great deal more than the textbooks seem to do.
It is essential in these days that where footpaths are temporarily closed for the public advantage, and when that advantage no longer requires the closing of the footpaths, they should be restored to the free use that was enjoyed by the public before. In these days, when to get away from the smell of the highway—on, let us say, the road from London to Brighton, or even from London to Worthing—is a thing to be desired at the week-end, it is very annoying to find that tracks that one knew previously as being open to the public are now too often closed, the stiles destroyed, and the planks previously thrown across as bridges no longer in existence. The concern of Members of this House in this matter has always been deep and genuine, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman, when he replies, will be able to give us some reassurances with regard to the steps that will be taken concerning the very limited number of paths that now come within the purview of this Regulation.
I do not wish to follow the right hon. Gentleman along footpaths, but, in a few words, let me refer to the very important statement that has been made by the Home Secretary. I am quite sure that that statement he has just made to the House will be welcomed by every section in the House and outside it. There has been for a very considerable time a great and deepening anxiety about the exercise of the powers delegated to Ministers by this House. We are all anxious that a solution should be found. I am sure that with good will we shall find that solution which will preserve the democratic control of this House and, at the same time, not interfere with the proper administration of affairs in this country.
I think the House would be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply, could explain to us what is the necessity for keeping this Regulation 16 in effect. As I understand the position, anyone who wants to stop up a highway for any purpose can apply to a court of quarter sessions for an order. That order can be given on the certificate of two justices. I should have thought that hon. Members who are anxious to limit unnecessary extension of the power of the Executive would have been only too glad that the Executive should be subjected to the ordinary procedure of having to go to a court of quarter sessions for an order.
If it is said that that is a cumbrous or unpredictable procedure the answer surely is that this right of use of the highway is an important right, and the decision to place safeguards on any attempt to reduce it demonstrated the wisdom of earlier legislation. It is surely desirable that the Executive, like any other subject desiring to stop up a highway, should be subjected to the same limitation and should have the request or requirement investigated by the court.
Before you came into the Chair, Mr. Speaker, I ventured to ask the guidance of Mr. Deputy-Speaker on the question of the general debate. I did not wish to interrupt the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) in the observations he was making, which were not relevant to the Amendment, although I agree with them. But may I take it that that little general discussion will not preclude the general debate taking place, and perhaps reference being made to the operation of this Select Committee when we come to discuss the main Motion later on?
I am grateful for that information, Mr. Speaker. The House will remember that I did move this Amendment last year. I think I made clear then that the Amendment was, so far as I was concerned, being put forward to ascertain the minds of hon. Members more than to try to secure annulment of the Regulation. That is relevant to this Amendment, as we are speaking in circumstances of difficulty tonight. In saying that, I was not making a point of the timing. I am in a conciliatory mood tonight. We are quoting from the last book of Regulations which is available in the House, which was printed in 1950. Since then, I believe, this Regulation has been amended.
It is difficult to trace what Amendments have been made through all the Statutory Rules and Orders. Hon. Members will remember that we had an intimation that there would be less delegated legislation now, but there have been about 1,879 Orders this year up to now. But we are also in the difficulty that we have to go through the patient and laborious speech of the right hon. Gentleman on the main Question to find out whether he picked out any particular Regulation and gave any intimation what he was going to do with it in a week or two. He made reference, I believe, to 28 Regulations. So we start with a book which is inaccurate and two years out of date. We then refer to the debate of last week and try to find out whether any intimation was given about Regulation 16. A Bill introduced concurrently in another place was not here at all, and I was only able to obtain a copy by going across to another place and getting an officer to let me have a copy. Unfortunately, I have lost it.
I take it that it is fair to refer to the debate of 1950 on this matter, because we had the advantage then of the speech of the present Solicitor-General. This is what he said in reference to this subject last year:
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Motion, in line 10, to leave out Regulation sixteen (Stopping up or diversion of highways for purposes of open-cast coal and generating stations).
I am sure the Home Secretary will recognise this issue because we have discussed it before, although it was some time ago and I expect he is still occupying the same position on the Council for the Preservation of Footpaths and Highways, and things of that sort.
I do not know what "things of that sort" are unless they are waterways, which were referred to later.
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 be done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2589–2591.]
That opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman on this matter was a very
forceful opinion then. One might well say that, since his new and added lustre, one may regard it as having even more force and even more importance. And on that occasion too he had the good fortune—always the very good fortune in this House—to be seconded and supported by the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury. So that there was no question but that the Amendment then to annul this Regulation was put forward with some force.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said last time that they were talking only about electricity generating stations and in fact they secured from the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power an undertaking that the Regulations had virtually ceased to apply to generating stations; that it was, in fact, applying to only one at that moment, the works in Stewart Street, Manchester, and the moment that had finished it would never apply again. My recollection is that the words have been omitted from the Regulation since. I am not sure that has been done, but a clear undertaking was given which would have the same effect for all practical purposes that the powers would not be exercised with respect to electricity generating stations.
But it is not fair to say that the debate is limited to that point only. There are serious questions about why we are continuing opencast coal. I am bound to deplore the fact that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is not here to assist us on this occasion, because he has expressed his views on opencast coal on so many occasions that they would have come with new force and relevance tonight. We are entitled to know what Her Majesty's Government intend with regard to this.
No reference has been made as yet to the stupendous contribution that the miners of Great Britain have made in the last 12 months to the financial solvency of the country and to the maintenance of employment generally. Certainly this tremendous success of a nationalised coal industry gives Her Majesty's Government a chance to reconsider the question of how far it is intended seriously to consider the mining of opencast coal.
I do not say this in a critical sense. I think the arguments are finely balanced. Everyone knows that, on the whole, opencast coalmining is not a thing we wanted particularly to do. It is apt to destroy and injure all too frequently a beautiful countryside. It is apt to take many acres of valuable land away from farming for a considerable period. It is apt not to be possible to have a real re-instatement, however carefully it is done, although I pay great tribute to the way it has been tried over these years. And it involves all sorts of considerations in village life, such as the introduction of a large number of industrial workers into over-populated areas and the difficulties of accommodation and so on.
So I should have thought that before we were asked to renew this one for another 12 months, we should be given some indication of the general intention: what the ambit of the operations is likely to be; whether they are to be carried out on as large a scale as before, or only to be limited to those obvious examples of productive sites where they can be developed to great advantage—
I do not wish for a moment to do other than accept the observation you have made, Mr. Speaker, because in any event I have come to the end of the remarks I wished to make on that subject and there would, therefore, be no useful purpose served. However, I would say that it is purely for the purpose of opencast coal that this power is given. It is not now available in any circumstances unless we start opencast coalmining. Therefore I would venture respectfully to suggest that if we are not to discuss opencast coal, there is no point in the Regulation, and that it is relevant to us whether we are going on to do this, and to what extent.
There is another curious thing, if the words are still there; and I must here say quite frankly that I have not found out which are in and which are out; and how one can do so in the time available I do not know. We are discussing something like a couple of hundred Orders tonight. But the words to which I refer are those about watercourses. If those are still in, then I suggest that they could conveniently come out. Not that we could take away watercourses, but as a purely legislative and administrative process, these words could be removed. Even if we on this side were originally responsible for this nonsense, I imagine that a conscientious Parliamentary draftsman has been responsible for their continuance. It would be interesting to know if this power has ever had to be used.
I have just one sentence in conclusion. The hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) has made reference to the powers of quarter sessions for the closing of footways, and the hon. and learned Gentleman the present Solicitor-General made reference to it in 1950. That procedure at quarter sessions has been simplified to some extent, and that is welcome. I recall how, in my early days of practice, it was a long, laborious and expensive procedure designed, or so I always thought, purely for the benefit of the legal profession and not for those interested in the stopping up or destruction or preservation of footpaths.
I do put this matter quite seriously and sincerely to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because it would be a genuine contribution to this matter if he would say that he is prepared to reconsider the whole position as it obtains at present in relation to footpaths and their diversion. Could he try to make it simpler?
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) shakes his head. I know that that means that his first reaction is that he does not want to make it easier for footpaths to be closed. I agree with him. But diversions form another matter, and they do good very often for the public at large. I do not want to enable anyone to close footpaths with greater ease; but, at the same time, I do not believe it to be a good thing that a matter of this kind should be a subject for a long and costly process at law. I do hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will consider what I have said when he comes to look at the subject again.
I should like to add to the plea which has been made by the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) as to why this Order must be kept in force; especially since, as we have heard, objection has been taken to it by hon. Members on the other side of the House. The onus lies with the Government to justify this rather strange Order which is largely at the disposal of the Minister of Fuel and Power. When this matter was originally raised by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) he asked why, if this is such a useful Regulation to the Minister of Fuel and Power, it is confined to opencast coalmining.
There is the procedure at quarter sessions, to which more than one hon. Member has already referred, and if that is not satisfactory, then it may well be unsatisfactory to Ministers other than the Minister of Fuel and Power and for other purposes than those in this Regulation. Can the Home Secretary give us any information about Scotland? We are very proud that in Scotland we have greater access to our land than the English have in England. The House must be very concerned about the curtailment of the highway and the free passage of the public thereon. Is this Regulation used for any other purpose and, if so, for what purpose?
You will recollect, Sir, that for the general convenience we had to deal with this Regulation very briefly on the previous occasion it was discussed, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) merely seconded the Amendment pro forma in order that we might get on to the Motion for the adjournment of the debate, which was the general desire on both sides of the House. I do hope in those circumstances that if my hon. Friend asks the leave of the House to speak again it will be granted.
I seconded the Amendment on the previous occasion because of the circumstances prevailing in the Chamber and I think I am entitled not to be pulled up by you, Sir, but to be complimented. I should like to put one or two questions to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power on this very important Regulation. In my constituency we have suffered tremendously because of inroads which opencast mining has made on the countryside.
In the constituency I represent we have been giving deep-mined coal to this nation since the year 1540. Now the Government come along and despoil the countryside by making inroads on what little amenities we have. This Regulation gives power to divert or close footpaths or roads. They have full power to do that and they shelter behind the power given the Ministry by the Regulation. We have approached them on a number of occasions and they always tell us, "We are very sorry but we have to work this district because coal is deposited here."
I am not accusing the Ministry of being unreasonable but one thing which troubles my constituents and myself is that the winning of opencast coal is let out to contract—is that so?
Contractors are employed for the production of opencast coal at so much per ton. The Ministry, through their regional officers, negotiate with the local town council or authorities of the district but when the production of opencast coal is finished there the contractor moves his plant away to another site and the local authority is left with the job of restoring the footpaths or roads which have been diverted. That is my complaint, which I do not make from hearsay but from experience after visiting sites when opencast mining has finished.
If this Regulation gives the Minister power to close footpaths and highways then it ought also to give him power to ensure that later they are re-opened. It gives him power to do one thing but ignores the necessity of restoring to the public the right to use the footpaths and highways which have been closed. We accepted this position during the war when opencast working was extended, but we have continued to fight against it since 1941–42. We have tried to advance every conceivable argument against the Regulation but the Ministry continue to shelter behind it.
I put it to the Minister—and I could prove my argument if necessary that it is about time that opencast mining came to an end. However, I should be ruled out of order if I continued on that line. But so long as we have opencast mining we must approach the matter on a reasonable basis. Therefore, I ask the Minister to ensure that when he closes or diverts a footpath or highway to facilitate the winning of coal he makes sure that the right of way is restored to the public later. It falls upon him morally if not legally to do that.
The difficulty we experience is in the letting of the work to contractors. I suggested that in the contract which is signed there should be a clause intimating that if the contractor has to close a footpath or roadway then he is under a legal responsibility to restore it immediately he has finished winning the coal. If the Minister would accept that suggestion he would be helping to avert the moods of anger which come over the people when they are denied access to local beauty spots such as Winstanley, Orrell, Upholland and Parbold. Some of these footpaths have been used over the centuries, especially at week-ends, when people like to walk through the fields and woods. The taking of that right from them means the taking away of part of their birthright. I plead that the use of these highways and foot paths should be restored to the public.
I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends that possibly there is no need for this Regulation now, and that hon. Members in all parts of the House are in difficulty because we are not clear about the expression:
extending an electricity generating station …
I ask hon. Gentlemen to note what this Regulation gives power to do. It says:
The Minister of Fuel and Power, if he considers it necessary to do so for the purpose
of working open-cast coal or constructing or extending an electricity generating station"—
I should like to know whether that is still retained—
may by order provide for the stopping up or diversion of any highway passing through, and for prohibiting or restricting the exercise of any right of way over or the use of any waterway passing through, any land used or appropriated for use for that purpose or any land adjoining such land.
These powers are fairly wide, because adjoining land may extend to a whole area. In my constituency we have this opencast problem, and where there has been restoration not only are pathways not properly constructed but the waterways may be left neglected. Some of the finest fishermen in Britain are the miners. They love a sport which takes them at the week-ends into the quietude of woods and riverside. But it has been brought to my notice in my own area that water has become polluted. If, under this Regulation, a river is polluted or fish are diverted from the river or even killed, we have no power to say that the river must be re-stocked with fish for the sake of a sport that has been going on for centuries.
This House has a duty to protect ancient fishing rights, and we should have some understanding from the Government Front Bench tonight on this subject, as well as on the subject of pathways. What is the view of the Government about the re-stocking of rivers that have been de-fished because of opencast mining? [Interruption.] That is a good word. Could we have an assurance that the Minister of Fuel and Power will do his utmost to see that rivers are reconditioned?
Contractors carry out this job and they naturally first seek to produce coal. The Minister has to weigh the balance of national need, national security, and national desires against local ones. But with the magnificent work being done as a result of nationalisation of mines and with present progress in the development of coalmining areas, I believe there is no longer any need for these drastic powers to be in the hands of any one Minister.
Later, we shall be discussing the possibility of the Secretary of State for War demanding agricultural land. Who are the arbiters in a struggle with the Minister of Fuel and Power for an area where there is opencast coal and with the War Office for an area wanted for military exercises? Does anything come before the House to enable us to make the decision, or is it decided by officials outside the House? In the battle of trowel versus plough we are losing agricultural land at the rate of 50,000 acres a year, and we have already lost nearly 500,000 acres of agricultural land. Some day all this must stop, or this country will find its balance of payments problem insoluble. I beg the Minister to reconsider this Regulation and, if possible, withdraw it, because it is not a necessary Regulation at this period in our history.
It may assist the House, in view of the different lines the debate is taking from past years, if I said something now, particularly on the aspect of footpaths and the closing of them. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is, as we all know, exceedingly interested in the whole question of footpaths, and from years gone by he may recall that I can claim some credit for assisting in that matter when my interests were, perhaps, more agricultural than fuel and power. I can assure him and other hon. Gentleman that the question of footpaths, and the ancient right of access, as one hon. Member put it, is a matter with which I have the most sincere sympathy possible, and I am frankly surprised to have heard this evening suggestions that, where it has been necessary for us temporarily to stop up or divert footpaths, there has been any question at all of there not being restored.
It may not always be the case that they are restored in exactly the same position as before. I quite agree that when we remove the soil from under a footpath it may be difficult to replace the footpath exactly where it was before, but equally in the general restoration of opencast sites which takes place it may very well be more convenient for local people and may meet their desires better to have the footpath restored in a slightly different position, and I do not think it would be wrong for us to do that.
I am surprised, particularly, at the information given to us by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), who spoke of the anxiety about footpaths not being restored at all. Certainly, I have never received any intimation that that has not been done. I have never heard any complaints of it at all, and if either the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member of the House has any information on the failure to restore a footpath or highway after we have had to close it temporarily for opencast coal working. I should be very grateful indeed to have particulars, and I will make inquiries about it.
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. The point I was trying to make was that when a footpath is taken away it may be that up to 60 feet of the overburden, as it is called, is removed, and that when the coal is extracted, the rock strata, subsoil and soil have to be replaced, and it takes a number of years before consolidation is complete. It is going on all the time. The point of restoration comes along when the footpath has to be re-surfaced, and that is when we get the complaints. It is all very well to replace the overburden, but the work demands continuous supervision until consolidation has taken place and the footpath can be restored as near the original position as possible.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, and I am hopeful that we might find that the cases to which he has referred are cases of a certain age, because of recent years the procedure for restoration has been different. Recently, the procedure has been that, after the actual contracting work has been completed, by which I mean the winning of the coal, the National Coal Board contact the Ministry of Agriculture, who have previously surveyed the site before the work started, and they decide how the restoration should take place. In effect, the site is handed over to them for their directions as to restoration, and I should be very surprised if the sites dealt with in that way in recent years should be found to have the consolidated footpaths breaking up or not properly consolidated when the final date for restoration has been reached.
May I now deal with one or two other points made during the debate? The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked particularly what the situation was in Scotland. I can assure him that it is exactly the same as in England; we do not discriminate against Scotland at all. I hope that may be of some reassurance to him.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) asked particularly about water-ways, and hoped that we should be able to dispense with the power so far as they were concerned. I am afraid that is not possible. From time to time we find there are water-ways which run through a site, although it is not a frequent occurrence. But if there is a stream running through an opencast site it has to be diverted in some way or other. We must have the power to do that, although we are loth to exercise it for the purely practical reason that it is difficult to deal with a running stream.
That is a practical example of the reason why we are disinclined to do it, because once we start tampering with water we do not know what may happen. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we do not enter into this work at all, whether in connection with land or water, without the fullest consultation with the agricultural interests and the local authorities, and the planning interests as well. Although I am not personally seized of the point, I have not the slightest doubt that any catchment board concerned would have to come into the consultation. But if the hon. Member has any particular case in mind, I shall be glad to look into it.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) put four points in moving the Amendment with which I should like to deal, because they collect together all the other points which have been raised. The first was a novel one, which I do not think has been raised before. He said that if ironstone opencast working had got on without this Regulation why should not coal opencast working do the same? That is a shrewd point, but we can parry it easily because there is a great deal of difference between the two. The average working life of an ironstone opencast working is from 15 to 20 years, whereas that of an opencast coal working is from two to three years, and there are fewer sites for ironstone than for coal. At any given time there are about 40 sites for ironstone and about 100 for coal.
The third point that was made was that ironstone working started a long time ago and was able to start under the old system, either under the Town and Country Planning Acts and those which preceded them, or the Highways Act to which reference has been made. Opencast coal mining started during the war under the Defence Regulations, and especially the one with which we are concerned with tonight, Defence Regulation 16. That brings us to the second point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, which is the difficulty in which we find ourselves in changing the present system. It would involve a break in the pipe-line of production of opencast coal.
The closure of a footpath under the Town and Country Planning Acts involves a minimum period of four months, and the average period is probably about six months. The procedure under the Highways Act is not suitable. For one thing, it can only come into operation on a permanent basis, and we are very anxious not to have to take powers permanently to stop up highways. All we want is to divert or stop them up temporarily while the work is going on, and then to restore them for use. That is the main reason, but there are a number of other practical objections why the Highway Act cannot be used.
Ironstone working is a longer planned operation altogether. There is plenty of time to make application under the Act. In opencast coal working the situation proceeds so rapidly that the contractors follow up immediately the prospecting has been completed, opening fresh sites every fortnight. If we suddenly switched from one procedure in which a delay of three to four weeks is sustained to another procedure with a delay lasting from four to six months the whole sequence of operations would be interrupted. The practical result of changing the system at present would be a loss to this country calculated at not less than three million tons of coal, and that is a thing which we simply cannot contemplate at present.
I do not think it is necessary for me to go into that. The hon. Gentleman, who is exceedingly well versed in the Mineral Workings Act and the Town and Country Planning Act, can go through the procedure himself. Once the whole machinery is put into operation the minimum time it takes to get through without objection is a matter of four months. With objections, the period runs up to a year. The average time would be a period of about six months.
The further point originally put to me, and made again this evening, is: if we have to have this power, why do we not make it a statutory power in an Act of Parliament instead of a Regulation. That is a perfectly fair point and one with which I would have great sympathy, because I have no love for Regulations, but it would have a disastrous psychological effect. Hon. Gentlemen on both sides have said that they want to get rid of opencast coal working. They do not want it to become a permanency. Nor do they want to consolidate it into one of the natural operations which go on throughout the country. If we stop making this an annual procedure and make it permanent by putting it into a statute, it is simply going to make it still more difficult to bring to an end opencast coal working.
There is a further point which was touched upon by the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who has been doing his homework better than the hon. and learned Member for Kettering. It is perfectly true that the point about electricity generating has been the subject of assurances from people speaking from this Box for a number of years. I do not propose to refer to any except those given by myself. Last year I said:
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in so far as this Regulation applies to electricity generating stations it will be done away with."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 1095.]
Not very long after—on 4th December, 1951, we made a Statutory Instrument, No. 2115 of 1951, which was laid on 5th December, and came into operation on 9th December. The effect of that Regulation was specifically to revoke the words in Regulation 16
or considering or extending an electricity generating station.
Since 9th December last those words have been revoked and we have lived up to the assurance which we gave.
I think I have covered all the points which have been raised during the debate. I hope that the House is satisfied about the question of the electricity generating station—
Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the point I raised concerning the terms of the contract to the contractor, and about making it compulsory for him to restore the footpath or roadway which he has taken from the people?
I apologise. I did not intend to ignore that point. It is not so much for the contractor as for us; it is our responsibility. Now it is the National Coal Board's responsibility. It really comes down to the point of finding where the job has not been done. Certainly when the land is restored the footpath or highway should be restored with it. If the hon. Gentleman will let me have any cases in which that has not been done, I should be very glad indeed to look into them.
In conclusion, I think the House may well be satisfied on the electricity side. I hope very much that I have succeeded in satisfying hon. Members that, so far as opencast coal working is concerned, we do not like having to do it; we hope to be able to prevent it becoming a permanency; it would be disastrous for the interests of the country, by virtue of the interruption to coal production which would result, if we did have to change the system by going over to the Town and Country Planning Act provisions; we only use the Regulation for this purpose as little as necessary, and we hope that we shall be able to do away with it as soon as possible.
I was hoping to ask a question of the Parliamentary Secretary before he sat down, but now that I have been fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, perhaps I may be able to deal with it at slightly greater length. I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman if he can indicate to the House on how many occasions in, say, the last 12 months the Ministry have found it necessary to use the powers under Regulation 16. I am bound to say—and here I may be striking a note which is slightly discordant compared with that struck by some of my hon. Friends—that I find myself in considerable sympathy with the observations of the Parliamentary Secretary about reliance upon the procedures which the law provides other than the procedure under Regulation 16.
As one who occasionally has had the privilege of stopping up highways, or diverting them for local authorities, I must say the procedure is full of pitfalls. There are all the processes—the two justices visiting the site, a notice at each end of the highway to be stopped, the procedure about the quarter sessions and the enrolment subsequently. It really is a happy hunting ground, if I may say, for the lawyers, and for that reason, of course, is a very worthy procedure indeed, and I make no complaint about it. But for a Ministry anxious to promote an urgent public duty in the public interest, I can well understand the Ministry desiring to retain these powers.
I am bound to say also that from my limited knowledge and experience of the operation of the Town and Country Planning Act I should have thought the estimate of time given by the Parliamentary Secretary was, unfortunately, very near the truth. It may, perhaps, not reflect very much credit on those engaged in these matters. On the other hand, the protection of highways and of footpaths is a very important matter, and our ancestors, in their wisdom in the past, no doubt thought it right to put these technical difficulties in the way.
Nevertheless, if the fact be that there is a continuing need for our country that this opencast mining should take place—and I am bound to say that I am impressed with what the hon. Gentleman said on that point—I think that there is force in the suggestion that powers of this kind should be retained; but it would strengthen my support for the retention of these powers if I were to be told that there really have been several occasions—putting it no higher than that—in the last 12 months when these powers have been needed.
I echo, in conclusion, the desire of most of us in this House—certainly on this side of the House—now to see these powers being put in proper legislative form. I appreciate that there is a certain inhibition in the case of opencast mining, but I think from time to time throughout the debate we shall be referring again to the fact that it is really deplorable that so many years after the state of emergency which gave birth to these Regulations we are still going through the somewhat haphazard process in this House of taking them piecemeal in this way. Here I express the desire expressed at the opening of the debate that something should be done quickly so that we may deal with this better in future years.
I do not want to delay the House for more than one moment, but because I seconded last year an Amendment to annul this particular Regulation, in order to get the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, to see if they had changed their views upon it, perhaps the House will allow me one or two remarks that I shall make as briefly, I hope, as the remarks I made when I seconded last time.
First of all, the whole form in which these Regulations is found shows how absurd and ridiculous it is to go along re-enacting them exactly in this form. These are really for the security of the State, and the Regulation is headed "Access to certain Premises and Areas." These are Regulations concerning "Assisting the Enemy and Sabotage." There is left only one Regulation which deals with the carriage of fireworks in railway trains. The whole form of the thing is absolutely absurd. And that brings me to what was described by some people as the "olive branch" offered by the Home Secretary. I do not think it was an olive branch at all. It was one of those sorts of gestures which appear on the benches opposite as soon as they find themselves in Parliamentary difficulties.
Hon. Members may remember that we had a Select Committee to consider the Army Act, when they found that they could not carry it through in any other way. But why did we not have this Select Committee appointed a year ago? Hon. Members opposite got elected to this House upon the pledge that they were going to look into each of these Regulations individually. Now the Leader of the House, who was so active in previous debates, who spoke himself at some considerable length on this particular Regulation once upon a time, is not even in his place, and he chooses a time for the debate when the whole of his hon. Friends, with the possible exception, I think—because I have seen some slight stirrings in that quarter—of the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Colegate), apparently are unable or not allowed to speak.
It does really make an absolute farce of any democratic approach to these matters, which hon. Members opposite told the people when they were in opposition that the Government had thrust upon them and must be discussed, when we have to deal with them at so late an hour at night that we cannot give them full attention, because if we do we shall lose other important business.
I beg to move, to leave out line 13.
The somnolent benches opposite seem to have been stirred into slight risibility because my hon. Friends, having had an excellent explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary, did not want to press their Amendment to a division. I know that it is not the purpose of those on the benches opposite to consider these matters from the point of view of cold reason. They just believe in the brute force of the Government majority. I congratulate my hon. Friends on not yielding to the desire they obviously had of inflicting a defeat in the Division lobbies, but enabling this Regulation to be carried on for another 12 months.
I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary welcomes the opportunity we are giving him, through moving this Amendment, to explain his policy in relation to Regulation 45A. Like the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) I regret that the hour is so late, when we could have had a discussion earlier today, in which a number of hon. Gentlemen could have joined. But I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree when I say that it is incumbent on the Government to explain their policy in relation to this Regulation. It is far-reaching and gives wide powers. What is more, at first sight it seems to be contradictory to one of the major items of policy which the Government have carried through during the last year, and on which we congratulate them.
They have, among their major measures in the administrative and legislative field, abolished from this country the evil of the civilian identity card. That is a great accomplishment. It naturally falls that we wonder what is their attitude to the identity card which has at the moment to be held by seamen. If, on the face of it there seems some discrepancy I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will welcome the opportunity of being able to explain the apparent difference in policy in this matter as between civilians and seamen.
The Regulation provides for the issue of identity cards to seamen and all persons employed upon, or engaged upon, ships, whether they are British ships or not. It is far-reaching in the sense that a man who does not possess such an identity card may be refused a job aboard a ship, whether British or not, if it falls within the terms of the Order. That is a denial of the liberty of the subject which, unless it can be justified, will clearly concern hon. Members, and particularly the representative of the Liberal Party. I am glad to see that he is to give us support.
The first question I want to address to the Parliamentary Secretary is whether it is the case today that any persons who are engaged or ordinarily employed on non-British ships are required to hold seamen's identity cards. I can understand that during the war, when Hitler had overrun Europe and ships had fled to our ports from Scandinavia and the Low Countries and were based on British ports, it was natural for the Government of the day to desire that those who were serving on such ships, and even in British ships, should carry seamen's identity cards.
That time has long since gone. It existed after the war because, as the Parliamentary Secretary undoubtedly remembers, a large number of foreign ships did not return to either the Scandinavian or Low Countries until some time after the conclusion of hostilities, and while civilians were holding identity cards in this country, no doubt there was a case for requiring that foreign seamen serving on these ships should also hold identity cards. However, I would have hazarded the quess that those ships have now disappeared from our shores, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether it is essential to continue in the Regulation the words, "or not" as applying to persons who are not employed upon British ships and yet may be required to carry seamen's identity cards. I have no doubt he will be able to tell me in what circumstances he is asking the House to continue this part of the Regulation.
My next question is also an important one, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will readily see why. What machinery is employed for the surrender of these cards by persons who have been engaged on these foreign ships sailing from our ports who are now required to surrender them? The House will see that there is provision in the Regulation that they shall be required to give up their identity cards
in such circumstances as may be specified in the order.
It is not for me to guess what those circumstances are. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell me what is the machinery for surrendering those cards?
I take it that when a ship finally leaves these shores to return to its home port and be based abroad, wherever it may be, there comes a moment when the persons concerned do not return there any more. Do the identity cards then disappear into the Continent? Is there a black market in seamen's identity cards on the Continent? Can they be sold for 50 cigarettes or bought for a pound of coffee? I notice some signs of mirth but this is important because, in paragraph (c) it is required that a man may be prohibited from serving aboard a ship unless he actually holds such a card.
The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and I probably have more seamen as constituents than any other two hon. Members of this House. One of my constituents is a coloured seaman who is a Somali. He settled in this country in 1918, was issued with a seaman's identity card at the beginning of the war, and sailed in British ships for a long time. He fell ill in a foreign port in the Middle East. He was discharged from the ship.
He was hospitalised, if I may use that horrible term—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] Must I withdraw it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Well, I withdraw the term "hospitalised" and say that he was unfortunately required to spend several months in a hospital. We are glad to see here the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. Perhaps the hon. Lady will be able to join in and give us some advice about this problem?
This seaman, no doubt, under the Regulations of the Ministry of Transport, should have been returned to the United Kingdom as a "distressed British seaman"—D.B.S. is the term applied, I believe—because that is an obligation laid upon the shipowners when seamen are stranded away from their home ports either because of illness or because they have missed their ship. In fact, because this man was a coloured seaman, he was, for reasons which I need not go into, unable to secure repatriation. I know the law, and so does the Parliamentary Secretary, but we also know that in some of these Middle Eastern countries it is more easy to state it than to get it applied. I am speaking of 1946.
This constituent had lost his seaman's identity card. When he tried to get employment in a British ship at the port where he had been in hospital, he was refused employment on the ground that he had no card. This is obviously a matter of very considerable importance. He had his discharge book and I should have thought that that would have been sufficient proof of his bona fides and would have enabled him to get a job in order to get back to this country. But, he had eventually to pay his passage back—and the Somalis have ways of raising the means necessary to get back. This coloured man returned and lived in Lowden-square, Cardiff—a well-known resort—and was able to establish his identity as a British subject and be issued with a card.
But the point is that this man was denied employment for, so I am told, some four months while trying to get back from the Middle East by working as a seaman although because, and only because he had no card, he had to pay for his own passage. Although I have quoted an example which is rather old, it is a good example, and I would ask if it is necessary to continue the part of the Regulation which prohibits persons, or classes of persons, from obtaining employment?
Another question is in regard to the discharge book itself. It might well be asked whether, as the discharge book was in itself a sufficient means of identification for a seaman before the war, should it not be sufficient today? The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, I am sure, will know that the seaman's discharge book, issued, I believe, by the Registrar-General of Shipping, contains the man's registered number by which he can be identified, and also contains his photograph, details of his birth, and his signature; or, if he cannot write, it contains his fingerprints. So, there is a complete record there.
A difficulty, perhaps, is that as these discharge books are not in the keeping of the seamen when at sea, they cease to be means of identification when the seamen have handed them over. When a seaman signs articles he is required to hand over his book, which is retained until such time as the trip is completed, and the man signs off, having completed his engagement. His character is stamped in the book, together with his record of efficiency, and so that forms a means of identification as well as a character for the man himself. But, if the book is retained locked up in the master's safe in his cabin—the book has to be safely kept—then when the seaman goes ashore, he carries no means of identification in a foreign port.
I am not resisting this Regulation. I think, indeed, that there may be a very good case for saying that, although the Government have abolished the civilian identity card, the seaman's card might well be retained for purposes of identification, at any rate in foreign ports. If the right hon. Gentleman says that, then I will advise my right hon. and hon. Friends not to divide on this Regulation.
The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt want to enter into discussions with the National Union of Seamen and the Navigator and Engineer Officers' Union, both of which unions represent the seamen and officers, I believe almost to the extent of 100 per cent. I know they have views on the value of these identity cards. I think it is incumbent on the Government to tell us in what circumstances they wish to continue parts of this Regulation which seem to be archaic in the sense that they were properly applicable in a time of hostilities, but now seem in some ways to have outgrown their usefulness. Secondly, they should tell us whether they intend to turn this Regulation into permanent legislation. If they did so, I think we should view it sympathetically.
It may be argued by the Parliamentary Secretary that eventually he will wish to get rid of this power because passports can take the place of seamen's identity cards. I hope he will not take that view because I was able to unearth from one of my constituents cases only six months ago which showed that although the normal civilian has a passport issued to him for a period of five years, a number of coloured seamen have passports issued to them for a period of only 12 months. I wonder if the Home Secretary is aware of that? It seemed to me at the time—and I raised the matter with his Department—a matter of which he should have some cognizance. There are particular reasons, but I should be out of order if I went into them tonight. This seems to be imposing a hardship on coloured seamen which is not borne by other people who require passports.
The final question I want to put refers to paragraph (2) of the Regulation. That is how it applies in relation to aircraft. We are fortunate in having a Minister who is not only the Minister of Transport but also Minister of Civil Aviation. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is fully armed on the Regulation as it applies to aircraft flying from airports in this country to airports overseas. I would be glad to know from him—as I am sure the House would be—whether these provisions have been applied to crews of aircraft, how many cards have been issued, whether this Regulation has been applied—this is the significant point—in such a way to foreign aircraft using our airfields as possibly to prohibit the employment of a British subject in a foreign aircraft unless he has an identity card of this description.
As I read sub-paragraph (1, c) such a situation might be possible. I feel, and I think the Parliamentary Secretary will feel, that the exercise of such a powerful right and sanction by the Government would not be tolerable in the circumstances of today, whatever conditions might be if we were once more engaged in a period of hostilities. Altogether, we feel that there is a very good case for having a statement from the Government in reply to the questions which I hope I have put temperately and clearly, so that we should know what is in the mind of the Government about the future and to know to what extent they are using the very onerous powers conferred on a previous Government in different circumstances for a particular emergency.
I beg to second the Amendment.
Seamen in my constituency are not affected, but I second the Amendment because I should like to have information about the extent to which negotiations have taken place with seamen's trade unions as to the continuance of this Regulation in its present form. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) dealt extensively with the problems which arise, I simply content myself with the point about trade union negotiations.
As the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said, the party to which I belong had a humble role in precipitating the storm which blew away the civilian identity card. On the whole, I think that it was a good job of work. On the other hand, I must say that, in cases where it can be shown that identity cards serve a useful purpose, I have never felt that they are such a badge of servitude that they should necessarily be torn up without further ado.
There may be certain reasons in the case of seamen which make it desirable that they should carry some means of identification. If the Parliamentary Secretary assures us that it is necessary that seamen should have them, and that there is no appropriate system other than some form of identity card, then we should listen sympathetically. I cannot but think that if he had been on this side of the House he would have been very active this evening. No doubt his defence of this Regulation will be highly convincing in spite of that.
If these are the reasons, would it not be better to have permanent legislation in this case? In the other case there were reasons against legislation which I do not think can be said to apply to this Regulation. Secondly, it seems to me that the penalty is extremely severe. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East mentioned the case of a man who was kept out of employment for some time through not having an identity card, but the Regulation actually allows for the total prohibition of employment to anyone who has not got an identity card. That seems a penalty out of all proportion to the offence, which may not be an offence at all. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether it is really necessary to keep that provision in the Regulation, if indeed the Regulation is necessary at all.
The port of Bristol, which I represent, in common with the Parliamentary Secretary and other hon. Members, is one that is obviously intimately affected by this Regulation. I do not share the strong views of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) about the abolition of the identity card. It never seemed to me that the presence or absence of an identity card in one's wallet mattered a great deal one way or the other. No one ever referred to me as "AYA 6310896", and I should not have much minded if they had; but I notice that many hon. Members opposite who objected to the badge of servitude provided by the identity card are only too glad to have on their motor cars the House of Commons Motor Club badge in the hope that when they drive to Westminster the police will recognise their special position.
I do not myself regard the House of Commons Motor Club badge as a badge of servitude any more than I did the identity card. I wish to ask two questions. I reinforce the plea made by various hon. Members about the circumstances in which a seaman is required to surrender the identity card. Obviously, this Regulation constitutes a simple licence. If a man's licence is removed—and we are told that it may be by a competent authority at any time and in any circumstances as may be specified—then he loses the hope of employment.
In peace-time it is essential that there should be safeguards to prevent a man from being penalised in that way. I appreciate that, aside from the general convenience of having an identity card for seamen in time of peace, one has to consider the security aspect in the event of war. Then it might be necessary to remove a man's identity card for no other reason than that it might be a danger to have the man at sea in a ship which was carrying vital supplies. I should be the last to try to prevent the Government from keeping emergency powers of that kind if they were necessary.
But in time of peace, if a man is called on to surrender his identity card, there ought to be a form of appeal which he can use to ensure that no mistake occurs or that he is not penalised for any wrong purpose. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would tell us what are the circumstances in which a sailor may be required to surrender his identity card; what form of appeal he has; in how many cases there have been surrenders called for in the last convenient period; and what appeals have taken place, if that indeed is possible.
I should like to know how many appeals were upheld and how many were turned down. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman could answer some of the questions which have been put to him before we come to a decision on this Amendment.
It is worth pointing out that this Regulation provides an example of the shoddiness that so often characterises this type of provision. The effect of paragraph (2) is to make the whole Regulation applicable to airmen. At first reading it is applicable only to seamen travelling in aircraft, but the wording of the paragraph embraces all airmen. It is, therefore, as a matter of drafting, very undesirable that the marginal title should be "Issue of identity cards to seamen." It is a relatively small point, but worthy of comment.
The House will feel grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) for raising this matter and giving us the opportunity of a short debate on it. I will begin with the apparent anomaly of the abolition of the civilian identity card within our shores and its retention for seamen. The answer briefly is that unhappily the days have gone, ever since the outbreak of the war, when it was possible for a British seaman to land in a foreign port merely on a chit signed by the master of the ship saying that he was allowed ashore for so many hours.
One of the results of the long war, involving so many countries, has been a general tightening up all over the world of the immigration regulations. All countries appear to have become security-minded to an extent that never existed before 1939. The whole object of these identity cards was to protect our seamen when ashore in foreign ports from various incidents to which they might have been subject.
May I deal with the alternatives which immediately spring to mind? The House will realise at once that the system of passports and visas is far too cumbrous for this particular purpose. Ships are frequently diverted when at sea from one destination to another. It never was the case that the passport system was used generally for seamen, and the House will at once see the disadvantage it would involve. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, suggested that the discharge book might be a suitable document for the man to take ashore, but there is a good reason why it should remain in the possession of the master of the ship during such time as the man is serving in that capacity. The hon. Gentleman asked me if there was a black market in identity cards in foreign ports. I am not aware that there is. There certainly has been, and often was, a flourishing black market in discharge books, particularly in ports in the Middle East—I will not mention them by name—where the alcohol supplied was frequently of inferior quality and not at all a good thing for the retention of the man's normal mentality or, indeed, the retention of his discharge book.
Fortunately I should be out of order if I were to discuss with the hon. Gentleman his pet topic. I am sure that it will meet with his approval if I say that a man under the influence of alcohol, inferior or otherwise, is apt to find himself in a position where a discharge book could be taken from him or even sold by him. In the discharge book, the name and photograph are easily changed, and it is in the man's interests that he should not be allowed to take a discharge book ashore in foreign ports.
I come to the chief point that will interest the House. In this country British seamen are given preferential rations. So long as the rationing system continues, these identity cards are a very convenient document for the man to have. It is primarily for that reason—here I answer the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn)—that the identity card has to be surrendered when the man leaves the sea. Were it to remain in his possession, it would give him the right to preferential rations when no longer at sea. It has to be surrendered at the port office when he goes ashore or when he leaves his ship for a temporary period.
Hon. Members have asked what is the position so far as aircraft and airmen are concerned. Paragraph 2 of the Regulation was, in fact, revoked by Statutory Instrument 2115 of 1951, and no longer applies, so that is out.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for that, but will he explain to me how I could have known that from this Regulation, and I shall not make the same mistake again?
Perhaps I may confess that I only made myself cognisant of that fact half an hour ago. It is not always easy to follow these things, but this one has been revoked.
I now come to the point, raised by a number of hon. Gentlemen, as to why this Regulation should be continued and not embodied in a statute. The Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, has been introduced in another place, makes permanent provision for what are to be called British seamen's cards, without repeating one of the features of the war-time cards which was objectionable—the taking of fingerprints. It will be a much simpler document, and it will be accepted in foreign ports as a form of seaman's passport which will enable him to go ashore, and it is until that Bill reaches the Statute Book, and only until then, that we desire to keep this Regulation in force.
To the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), who raised the point specifically, I would say that this matter has been fully discussed with all those concerned—the shipowners, the officers and the men—and that all of them agree that the continuance of the present arrangements is essential for the time being. The House may be interested to know—although this is not strictly relevant to the Regulation we are discussing—that the shipowners have agreed to bear the cost of issuing the cards in future, which will amount to some £15,000 per annum, by accepting an increase in the fees charged for the engagement and discharge of seamen before the superintendent of a mercantile marine office, and that is how the machinery will operate.
There is one other matter. There are in existence at the moment about 150,000 of the war-time seamen's identity cards. We do not propose to recall all of them immediately and issue new cards with photographs, because the cost would be £40,000. But the turnover in the Mercantile Marine is fairly rapid, and we have a very excellent register which is kept in Cardiff—a wonderful piece of mechanism run by one of the oldest departments in the country formerly under the Board of Trade—which keeps very close track of everyone. It will be some time, however, before the new card is in the possession of every seaman. In the meantime, the old card will be accepted as evidence of the man's right and authority to go ashore in those circumstances.
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, and I do not express disagreement with what has been said. Everyone will agree that this sort of thing ought not to be done in this form and in this way. The Parliamentary Secretary must know that, in the last week, there have come into operation, in connection with merchant shipping, the Merchant Shipping (Construction) Rules, 1952, a document of scores of pages and of great complexity, the Merchant Shipping (Life Saving Appliances) Rules, 1952, the Merchant Shipping (Fire Appliances) Rules, 1952, the Merchant Shipping (Musters) Rules, 1952, the Merchant Shipping (Pilot Ladders) Rules, 1952, the Merchant Shipping (Closing of Openings in Holds in Watertight Bulkheads) Rules, 1952, the Merchant Shipping (Accepted Safety Convention Certificates) Regulations, 1952, the Merchant Shipping (Safety Conventions) (Transitional Provisions) Regulations, 1952, the Merchant Shipping (Radio) Rules, 1952, which is a very substantial document costing, I think, half-a-crown, the Merchant Shipping (Direction Finders) Rules, 1952, the Merchant Shipping (Grain) Rules, 1952, and, last but one, the Merchant Shipping (Dangerous Goods) Rules, 1952, and the Merchant Shipping (Fees) Regulations, 1952.
All of these came into force last week, and surely—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Are we not discussing one Defence Regulation only, dealing with identity cards, and however industrious the hon. Member may have been, he is not out of order?
The hon. Member will have an opportunity of making that suggestion when the Bill reaches us from another place. It does embody in a permanent statute these Defence Regulations which we are discussing. I may confess that I am not seized of all the subject matter of the documents to which the hon. Member has referred.
In reply to the hon. Member who raised the case of the seaman who found himself in hospital somewhere in the Middle East in 1946 and the difficulties he had about repatriation, naturally when these cases arise one does not know the circumstances. But had the man gone to the British consul he would have been issued with a sort of identity card for the purpose. The British consul in such parts is generally extremely helpful in these matters, and one cannot help feeling that some action would have been taken.
I agree that we do not know the circumstances of that case, but I quoted it as an example. The hon. Gentleman will realise the difficulties of a coloured man in going to a consul in a foreign port.
I hope that when we have permanent legislation on a matter of this sort the House will watch carefully to see that the Bill is shaped in such a fashion as to do away with that necessity.
I hope I have indicated to the House the reasons why we desire the continuance of these identity cards. It is the desire of all sections of the industry, who agree that these cards are of value. I repeat that we hope the Defence Regulation will disappear very shortly and be embodied in permanent legislation.
Like other Members who have spoken in this debate, I also represent a seaport town. I know the value that men set on these documents and the difficulties they encounter when they mislay them or for some other reason these documents disappear. I am glad to hear that the negotiations between the various interests and the Ministry have reached such a stage that permanent legislation is actually in print, and before another place. That we are discussing this matter tonight and will have to discuss it again in a few weeks' time lends point to the Amendment I moved on the previous occasion to the effect that the Bill ought to have come here first; but we shall see it very shortly.
I wish to express my great pleasure at the fact that nothing will be done to jeopardise the retention of the discharge book in the safe of the master of the vessel when it is on the high seas or in a foreign port. There can be no blacker market than that which has sprung into existence for dealing with discharge books which, somehow or other, may have been got out of the master's safe. The problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) raised of seamen being taken sick overseas, and then, possibly when they go into hospital and their belongings are taken away, losing their identity cards, is one which deserves close attention because it is sometimes very hard to convince a consul that the coloured man before him is a seaman who through no fault of his own has lost his identity card. I sincerely hope that every effort will be made to make the new system workable.
The Parliamentary Secretary's speech did reveal something else. He told us that paragraph 2 had been disposed of by some Statutory Instrument that has been introduced since this book of Regulations was published. I suggest to the Home Secretary that it is about time we had a new edition of the book bringing these Defence Regulations completely up to date, and I hope as soon as this piece of permanent legislation—with, I hope, suitable additions to it during its passage through this House—is passed, we shall have a new edition of the Regulations that remain extant. I hope that my hon. Friend will feel, in view of the answer which has been given, that it will be possible to withdraw his Amendment.
I beg to move, in line 13, at the end, to insert:
Regulation forty-two CA (Unlawful gaming parties).
This is a Regulation which has been adopted nearly every year when the Regulations have been before the House, and some misgivings have been expressed in regard to it. I share them, but not to the extent that some of my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite did. Why in Coronation year should this Regulation not be thought worthy of continuance?
When this Regulation was introduced in the early days of the war it was aimed at certain undesirable people getting up parties to which young officers and officers of foreign armies were enticed where the old proverb "a fool and his money are soon parted" received constant exemplification. We shall have in the country, and particularly in London, during the few months round Coronation time a considerable number of foreigners who in the past have proved pretty easy game for the undesirable people who run these parties, and about whom no one wishes here to say a word in their defence, and I would have thought that this year was a particularly unsuitable one to withdraw this Regulation.
I merely ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman if he will give us some indication that the police feel that, armed with these powers, they will be able to deal with the situation that may arise. I do not ask him for an indication of the way in which the police propose to outwit those people, for that would indeed be a poor service to render to the public, but perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman could give us an assurance that he feels that the existing law without this will be adequate to deal with the subject.
In the Licensing Act which I introduced—part of which even evoked the admiration of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and that is saying something having regard to what he said about the rest of the Act—there are some Sections dealing with night clubs which, as far as I know, have worked quite satisfactorily. Therefore, I move this Amendment merely for the sake of getting information and some indication of the views of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis on the matter.
I am interested in this as the Home Secretary will see from my having put my name down to the Amendment. I do not intend to spend any great time on the matter, because I know that the evil against which this Regulation was directed is very much mixed up with another evil dealt with by Regulation 55C, which I understand we are to debate a little later on.
Quite apart from the question of foreigners coming to this country in Coronation year, there are people in this country who are prepared to prey upon the gambling instincts—if I can put it in that way, quite respectfully—of much of our young manhood, and in the process generally utilising other adventitious aids in the form of alcohol of very doubtful quality. No one could say that they will get any beneficial results from the alcohol supplied in institutions of this sort.
The Coronation will bring not only foreigners but many of our own people into London, and they will be waited for by the same influences that waited for people during the war, which was a time of abnormality for many people, particularly for men who were on their way back from the Front or on their way to the Front. I should have thought, therefore, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have been particularly careful not to run the risk of removing this Regulation, and I strongly support what my hon. Friend has said.
Let me say at once that I fully understand the reasons that have made the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend put down this Amendment for consideration and explanation. I am sure that the House will agree that, irrespective of party views, it is a very difficult road to walk in balancing between the desire that has been expressed from all quarters of the House to get rid of these war-time Regulations and the opinion in favour of particular Regulations which animates a number of hon. Members, again irrespective of party.
One of the criteria which has influenced me is that the Regulation contains methods of proof which a country jealous of its freedom would tolerate readily in time of war but would feel more doubt about in time of peace. The gist of this Regulation is to make it an offence for any person to be concerned in the organisation of any gaming party organised for gain, but the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman will see that it goes on to say that if 10 or more persons are present at a gaming party the fact will be taken as evidence that it is an unlawful gaming party unless the persons concerned are able to prove either that the game was neither played nor intended to be played for money or money's worth, or that the party was not organised for gain. In other words, a very slight point which might hit many an innocent party is taken as the test for onus of proof to be placed on the defendant. Therefore, it is a Regulation which we ought to look at critically.
There are two stages in the reasons for its continuance which I am stating objectively to the best of my belief, and I hope that I am accurate. In the first place, it was very reasonably thought, if I may say so, by the right hon. Gentleman that it was a Regulation that should be kept until we had the report of the Royal Commission on Betting and Lotteries, but everyone knows the extreme difficulty of legislating over the whole field covered by that Royal Commission; and I think I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman had also in mind that, even if it were not possible to legislate over the whole field, it might be possible to find a measure of agreement in this part of the field where there is much archaic stuff.
I hope that the House will not object to my use of that term "stuff," because when we come to think of whist drives and the playing of cards in private clubs in methods of which we know, which do not offend the vast majority of people—games which, at any rate, those who play them think are games of skill—there is obviously a field, on that side of the matter, in which most people would like an alteration made in the direction other than restrictive.
But I have with regret come to the conclusion that it is impossible to contemplate that that legislation will come speedily, and, therefore, it did not seem to me that I had those grounds, which, I admit, were perfectly reasonable grounds, for continuing the Regulation on a temporary basis; and I do not think that anyone would consider that the Regulation in its present form was a suitable permanent contribution to our law.
I had to face, of course, the question which the right hon. Gentleman has again most properly put to me, namely, to consider the special position of this year and the next. Let me share with the House the information which I have. The highest number of prosecutions in any one year was during the war, as one would expect, and that was 30. From the end of the war until 1950 the numbers varied between 17 and 12. In 1951 there was rather an extraordinary position. The right hon. Gentleman may remember that he had in mind at the end of 1950 that 1951 was going to be Festival year. Obviously, we would attract a great number of foreign visitors, and the situation arose as to whether these parties would be arranged—I will not say, for their benefit, but obviously for the opposite of their benefit. Curiously enough in 1951 the number of prosecutions was only five. In the first six months of this year it was six. I frankly say that there have been another five since then, making 11 for roughly 11 months of this year.
I felt that in view of the reduction, and especially in view of our experience in Festival year, the best method I could adopt was to apply the general wish of the House and not have any Regulation which I thought could be abandoned; but that I should take administrative action and impress on the Commissioner the necessity for keeping a very good look out—by methods which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it would be the opposite of useful to expatiate upon—to see that the danger which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned will be reduced to a minimum. That will be done.
There is one other point which I am sure everyone will appreciate: this is almost entirely a London problem. Therefore, a Regulation for the rest of the country would not be justified. I want to assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Commissioner has in mind the considerations which weighed with him, and that if we find that there is an unexpected recrudescence I will not hesitate to ask the House for powers to deal with it.
I am completely satisfied with the answer. I do not think that these gaming parties are run for the benefit of anyone but the promoters. Many of us who served in the ranks of the Army know that it is possible to acquire skill in cards as a result of very expensive tuition. One would not desire that experience to be shared by too many. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, to leave out line 14.
I find myself surprised that the Government should come along with this Regulation still in the form in which it is in this book. We were told in an earlier discussion that since this book was printed, and in recent months, there has been an unexpected and novel change. I do not know whether I am in the position of arguing about something which has been changed recently, because we are operating on a book which apparently is out of date.
This question of the taking of land by the Service Departments, or by the Ministry of Supply for what are alleged to be the affairs of the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, or the Ministry of Supply, is serious. I frankly do not believe that the Government are using this Regulation in the form in which it appears in this book. I think that one of the absurdities we have here is that we are being asked to renew a Regulation providing for an operation which is not being carried out in the form stated.
One of the Parliamentary Secretary's biggest defences will be that the Regulation does not matter because the Government do not intend to work that way round. I am bound to argue on the assumption that the Regulation means what it says and that they will use it. If it is said, and I am sure it will be, "We do not act as harshly or as toughly as this," my point will be made for me. Why, in fact, again come forward with a Regulation which the Service Departments themselves know they dare not use and cannot use in this form? It is a matter of great regret that the Treasury Bench at the moment, graced by a number of distinguished hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, is not graced by a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, because this Regulation is a matter of considerable importance to the agricultural interests of this country, of which, the party opposite reckon to be the defenders.
Many vigorous speeches are made—I think sometimes rather exaggerated speeches—about the damage done by the loss of good farm land to all kinds of sources every year. We are told that 50,000 acres a year or more are being lost. We know that some of that, whatever we say in public, cannot be avoided, but it behoves us to make sure that we do not lose more than we need, that we do not lose better land than we have to, and that when we do lose it, we lose it under conditions that make the greatest possible provision for consultation with those who know just how serious a problem this is. The hon. Gentleman will be bold if he denies that this Regulation makes absolutely no provision for securing that we do not lose good agricultural land without adequate consultation with those who have food production at heart, and that we do not lose it at all where something else will do. The Regulation is in the widest possible form.
It is open to the present Government to say, "You were there for some years." Indeed, for nearly four years I played a minor part in agriculture. They may say, "You kept it in this form; why come at us?" After all, we were operating in a period nearer to the end of the war than they are, and had we carried on we certainly would not have continued it in the form of a Defence Regulation. Had we still been the Government we would have replaced this by now with a much more suitable form of permanent legislation.
I do not deny that the Departments dealing with the Armed Forces of the Crown and the Ministry of Supply, which in some respects is a similar Department, need the land for essential purposes, but there must in times like these be provisions that do not appear in this Regulation. I ask the Under-Secretary of State to defend the proposition that, having had rather more than a year now, the Government are still unable to replace this Regulation with permanent provisions which enable adequate consideration of all the interested concerned. This Regulation, if it were operated as it stands, gives any Secretary of State, the First Lord of the Admiralty or the Minister of Supply the power by order to authorise, subject to any restrictions or conditions in the order, the use of any land specified thereon. Yet it excludes the Minister of Agriculture, the one most concerned.
Leaving aside for a moment my general argument, may I ask how many orders have been made in the past year under this Regulation? In how many cases have they sequestrated valuable agricultural land by orders made under this provision? I remember when I had some concern with this, coming under heavy fire from my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) and other hon. Members from the Principality because they felt that the Principality has, in fact, had a pretty tough time at the hands of the Armed Forces in taking land.
Can I ask how many orders have, in fact, been made in the past year? I have no doubt that some of my hon. Friends will want to know how many have been made for the Principality; and, if any have been made, has any representative of the Service Departments gone to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for concurrence and agreement for the taking over of that land? I will give the Under-Secretary the point that he has gone in almost every case.
But this Regulation does not provide for his going. If he chose not to do so, who can make him do it? Why have we not made some provision for what is common practice—what, in fact, is now being done?
Here we are acting by administrative arrangement, and those who have had experience of dealing with the Service Departments know that it is very easy for administrative arrangements to break down, especially when civilian Departments appear to be getting in the way. Administrative arrangements need to be backed up by something much stronger than a mere understanding.
Another question I should like to put is whether, under the orders made to take over land, protection is being inserted for the cultivators of the land. The Under-Secretary of State for Air made a speech at King's Lynn the other day about the work which the Air Ministry is doing with regard to the cultivation and drying of grass on airfields. There is a lot more I should like to know about this, and I congratulate the Department on what is being done. But do we, in the orders which we make under this Regulation, make any provision when land is taken over for the adequate cultivation of that land while the Service Departments are upon it?
We know that once the Service Departments get on land they put up a ring fence, and nobody is allowed to be round about, but do they realise that a lot of this land could go on being cultivated without any very great damage to their interests? I have been on Salisbury Plain and seen great areas of land being cultivated while in Service occupation. Various financial arrangements are made with the cultivators, who accept the risk of interference. Have the orders made during the past year provided arrangements for the existing cultivators to go on cultivating under the sequestration provisions under this Regulation? Of course, if no orders have been made—and I said a moment ago that I do not know—then it is more difficult to understand what is going on.
Since the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned my Department, perhaps I should say that this Regulation does not concern land we take over in the sense of requisitioning. All this Regulation does is to control entry on to land adjoining bombing ranges so that people cannot wander about in the danger area. But it does nothing at all to restrict agriculture over those pieces of land in any way.
This gets very confusing. Far be it from me to suggest that the hon. Member has not read the Regulation and understood it; no doubt I have not understood it, but paragraph (1) says:
Without prejudice to any other of these Regulations a Secretary of Sate, the Admiralty or the Minister of Supply may by order authorise, subject to any restrictions and conditions imposed by the order, the use of any land specified therein for military purposes …
He may authorise that any land he designates in the order shall now be used for military purposes. That is not controlling people wandering about bombing ranges. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, this Regulation is the one on which his right hon. Friend says, "There is an area on which I want to establish an aerodrome," or, "I want to establish a dump there," and use it for that purpose.
I must correct the right hon. Member. I am sure he is not purposely misleading the House, but I can assure him that this Regulation does not allow us to build an aerodrome on this sort of land at all. All it does is to allow us to control entry to this land. The only time we use it is when this land is adjacent to bombing ranges, or something of that sort, so that we can use it as a sort of marginal safety line.
I may in fact have misled the hon. Gentleman by saying "build an aerodrome." I had four years experience and in fact what happens under the Regulation is that areas of land are declared to be training ground land over which the Military or Air Force have the right to run and, in the Order declaring it to be such, it is laid down to what extent anyone else shall have the right to go on the land. That is the position.
I hope the Under-Secretary will tell us what is being done under orders made this year. My experience in travelling about the country in the old days and recently has been that in fact agriculturists are shut out of the land unless violent action is taken.
The hon. Gentleman will remember that in my introduction I said that this Regulation does not entitled anyone to put up an agricultural case at the time. I know that administratively arrangements are made for the Minister of Agriculture to have a say, but there is nothing in this Regulation which enable him to do so. If the local commander chose to say that it was really quite impossible for him to do his training or preserve his security to have any farmers knocking about there, under this Regulation he would be entitled to do so. I am arguing that it is much too tough and strong a Regulation for these purposes.
We have been told quite recently that the training programme for next year is to be rather less than we previously envisaged. Fewer men are to be called up for the Army, and that presumably will make a difference to the area of land required for this purpose. Can the Under-Secretary tell us to what extent that means that land already taken under this Regulation and subject to an order is to be let free from the orders and returned immediately to the people who were previously cultivating it without any Service or security orders at all?
When an area has been taken over under an order made under this Regulation and it is subsequently decided to leave the land because it is no longer required for training purposes, how is the land left? Some damage will inevitably be done to fences and so on. Do the Department act as if that had an absolute essential requirement to put the fixed equipment back into the condition in which it was when they first took over?
My general proposition is that the Regulation is not being used by the Government in this form, and that the time when such a form of Regulation was justifiable has long passed. We ought to have replaced it by permanent legislation with much more suitable provisions. I should like to know how many orders the Government make under the Regulation, and how much land they are releasing from the scope of the orders they have made.
I should also like to know how many different groups of officials work on this matter. If anyone wants to try to reduce heads in Government service here is not a bad place at which to begin. I am not trying to be superior. I have a responsibility in this matter, and I accept it. But I guess that here in the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Service Departments and the Ministry of Supply, we have exactly parallel organisations with surveyors, officers and technicians of one kind or another all doing very much the same work. They are all checking each other.
One of the wretched problems in modern government is that we set up so many people to check each other. If we put this Regulation in permanent form, as the last Government were hoping to do, and concentrate the responsibility in one Department, which ought not to be a Service Department, we could have one set of people doing the whole job. I suggest that the Government will find that it will not cost them very much if they do not press for the renewal of this Regulation but instead bring in a permanent form of legislation.
As the war has been over for some seven years, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) that many opportunities should exist for cutting down the number of staff controlling these matters. How- ever, I hope that the Air Ministry will think twice before they relax their hold on land in view of the large amount of money being spent on equipment which will mean that more training will be done with the additional aircraft coming into use.
The new aircraft are much faster than the old ones and, if bombing practice is to take place, larger areas will be needed to ensure safety to the public. I have visited a number of airfields, including Boscombe Down, which is controlled by the Ministry of Supply, and at which farming was taking place round the perimeter track. That ought to be encouraged everywhere. There is room for much closer liaison between the Services and the Ministry of Agriculture to encourage the cultivation of more of this land. Much of it is extremely good land which could produce food we require.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Air, while retaining power to ensure the safety of the public, will ask station commanders and group commanders to see whether more land cannot be brought into cultivation. Closer liaison between the Department and the Ministry of Agriculture would probably make more land available to farmers. While it may be useful to have a farming scheme on each station, that is not enough. I gave a cup at the end of the war to Fighter Command for the best gardens in the command. That resulted in a certain amount of vegetables being raised, but not a large amount. The work needs to be done by farming experts. I hope that we shall have an assurance that more will be done to produce food on this valuable land.
Every Member who represents an agricultural constituency will support what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and also by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey). There is one caveat one might enter in passing. There were certain risks attending the development of gardens on R.A.F. stations, in war-time at any rate, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman may remember: they were aired at the time in this House in a rather embarrassing way.
I am rather sorry that the Under-Secretary of State for Air intervened to
correct my right hon. Friend, as he thought. I know that he was trying to be helpful, as he always is. On this occasion I believe he was wrong. I have looked up and have here all the relevant documents, which no doubt he has studied also, and this Regulation does say that a Secretary of State may by order authorise "the use of any land …" etc., "for military and air force purposes" etc. At the bottom of the page, in para. 5, there is the definition:
In this Regulation the expressions 'military purposes' and 'air force purposes' have the meanings respectively assigned to those expressions by section twenty-three of the Military Lands Act, 1892," etc.
I have here the Military Lands Act. I hope that the Under-Secretary has refreshed his memory of it, although if he had I think he would not, perhaps, have interrupted as he did. Section 23 of the Act says that:
In this Act the expression 'military purposes' includes rifle or artillery practice, the building and enlarging of barracks and camps, the erection of butts, targets, batteries, and other accommodation, the storing of arms, military drill, and any other purposes connected with military matters approved by the Secretary of State.
The Air Force Order, 1918, simply transfers the same powers, in identical terms, to the Air Council and the Secretary of State for Air. I am willing to give way to the Under-Secretary, in the hope that he can clear this up.
I was trying to correct the impression which I felt the right hon. Gentleman was giving that by using this Regulation we were in some way interfering with agriculture. I am not concerned with the Army; my hon. Friend will answer for them. So far as the Air Force is concerned it is a very small amount of land—1,500 acres throughout the whole country.
Because we need it. The only time we use it is to control the entry of persons on to 1,500 acres of land which surround our bombing ranges and which we control purely for safety reasons. That we merely want to keep unauthorised persons out of these areas does not mean that we interfere with agriculture.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying what he said before. When he reads HANSARD on Monday he will find that he gave the impression, no doubt unwittingly, that this Regulation did not really empower him to do some things to which my right hon. Friend was referring. I think he said the Regulation was only concerned with bombing ranges and so on. The Regulation itself is concerned with much wider powers and, after all, it is the Regulation as a whole that we are now discussing. The Regulation is quite sweeping in its use of such terms as "military purposes," "air force purposes" and so on.
Having disposed of that point, I would turn to a somewhat different point which has not yet been touched upon. I want to ask the Minister whether this is the Regulation—I take it that it probably is—under which orders are issued for the temporary stopping up of highways, as indicated under paragraph (1, c), in connection with the operations of the United States Air Force at present in this country. I do not know if that is the case, but I have a constituency interest, because an Order has just been, or is about to be, issued stopping up a road in my constituency between Wethersfield and Finchingfield, near the Wethersfield air station, and there is a good deal of feeling about it locally. Farmers and others have written to me, because it is a road used by farm-workers going to and from their work.
The curious thing about it—and this is why I raise this point in interrogatory form, because I am not sure whether this is the Regulation under which the Order is made—is that this Order has actually been issued by the Ministry of Transport. Possibly that point can also be cleared up. I do not know whether the Minister of Transport is one of the persons referred to in the Regulation as persons to whom these powers can be delegated by the Secretary of State.
Possibly, by the time the hon. Gentleman comes to reply, he will have verified with the Ministry of Transport whether this Order is made under this Regulation or not. Perhaps he can check that? I have had some correspondence with the Minister of Transport about the case I have mentioned, and I may have to pray against the Order on some other occasion.
Meanwhile, in further reference to the same case, at Wethersfield in Essex, I must say at once that the Commanding Officer of the United States Air Force on that station has shown the greatest courtesy and consideration that he could to all farmers and other local interests involved, but none the less he has found it necessary, in what he conceives to be the interests of security, to close a road which the R.A.F. did not find it necessary to close during the Second World War, when that station was an R.A.F. This has naturally caused a good deal of inconvenience. Moreover, the road was actually closed before the Order was made. I do not know how or why that was done, since the Order has only just been made or is about to be made. Farm-workers going to their work in the morning found the road closed; they were stopped by American sentries, who asked them what their business was.
All this may be necessary for security reasons, but I feel that we should be very careful, in what is nominally peacetime, before we allow roads to be closed by the military, whether main roads or small country roads used by people engaged in agriculture.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman means safety in the sense of danger from aircraft? Yes, I am quite sure that the reason is security. I discussed the matter personally with the Commanding Officer of the station. There are tactical atomic bombs stored there. I am not giving away any secrets: all this has been published in the local Press.
It may be necessary to do this, but it is something that we should watch rather carefully: we cannot have roads closed all over the country indiscriminately, at the caprice of any commanding officer—unlike the one in this case, who has shown every consideration. One can imagine some commanding officers who might take security so far as to put a five-mile cordon round their camps, or something like that. We want to be a bit careful before we encourage that sort of thing.
There is only one other point arising out of this Regulation which I wish to raise. One of the worst aspects of the taking over and the use of land by the military—I am sorry to say, by the Royal Air Force as much as anyone else—is the terrible wreckage that they leave behind them when they have finished using the land. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Air himself is painfully aware that large areas of our most beautiful countryside, not least in Essex and East Anglia, still have a desolate and devastated appearance as a result of their use during the last war.
There are the skeleton wrecks of huts from which windows and roofs have been removed, the concrete with weeds coming through the cracks in it, the miles of tangled barbed wire, and, generally, the hideous mess which still covers so much of our countryside, partly because the Service Departments always seem to leave that kind of mess behind them. We should, therefore, scrutinise very carefully Regulations such as this and resist any extension of their effects.
I am in the happy position that whatever Government has been in power I have always opposed this Regulation. I do so because I do not like it. It is much too severe, and I wish to know from the Under-Secretary of State what other powers there are for retaining land in the future beside those contained in this Regulation, and Regulation 51. I had a reply yesterday from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence to the effect that the War Office retained 11,000 acres under this Regulation in Wales alone, and I am most anxious to know how long this Regulation is to remain. If it is to be done away with in twelve months' time what is to happen to the land leased by farmers to the War Office and what will happen about contracts of 14 and 21 years duration? I would like to know if it is possible for the War Office, when they take land under this Regulation to have more consultation with the local authorities and especially with the town planning committees in the counties.
I could give an instance of a case in which land was taken under this or some other Regulation, and an understanding was arrived at with the War Office that they would be very careful about what type of buildings they erected because of the proposed creation of a National Park in the area. To the surprise of everyone the War Office erected some hideous buildings right on the sky-line. That was a case where the War Office let us down completely. I hope that in the future there will be more consultation with the local authorities so that at least the local authorities will know what is to be done.
This Regulation gives the Service Departments absolute power, and the first thing a farmer may know about the Regulation being put into operation is what he hears in the market place in the course of conversation. That is quite wrong, and we should have an undertaking from the Under-Secretary that the local authorities and the farmers will be informed about what is happening. The powers contained in this Regulation interfere with farming a great deal. There is nothing in the Regulation with regard to notice of entry on to land.
I well remember, in Standing Committee on the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Bill, getting an Amendment accepted laying down that 14 days' notice of entry on to land should be given when any regulation came to be made under that Bill. Yet under the Regulation there is no provision for warning being given that land is to be used for training purposes. A red flag is supposed to be put up when training is in progress. The red flag has been up in some parts of my county since the end of the war. [Laughter.] I did not intend that remark in the sense in which hon. Gentlemen have taken it. We ought to see that when these powers are used there is greater consultation between the people concerned.
Then there is the question of stopping up highways. Just imagine a trunk road being stopped by the military under these powers. Yet they intend to do so in one case that I know, but the Secretary of State for Welsh Affairs has delayed action for 12 months. I hope he will stop this practice not only in my constituency but in North Wales as well. Let us know exactly what the War Office require in this respect. If they do want land let us decide that they get it by compulsorily acquisition so that the farmers know where they are.
I am intervening now, not with any intention of trying to curtail the debate, but because I think misunderstanding and misconception of the powers under this Regulation have been evident in all the speeches made. I believe the easiest way to focus the attention of the House on the purposes of this Regulation, and the use to which it is being put, is to give a short history of what has happened under this Regulation. Regulation 52 gives the right to the three Services and the Ministry of Supply to make use of land as opposed to entering into possession of land, which power is available under Regulation 51.
I should appreciate that point were it not for the quotation made by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg). There the provision is "use … for military purposes," and the military purposes include taking land for building camps and barracks. If camps and barracks are built it is useless to talk of "use" other than in the sense of use with possession. I can see what happened. The drafting of the Defence Regulation was done quickly for war-time purposes, and it was intended to cover "use," and not "exclusive use," which is possession. That was done under the paragraph (1) of Regulation 52. Then when it came to defining military purposes it was overlooked that exclusive use or possession was included when the building of camps and barracks was involved. But it is quite wrong to say that this is merely a question of the use of land and not possession.
I was coming to the history of this Regulation, and the part it played. It relates to the use of land and the Regulation 51 related to the taking possession of land. There is a definite difference between the two. What I am going to say may make the situation clear to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
Quite true. During the war, Regulation 52 was used to make use of land which was needed urgently for war purposes. It is an aftermath Regulation, if I may say so, and one for which there is a diminishing need, as I shall show later. At the end of the war we held in this country—the Services and the Ministries concerned—11 million acres of land under this Regulation. Most of this land has either been handed back already, or has been purchased where our need is a full-time need and an enduring one, or has become the subject of a lease where our need is a full-time need but not a permanent one.
I have said that the Regulation is one of diminishing value, though its value has not yet fully disappeared, as I hope I shall be able successfully to show the House. There remain held under this Regulation at the present time 120,000 acres as opposed to the 11 million acres, and a good proportion of this 120,000 acres is at the moment the subject of negotiation to purchase. Some is the subject of negotiation to lease. Some—and this is the point where the Regulation really comes into operation—is land for which we need only transitory or training rights; ephemeral needs and not enduring ones, and not whole-time needs.
In all these three categories we try to negotiate amicable settlements. Powers to buy or to lease compulsorily are not held in these Regulations at all but exist under the Defence Acts, and the Defence Acts provide that where there is compulsory buying or compulsory leasing there is recourse to arbitration on the question of the price of the land. There remains only for our consideration now the third fraction of this 120,000 acres, namely, the land which is occasionally needed, and often only for very short periods. Such needs, described as "non-damage training needs," include such purposes as week-end infantry training camps for the use of the Territorial Army; secondly, access to land in order to be able to approach land on which large-scale manoeuvres are being held which is already in our possession—places like Salisbury Plain and Aldershot—but to approach which for a short period of the year troops may have to move over other land in order to get to the area on which the large-scale manoeuvres are taking place.
Then there is also, as has been indicated already, the right to keep persons temporarily off such places as a danger area surrounding a range, or an area which may be considered to be dangerous when new weapons are being tested; quite a transitory need. This Regulation is required mainly to continue the use of these 120 thousand acres while we are concluding the alternative arrangements to buy or to lease or to negotiate training rights in respect of them. In the latter case—the need for training rights—we also endeavour to conclude a hiring agreement with the parties concerned and interested in the land. In the event of large-scale manoeuvres we would need to have access to land of that kind, marginal land, in order to be able to get to an assembly area.
Let me just sketch to the House what would happen if this Regulation were denied to us. We should have to abandon by 10th December the use of the whole of this 120,000 acres. That would result in a chaotic situation, for we would either have to renounce the right to use this land—not to possession of it but the right to use it—with great loss to the efficiency of the Army and the possibilities of training the Army, or else we would have to use Regulation 51 and the Defence Acts in order to enter into full possession of this 120,000 acres. That would have the effect of forcing us to pay more than we need out of public money, and would inconvenience the owner of the land, who is, in most instances, the farmer, with whose interests we are concerned, because we should have to take land which we did not want, stop his farming of it, and enter into possession.
So the continuance of this Regulation is beneficial in three ways. First, it prevents the unnecessary spending of public money by forcing us to abandon those unambitious rights—if I may so term them—in order to take full possession of the land either under purchase or under lease. Second, it protects the individual whom so many hon. Members are concerned to protect—the farmer—because it enables him to go on farming his land virtually without let or hindrance rather than, under Section 51 of the Defence Act, forcing us to take over his land against his will and against ours. Third, and finally, it facilitates training of the Army in the re-armament situation.
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? Surely, there is another way other than giving up the land or using Regulation 51. Surely, it is to have a negotiation without—if I may use the word—the blackmail of having this power: negotiation with the farmer for training rights over his land.
That is so, but what would happen? If the farmer unreasonably refused non-damage training rights over his land, and we were fully satisfied we must have them, we should be forced to use Regulation 51 and lease the land. That is the very thing we want to avoid. I do not know, but it would, I think, be convenient now to try to answer the points put so far by hon. Members. No doubt, there will be others later.
The Regulation has been amended, but not materially, and we are really considering the Regulation which the right hon. Gentleman has before him. There were two Amendments made by taking out some lines in paragraph (3) and some in paragraph (4). Words, "as amended by this Regulation," have been revoked or removed at an earlier stage. So nothing material has been altered.
Consultation with agricultural interests is invariably carried out. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it is our purpose to protect agriculture. We do not want to take over agricultural responsibility for this land. We merely want to be able to walk over it or to prevent, in some cases, other people walking over it and getting into danger. The right hon. Gentleman asked how many Orders had been made under the Regulation in the last year. I am not sure that I can give him the figures for last year, but there have been five in the last two years, and they applied to low grade, or to high, hilly land used for training purposes.
The hiring agreements, which are really the main purpose of Regulation 52, are for the very purpose of protecting the adequate cultivation of the land while we are on it, so that we do not interfere with cultivation at all. For example, supposing a firing range is held under the Act, and we have certain marginal land known as a danger area around the range—we merely say to the farmer, "Please keep your people off this part of the land on Tuesdays and Fridays because a stray bullet may come over it." That is the total interference under that head with farming in that particular way under this Regulation.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that he hoped that there would be diminishing need for this Regulation, and that since we were not calling up Z reservists for training next year it might be removed or limited. In fact that is not so. There will be at least as many units having to train this year, though not filled up with Z reservists, perhaps, to the same extent; and, indeed, it may be that we shall be more ambitious in large-scale training manoeuvres which may make the need of marginal land and approach land such as I have indicated as necessary or more necessary than before.
As regards restoration of the land when it is handed back by the Service, provision is laid down under the Compensation (Defence) Act which provides that, either the land is restored or compensation is paid for it to the owner. I think there is a point in what the right hon. Gentleman asked about what parallel organisations there are doing the same job and I should like to look into it. I think I have answered the point of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) about protecting agricultural land.
The point was also made by the hon. Member for Maldon. He asked whether this was the Regulation under which highways in his constituency were stopped up by the U.S.A. Air Force. That stoppage was carried out under Section 2 of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act. Although highways can for a short period be stopped under this Regulation we are discussing, a long-term stoppage of the kind mentioned cannot be.
That might have been so, but this Regulation is intended only for temporary purposes. I appreciate the interest of the people of Wales in this training question. We have given it great thought. In this we have had the help of the Home Secretary. After a stem struggle we have relinquished the training area of Penrhos, which was an important one. We are alive to the importance of interfering as little as possible in Wales and other parts of the country. My contention is that the Regulation protects the agriculturist, and that if the House did not agree to the Regulation he would be one of the worst hit.
In my constituency we have this problem of areas being taken over for shooting practice, or being taken over from time to time by the military authorities. The matter is not quite as simple as the Under-Secretary made out, because the land selected is often near the conurbations and is good agricultural land because of that. Then there is the problem that if land is selected for shooting practice on certain days in hill farming country the farmer cannot let his cattle roam over the territory.
Under the Regulation more power is delegated than by any other of these Regulations, because it says in paragraph (1A):
A Secretary of State or the Admiralty may, to such extent and subject to such restrictions as he or they may think proper, delegate his or their powers under paragraph (1) of this Regulation to any specified persons or class of persons.
That might extend down to a local person who thought himself of some importance in the area. In such a case, could he decide to have a shooting party, the result of which might be that a farmer's beast was killed, or his wife? If that did happen, could the farmer have any redress?
During the General Election the Conservatives promised agriculture a square deal. They said:
The roots of the Conservative Party are deep in Britain's fertile soil. We understand the importance of your job and we are going to make it secure.
I beg the Minister tonight to make it a little more secure still by eliminating this Regulation. I see no need for it at this period. The party opposite produced a wonderful pamphlet at the last General Election entitled "All the Answers on 100 Vital Issues." If hon. Members opposite are in dudgeon about being kept here late tonight, let me remind them that there were 300 or 400 words in that pamphlet on the purpose of Prayers and on the importance of watching delegated legislation. It said:
… it is desirable, if Parliament is to be the people's watchdog, that a reasonable
number should be ventilated in public if only as a constant warning to the Government not to abuse its powers.
I am afraid that with this power of delegation down to the Nth degree, the Government could easily abuse its powers in some rural districts. It goes on to say:
It was for this reason that ten years ago a group of Conservative M.P.s, known as the 'Active Back Benchers,' was formed under the Chairmanship of Sir Herbert Williams, M.P., in order to watch delegated legislation. The present Chairman is Mr. A. T. Lennox-Boyd—
I am sorry that I do not see the right hon. Gentleman here.—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is ill."]
I am sorry. However, I am glad to see the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) in his place as usual. In the same pamphlet I am told that if I have any problems or questions which I would like answered, I can write to Mrs. Winnie Welcome—[Laughter.] I will tell my hon. and right hon. Friends where she can be found—at the Conservative Central Office.
I respect your Ruling, Sir, but I am only illustrating the importance of watching this delegated legislation, and I am informing the House where they can write letters to protect themselves against it. I will take one other point.
Forestry is of vital importance in some areas where we are trying to develop afforestation. I believe that the needs of modern afforestation in Britain and the need for cattle raising and sheep breeding should be balanced against every possible encroachment of our land today, marginal or otherwise. Therefore I see no need for the use of this Regulation. I believe that, with the existing processes, we have no need to fear that our military security would be jeopardised, and that a much more reasonable approach could be made by them than by this delegated legislation which gives far too much power to people over whom this House could have no control whatever.
I am sure that the whole House is very grateful to the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) for drawing our attention to the services of Winnie Welcome; but I cannot help thinking what would be her view on the growth of collective punishment in the House, such as is being visited upon us this evening.
However, I must not pursue that matter, and so far as the Amendment is concerned, I would say that although the speech of the Under-Secretary was reassuring so far as agriculture is concerned, he also made it clear that this Regulation is far wider than the Government requires. The issue, I would suggest, is not whether we should reject or accept it, but whether the Government should not be asked to look at it again with a view to re-drafting it.
Paragraph (1A), for example, gives extremely wide powers, and I should like to know to whom it is the custom to delegate such powers. Although it was indicated by the Under-Secretary that this is of diminishing importance, it will, we understand, be required at least for large scale manœuvres for some considerable time to come; and the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) has said that so far as the R.A.F. is concerned the need for the use of this Regulation may increase. So, it must be regarded as something which must be continued; and that being the case, it should be put in a more precise and reasonable form.
A lot has been said about consultation with the various interests of the Ministry of Agriculture, and so on; but under this type of Regulation there is often a form of inquiry for the protection of the individual who has a grievance—a sort of quasi-judicial provision—and I would ask the Government to look into the machinery of this which is frequently most unsatisfactory. At the same time, could we be told if there is any machinery for reviewing the orders made under this Regulation? In my own constituency, the Armed Forces hold a considerable amount of land. I do not say that it is held under this Regulation, but it is held, and people come to me asking if I can find out what the rights of the Service Departments are, and what is going to happen to land. Like other hon. Members, one writes and is then told that the matter has become one for another Department; and an inquiry of that other Department is passed to yet another; and so it goes on.
Would it not be possible to have a regular review of the various orders so as to establish whether a certain piece of land, or a certain building is really required? As the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) has stated, there is land where the huts have fallen down, where the barbed wire has become rusty and the whole site has got very unsightly; and yet, the land is still held. Could there not also be some consolidation of the various Regulations under which the Service Departments pursue their rights? I am sure that no hon. Member wants to deny those rights, but I suggest that some measure of consolidation is necessary.
I am sorry that the Government have not seen fit to have on the Front Bench this evening a Minister representing agriculture. It seems strange that on this topic which in the last three quarters of an hour has covered particularly agricultural matters there has been no Minister present to answer the points which have been made.
I well remember when the Labour Government was in office and we were dealing with the matter of land held by Service Departments that hon. Members opposite representing agricultural areas were constantly criticising the Government for just such things as this. Yet tonight I have not heard a single hon. Member from the Conservative Party representing an agricultural constituency who has made a contribution to the debate.
I am delighted that one hon. Member of the Conservative Party has taken part in the debate. But no one has come forward and dealt with the major point of the use of agricultural land by Service Departments, and I say "use" because it was the word used by the Under-Secretary. We all know of the figure he quoted of land held at the end of the war and that it has been reduced to just over 100,000 acres, a very great reduction, but we are still entitled to know about the use the Service Departments make of that land. It might be a small area, and in the case of the Air Force of course it would be a very small area. It is all very well to have arguments from the Service Departments represented here, but it is the specialist Department of Agriculture which should be represented to tell us about this matter.
The Air Force has a very good record in this field of making good agricultural use of the land they hold. The Army may have a good record. My hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) spoke about forests on land held by the Army. I should like to know the exact position about afforestation and reafforestation in these areas. My hon. Friend put the point and, although he appears to have left the Chamber, we would like to know the answer. Service Departments do not hold the land to make good agricultural use of it: that is not the purpose—
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was misled by my hon. Friend. I was rather taken off my argument by the reference to the Conservative Central Office. It is a fact that the Service Departments are there to train and not to indulge in agriculture, although as a sideline they make good use of land. It is right that we should know about it. It is true that they are represented here and they put a good case, but the real burden of the discussion and arguments that hon. Members have advanced has been on agriculture, and it is extremely disappointing that not one Minister for the Department has spoken.
I do not remember any question of having to chase me, but I remember that under the Labour Government, as a result of the part played by my right hon. Friend and the small part played by myself, we made very good use of agricultural land on Air Force stations, as the hon. and gallant Member knows from the agricultural results we had at our annual exhibitions.
If, by leave of the House, I may speak again, I think that there are only two things I can say further to what I have said already, but they are of fundamental importance. This is not a Regulation under which we possess land. Secondly, this is not a Regulation required for the leasing or purchasing of land. The problem of agriculture only arises in those two cases, leased land and purchased land. Then, of course, the Service Ministries have to make an agreement for grazing rights, and so on, over the land that they have leased.
But this Regulation is in fact a protection for agriculture, because instead of leasing land we say, "No, we only want training rights—non-damage training rights to approach over the land or sometimes to keep other people off while firing is going on."
If the House were to pass this Amendment, and we were to lose this Regulation, they would be doing the greatest possible damage to agriculture. I was impressed by the argument of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that there is a lot of complicated legislation in existence governing all these factors. There is the Military Manoeuvres Act, the Military Lands Act and the Defence Acts which interlink and inter-lock in a rather complicated way.
I am afraid that I must ask the House to pass this Regulation, otherwise the situation would be chaotic on 10th December. But I should like to think about whether something can be done in the way of a consolidation Act or a modernisation of the situation. Believe me, we do not want this Regulation for the purpose of taking possession of any land at all. In fact, it does not give us that power. We want it merely so that we have training rights over marginal pieces of land. I hope that the Amendment will be withdrawn.
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, might I ask one question? I was expecting that the Under-Secretary of State for Air would deal with a point which was directly addressed to him and which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) also mentioned. The question was about the wreckage left behind by the Service Departments.
That situation is dealt with under the Compensation (Defence) Act. I know that sometimes when land is handed back it is restored, but where it is difficult to restore it—because of lack of labour, materials and manpower—compensation is paid instead. I agree that it is more desirable to try to put it back into its pristine beauty.
The hon. Gentleman must feel that the only really solid point he has made was that if we did not let him have the Regulation now the situation would be chaotic on 10th December. He has not defended the Regulation. He has said that the Department do their best to make the Regulation more acceptable, but he has not defended it. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's undertaking that he will consider with his colleagues and the Departments some better arrangement.
I do not want that to go out as a promise from me. I would merely like to examine the possibility. I admit that there are a lot of complicated Acts in existence.
Very well. He will only examine the possibility. I give him a warning. If we let him have the Regula- tion now, despite his most inadequate answer, then if nothing is done he will not get it again.
I wish to make two points. One is about what is done with the land when it is released. It is no use saying that compensation is paid. This is a question of putting the land back not into its pristine condition but into a condition in which it can be made use of. The payment of compensation to a man whose land is left smothered with old rusty iron and all sorts of oddments is not much use. The other thing is that if any further orders are made during the next year, I beg the Under-Secretary to have a close look at the question of consultation with the agricultural Departments. Often we jump this thing without that.
All of us on this side, and quite a few hon. Members on that side, will feel the hon. Member has done his worthy best with the brief provided for him, but it really was not a defence of the Regulation. It is now much too wide, and it is unnecessary. I am quite prepared to withdraw the Amendment, but I hope he will see that by next year we shall have got rid of the Regulation and put something much more suitable in its place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, in line 14, at the end, to insert:
Regulation fifty-five C (Restrictions on registration of new clubs).
The Government are proposing to revoke this Regulation by the general proposals now before us. Some of my hon. Friends may think that this is of not the same importance as the matters that we have been discussing. I hope they will excuse me if I tell them that this is the most important chapter of our discussions tonight. You at least, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will be able to appreciate that, as 29 years ago, when I entered this House, the first Private Member's Bill that was put before us was a Bill brought forward by you on this very subject. Although you are now in an entirely impartial position, I felt I might refer to that, because in all those 29 years in which I have been taking an increased interest in this question of clubs and the treatment of clubs under the law
very little progress has been made, except that which was made by the Regulation that it is now proposed to revoke.
I will state the position briefly. It has been agreed for many years now that there ought to be some radical alteration of the law regarding the way we deal with clubs. The matter was carefully examined by a Royal Commission. They said in para. 495 of their Report:
The club movement at its best, a best which represents a standard to which many clubs of all classes attain, is, in our opinion, a most valuable element in the structure of our society. The expansion of the movement amongst the industrial classes of recent years is, we think, particularly significant. We have wished, therefore, to make no proposals which will tend to hamper that movement.
I entirely agree with that, and what I say will conform with that sentence.
But they go on to say:
We are, however, satisfied that substantial changes in the law are indispensable; and that the law as so altered should be applicable indifferently to the best and to the worst.
For many years after that had been propounded we went on, with the club question getting increasingly more difficult, until the war came. Then the Government of the day decided on Regulation 55 C. It did in a general way what I had wanted to do by another Bill just before the war—a Bill which I submitted to the Royal Commission.
Regulation 55C contained a provision by which new clubs were compelled, for the first time, to give particulars of their membership, their proprietors, those who had a financial interest in founding and running the club, the premises and the antecedents of those proposing to found a new club. Indeed, they had to present to the magistrates the case for a club before permission to register it was allowed. In some senses, therefore, the new club coming under this Regulation for the first time was required to come under the same sort of investigation which the licensee had to undergo when he applied at the brewster sessions for a licence to sell liquor.
The reason why the Regulation was introduced was that, for the first time, everybody agreed that the lack of general club legislation was producing in London, in particular, during war-time, an intolerable scandal. At all the main stations there were touts for disreputable clubs that existed for no other purpose but to sell "hooch" and the worst sort of liquor, to carry on gambling and to offer temptation of a worse kind. Every station had its representatives waiting for the men coming, say, from the North on their way to the fighting front, or, alternatively, men coming back from the fighting front on leave to their homes, who were exposed to temptations which those clubs in London put in their way.
The police realised that it was a disgrace, and the evidence about the matter was brought to the attention of the Government. For lack of the legislation which had been proposed by the Royal Commission some years earlier, this Regulation had to be made. I think I can say, from what I have heard from the police and others, that it seems to have been almost entirely successful in wiping out in London the worst type of clubs which I have been describing, the clubs, for example, that were described in a debate in the House of Lords some years before the war as places where there were opportunities for prostitutes to meet, for thieves to meet and that people of the worst characters had their own clubs for their particular purposes.
These clubs had spy-holes and barbed wire and organised special warnings as a precaution in case the police came, right up to the time of the Regulation being made. There was then no right for the police, as there was in the case of the public-houses, to inspect these clubs, and the whole thing was a gigantic conspiracy against good order in the community. I do not think that anybody—Conservative, Liberal or Labour—could be found at that time with a good word to say in defence of these institutions.
I submit that, since that Regulation was made, it has been found by the police to be a particularly convenient Regulation under which to carry out what ought to have been carried out by more general legislation dealing with clubs, which should have been enacted at an earlier date. I am putting it to the Home Secretary that if we revoke this Regulation now the Government will be compelled to consider, and ought to give the House an undertaking that they will consider, the introduction of something in the nature of the legislation that the Royal Commission recommended years ago.
To leave the position as it would be if the Regulation were revoked would be to create an intolerable situation. And not only in London, because chief constables in other towns where disreputable clubs came into existence found that this was one of the means by which the community could be protected against such places. It has, for example, been found so in Wales. I will not go into great detail, because some of my hon. Friends from Wales will be able to draw attention to it. But there is strong feeling about the difficulty created by these clubs in regard to Welsh Sunday closing. Every public house in Wales has to close on Sundays, but these clubs are kept open.
I have received the strongest representations—more perhaps from Wales than from England—from representatives of the churches about the weakening effect that will result from allowing this Regulation to go into disuse without any other step being taken. I am trying to be very brief about this matter, although I should have liked an hour for myself to deal with it. The Government have come forward with this proposal for an all-night Sitting—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, the Government have imposed it on us, and I am compelled to speak at two o'clock in the morning on an issue which is one of the most important political issues I have ever had to confront. I have shown by my life service to the subject the light in which I regard it. I am now having to compress into a speech lasting ten minutes or so what I wish to say on a subject which I consider the House should regard as one of the most important things with which they have had to deal.
The Conservative Government were least of all justified in doing this thing—
I was not referring to the President of the Band of Hope. He is a good friend of mine, and I regard what he does for the Temperance Movement to be genuine and above reproach. I do not participate in these references, and I am quite sure that though his eyes were closed he was listening intently—
The matter was really dealt with by the Conservative Party before the Election when a deputation of the churches led by the Bishop of Rochester put the issue, in which the churches and the Temperance movement were interested, including in particular this question of the clubs. The Bishop began his speech by saying to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who received the deputation in place of the present Prime Minister, that he hoped the Conservative Party might view with favour the aims of the Temperance movement because some of them who wished to give a vote for temperance wanted to feel they could vote Conservative too. He spoke as a Conservative to the Conservative leaders.
What was it the Conservative leaders said about clubs? First, the Bishop had said that the Temperance movement had no quarrel with clubs as such, but they complained of the mere drinking club where, through lack of inspection, the liquor laws could not be administered. Moreover, he said that the closing of redundant public houses could not be carried out in the way the Legislature had intended if clubs were to be substituted.
The Chancellor did not at once reply to that submission, but before the deputation left the leader of the Methodist Church said there was the issue of the clubs to be replied to, and the Chancellor agreed that there were the perfectly legitimate clubs, and there was also the problem presented to Parliament by the clubs organised for purely drinking purposes. These, he said, were socially undesirable, and he promised to consider this matter further with his colleagues.
Well, we have the result of the consideration, and the suspension of this Regulation is proposed. I am willing to admit that my own party as well as the party opposite have very many people associated with them, and many of the best people, who are fearful that further legislation may mean the suppression of perfectly genuine institutions. I am sure that they are wrong.
No one who is really genuinely concerned with temperance has ever wanted to suppress the majority of the clubs in the country. What has been the evil all along has been the sort of disreputable institution that came to the surface during war-time. What has been wrong is that we have not had the means until now of dealing with that sort of place.
What I should say is that they were prevented from opening. The Regulation was designed to prevent new clubs coming into being. It gave the right to the police to insist on particulars, and for the first time they were in a position to go to the magistrates and prevent clubs being registered. It is that fact which makes people in Wales, in view of their particular problem, so anxious to retain this Regulation.
I will say no more, except to put it to the Home Secretary that there is a better case for re-considering this matter than any other which has been brought before him. The Government, through the Chancellor's statement, were committed to act with special care on this question, yet they scrap this Regulation without suggesting any other provision to do the work suggested by the Royal Commission nearly 20 years ago. I submit that the Home Secretary ought to be willing to accept this Amendment and to keep this Regulation.
I beg to second the Amendment.
You will be very happy to know, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I do not intend to detain the House for very long. I do not altogether share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) I am a middle-of-the-roader; somewhere midway between my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Glanville). On this issue, however, my hon. Friend has made a very effective case, and I am sure the Home Secretary will tell us that he has made a mistake about this matter.
A few days ago I received a communication from my constituency to this effect:
This Association views with very grave concern the Government's proposal not to renew Regulation 55C applicable to Clubs …
My Association is of the opinion that no legitimate Club, well run, would suffer in any way from the continuance of this regulation which the police have repeatedly stated has proved of material assistance to them in preventing the establishment of bogus and discreditable Clubs, against which the regulation was aimed.
As you are aware, competition from Clubs today is very severe and they enjoy many amenities and privileges which are forbidden to licensed houses and for this reason we do ask you to give protection from the bogus variety of Club, the growth of which would be encouraged by the withdrawal of this regulation.
To me this is merely a letter from the Sunderland and District Licensed Victuallers' Association, but to the Home Secretary it is an instruction. That is why I am fully satisfied that now I have called his attention to the view of that Association—a view which is shared, I understand, by licensed victuallers' associations throughout the country—he will at once admit his error and tell the House that it was a mistake he made which has led to the Regulation not being included.
I think it would be convenient if, at this point, I indicated the considerations which have brought me to this conclusion so that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will have them in mind. If other points arise I shall, if the House gives me leave, be very pleased to deal with them.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has said enough in a humorous way to show that this is a difficult decision if one were to look at it merely from the political point of view—[Laughter.]—if one were to do that. I hope to show that I have not done so, and the House can form its own view when I have finished. I have often been criticised, with all that sincerity and charm which we all genuinely like, even if we disagree with him, by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). But to be criticised almost simultaneously by the hon. Member for Ealing, North and the Licensed Victuallers' Association is a new experience, even for me.
Therefore, I want the House to consider what the position is. It is quite true, as the hon. Member for Ealing, North indicated, that at the present time there is no power under the Licensing Act, apart from this Regulation, to object to a club on registration. There are powers contained in that Act to strike off the club. This Regulation, as the hon. Gentleman said, enables the police to object to the registration of a new club and, if they do so, the club cannot be registered. It may appeal to the court of summary jurisdiction, and it is only if the court is satisfied that the objection is unreasonable, but not otherwise, that it can authorise the registration of the club.
I think that hon. Gentlemen ought to look at the grounds on which the police objection can be made, because one of them is
that, having regard to existing facilities for social amenities, recreation and refreshment or for cultural or political activities and to the objects of the club, the club is not required to meet a genuine and substantial need.
It is quite true that it goes on to other grounds, as the hon. Gentleman told us, that is, grounds of inaccurate particulars or the bad character of the applicants.
But I do ask the House to consider that first ground, because we have to face the position that that means that the police can form the view as to whether a club—be it recreational or be it political, the police have to form the view—is needed or whether there are sufficient clubs, either political or recreational, in the district. If the police form that view, then it is for those who wish to form the club to satisfy the local bench that that view is unreasonable. Only if they can satisfy the bench that it is unreasonable can they form the club.
Would it not also be true to say that it is precisely that sort of thing that the police are expected to do at brewster sessions and in respect to the issue of a new licence? In fact the police are quite accustomed in a moderate way to build up objections exactly on that issue, that a club is not required or a "pub" is not required to meet a genuine and substantial need. Why, then, should that not go on?
I will certainly answer the hon. Gentleman. In the first place, with regard to public houses, in my experience that evidence is never limited to the police. The objections in the case of a public house usually come from the temperance societies with which the hon. Gentleman is associated, and evidence is given of the need for the public house from the people who live in the neighbourhood. But here the police have the power of preventing another political club coming into existence unless the people who want to form that club can satisfy the local magistrates that the police case is unreasonable. I do say that that is a position which it is very difficult to justify in peace-time.
During the war we had to consider the points which the hon. Gentleman fairly stressed as a war-time need—people coming on leave after being in the line, and so on, and being susceptible to the sort of temptation he described.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman, before he leaves that point, inform the House whether he has any statistics to show in how many cases the police have objected to a club on social, cultural, or political grounds and the objection was over-ruled by a local court of summary jurisdiction?
I have not the statistics, but when I was considering this matter I saw representatives of a number of organisations—of the Working Men's Clubs and Institutes, the union with which I am sure my colleagues in the House are connected or know about: the Association of Conservative Clubs, with which I have been connected in my political capacity: and the National Golf Clubs Protection Association. They pressed strongly for revocation of the Regulation, which they regarded as unwarrantable interference with the rights of ordinary citizens. They assured me that the bogus clubs are in a small minority, and represented that they could be struck off. They stressed strongly that they did not represent an evil on a sufficient scale to justify restrictions on the registration of genuine clubs.
On the other side I considered many representations made to me in the sense which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I also had conveyed to me, as they were to the hon. Member for Ealing, North the views of the Licensed Victuallers' Association. I say frankly to the House that it is a difficult problem.
I am sure I am speaking for all my colleagues from Wales when I say that we have had strong representations and that there is a deep feeling in Wales. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in addition to being Home Secretary, is Minister for Welsh Affairs. Has he taken the opportunity of consulting the Council for Wales and seeking representative Welsh opinion on this matter.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is putting forward a strong case from the point of view of the delegations, and arguing that it would be a great hardship on the applicants to re-enact, or continue, this Regulation: but in arguing in that way surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman is overlooking the provision in paragraph (3) which gives the applicants right of appeal to the courts.
I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman can have heard what I said, because I stressed several times that objection could be made by the police, and that it was then for an applicant, and those trying to found a club, to go to the magistrates' court. They could only succeed in that court if they showed, the onus being on them, that the objection was unreasonable. I think the House will bear me out that I mentioned that point twice, and I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member missed it.
With regard to the other point, I have had representations and I have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said tonight, but the issue before us is not whether we think that the law with regard to clubs ought to be strengthened and changed. The issue is whether we think it is right to keep this war-time Regulation indefinitely and whether that provision which I put to the House is an excessive infringement of liberty. I ask hon. Members to put themselves in my position and weigh up the different points. However, I want to assure the House that I think the law with regard to clubs will have to be considered, and in my view it could be improved. I have already entered into discussions. I do not want to go into them in detail and I hope the House will not press me, because discussions are so much better if they are kept between the parties to the discussions and not reproduced by one of the parties in the House.
If I may put it colloquially, I have had my leg pulled on this before and it is a good opportunity for pulling it. As I said before the hon. and learned Gentleman came in, to be criticised within 10 minutes by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) and, through the mouth of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), by the Licensed Victuallers' Association, is a new experience even for me. So I already have an open flank in that respect and I am prepared to "take it."
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not suggesting anything derogatory about me? I was speaking for a body of men who have every right to consider that the bad clubs in the form they have been are in unfair competition with them. Surely I have the right to receive their representations and, if they think I am a better voice than the right hon. and learned Gentleman, why should they not support me rather than him?
I am very glad to find, such is the infinite variety of human nature, that even this combination can take place. Before the hon. Gentleman made his point, I said that I believed the law required further consideration and could be improved. I have not only formed that belief but I have initiated discussions with a view to seeing what would be a via media which would have some chance of acceptance. I do not want to go into the conversations I have had with the representatives of the clubs because I do not think that would be helpful, but I should like the House to know that these conversations have taken place.
May I ask that the question be approached in this way? Will hon. Members, if I may be colloquial again, take their pet view and think about what is the minimum they would accept? It seems to me eminently reasonable that there should be some provision for discovering the previous character and activities of people who make an application. That seems to be a most reasonable line, and it would help to prevent the professional bogus club creator. This type of person may exist in only a small way, but a limited number do exist in London, as we have found out.
The provisions could be useful in the case of people running clubs who have already got themselves into trouble. That is the sort of line on which I should like to make my approach; and I ask those on both sides of this argument to see if we could not approach the matter with a view to getting some agreement in the future.
But, today, I must put the issue as it appears to me. Legislation is not practicable for the time being. It will need a lot of education on both sides before we have a chance to bring anything into being, and so the Government's choice was either to allow this Regulation to lapse, or to continue it for a possibly long period with the resultant infringement of liberty. I assure hon. Members that I have given very careful thought to the subject; but, on balance, I have come to the conclusion that that infringement, satisfactory though it was in time of war, is too great in time of peace. Therefore, I decided to revoke the Regulation.
Speaking as an hon. Member from Wales, I am a little disturbed by the decision of the Government to revoke this Regulation. I listened with great care to the speech of the Home Secretary, and I must say that I am completely unconvinced by his explanation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had two major arguments. First, that this is a war-time Regulation, and the second was that it gives too much power to the police. As one practising in the courts, my experience has been that the police have been extremely impartial in their operation of this Regulation; by and large, they have been above reproach in this matter. Furthermore, it is important not to forget that it is the magistrates who ultimately have to decide between the two parties and decide as to whether the grounds are adequate or not. The ultimate responsibility rests with the bench, and not with the police.
On the argument that this is a war-time Regulation, I cannot see that there is any substance in such a point. That it is a war-time decision is not an argument against it if it is operating successfully in time of peace. I agree with the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Hudson), who said that it is operating successfully now. But my main case against the Home Secretary is that he has spoken as such; he should remember that he is also the Minister responsible for Welsh Affairs, and in that capacity he should direct his mind to the Welsh position. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should know that the Welsh people have a particular interest in this subject, and the very existence of clubs in Wales which are able to open on Sundays, militates completely against the Welsh Sunday Closing Act. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should know that. The feeling in Wales today is that the revocation of this Regulation, which does control the indiscriminate opening of clubs for the purpose of drinking, will only lead to the opening of still more clubs in Wales.
I agree that what is needed is fresh legislation to deal with this subject, but, until the Government are ready to introduce that fresh legislation, it is their duty to leave this Regulation as it stands. I can tell the Home Secretary that when Wales reads what he has said here Wales will be dissatisfied. He has promised to use his powers of persuasion to emphasise the needs and viewpoint of Wales to the Government and the House. As Minister for Welsh Affairs, he must use his powers of persuasion against himself as Home Secretary, and that would be an interesting experiment. I do ask him to reconsider this matter. My feeling is that we should press it to a Division.
This is an occasion when I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), and for that reason, if for no other, I would regret the departure of Regulation 55c. During the past two years I have pressed the Home Secretary of the time to enact permanent legislation to take the place of Regulation 55c, where it is desirable to make it permanent. Not only my right hon. and learned Friend last year but the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) the year before expressed regret that it would not be possible to do that.
I think we should emphasise that it is not the genuine club of which we are being critical but, as the hon. Member rightly said, the bogus club. I was glad to hear the Home Secretary say that he was considering permanent legislation, and in that respect I want to call attention to three items and ask him to consider them.
The first is that the man intending to apply for the licence of licensed premises takes no exception whatever to having his history scrutinised by the licensing justices and those who advise them. When he has become the holder of a licence he takes no exception to the premises also being closely watched and scrutinised. I feel equally that the owners or managers of clubs should also have no objection to some controlling authority, particularly as they are dealing in alcoholic liquors. But I am far from convinced that the duty of deciding whether the promoters are suitable should rest on the shoulders of the police, although I agree that whoever is the controlling authority should have available to them information and advice from the police, as indeed the licensing justices do.
I take second place to no hon. Member in my regret at the increase in the figures of drunkenness and the increase in road accidents, fatal or non-fatal. But it is not safe to assume that the liquors obtained by those driving vehicles whilst under the influence of drink are necessarily obtained in licensed premises. There are many other places in which they can be obtained.
One must remember that under the law as it stands clubs are not so subject to supervision as are licensed premises, and neither, if a man has too much liquor in the club, does the club suffer in anything like the same way as the holder of the licence of licensed premises.
If the hon. Member refers to the police, he will be told that they have not the same powers of supervision over clubs as they have over licensed premises. That statement is correct in fact. It merely adds to my argument that it increases the necessity of having a controlling authority over the opening and the operation and conduct of clubs of any sort. Those good and genuine clubs of which most of us are members have nothing to fear.
I will not be drawn into saying what that controlling authority should be. It would take too long to discuss the two sides of the matter. I press my right hon. and learned Friend to speed up his consultations because some permanent legislation on this subject is urgently required, especially if this Regulation is to go.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman appears to have given us a fair account of the consideration he has given to this matter. I must say that it differs somewhat from the story he told us last year, when he indicated that this Regulation was of use to his Department and those who are associated with it. He said:
The difficulty which has been found is the difficulty of getting evidence on those points.
That is with regard to the undesirable club.
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.'
Later he said:
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 methods which would be required."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 1112.]
I cannot think that, although there has been a gratifying increase in the police forces of the country since the implementation of the salary award given by Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, the state of the preservation of the Queen's Peace is such that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to see the police unnecessarily employed when he has some method by which he can save manpower.
I listened with great interest, because this was a problem that confronted me the whole six years I occupied the office the right hon. and learned Gentleman now adorns. This is a matter of great concern to all those who are appalled at the increasing statistics of drunkenness in this country—and I am glad to see the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant) nods his agreement. I am quite certain that we should find some of the reasons for this increase when we are dealing with the bogus club and the unsatisfactory club.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says he is giving consideration to the matter. I should have thought it would have been possible to continue this Regulation, amended if possible—I amended it three times while I was at the Home Office—gradually eliminating the more objectionable features. I have no doubt that the very point seized upon tonight by the right hon. and learned Gentleman could have been dealt with by an Amendment—the fact that one puts the police in the position of objecting and leaving the matter with them unless the proprietor of the club appeals.
I appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. This evening we are apparently agreed that none of us wants to see the establishment of bogus clubs made easy. If he would agree to accept my hon. Friend's Amendment, begin conversations with Members of this House and such other people as he liked to bring in with a view to getting a Regulation that was satisfactory, and continue that Regulation in force until he was in a position to introduce legislation, I should have thought he would not merely be carrying out the spirit of the speech he made last year and the underlying implications of the speech he made tonight, but he would probably considerably hasten agreement among the various interests that he would have to consult with regard to permanent legislation.
Like the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I feel on these matters that I am between my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. James Hudson) and the hon. Member for Wokingham, because frankly I prefer the club to the pub, particularly when I go into a club and am provided with refreshment of the kind that my principles allow me to take. I have never found much difficulty in getting that. Speaking as one who has been connected with clubs associated with the Club and Institute Union for more than 50 years, I say that it would be in the interests of the clubs themselves that there should be an amendment of the law that would enable people not associated with the clubs to view them with greater confidence than they sometimes do now.
It would also—and as a supporter of the clubs I regard this as a very important matter—relieve the publicans of the self-imposed duty of keeping watch on the clubs to make complaints against them. In my experience, generally when there has been a prosecution of a club it has been on evidence that was pushed towards the police by the local licensed victuallers who objected to what was happening in the clubs.
On this side of the House, in view of the speech made last year and that made tonight by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, we feel exceedingly disappointed that he has not been able to continue the Regulation, amended, if necessary, to remove some of the points that he raised.
I do not like to see the Police State, even in a matter like this, but I am quite certain that that could be remedied, and, at the same time, the institution of bogus clubs could be prevented. I sincerely hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have second thoughts about this; otherwise I feel that I should have to ask my hon. and right hon. Friends to divide the House on this Amendment, and I should hope, in that event, to have the support of the hon. Member for Wokingham, the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) and those others who, generally speaking, seem to be well-informed on the views of the licensed trade.
If the House will allow me, I rise to answer the point that has been made by the right hon. Gentleman, because I feel it is only courteous to do so at once.
I have considered this matter, and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is no longer possible to amend according to our heart's desire. The only Amendment I can make is just what the right hon. Gentleman himself could make—to strike out parts of the Regulation. If it had been possible to omit the part to which I have drawn attention as being objectionable to me—that is, the first part of the grounds—and if it had also been possible to change the procedure which, as I have told the House, offends me in a peacetime Regulation, namely, the procedure by which the objection is made, and it is then for the person against whom the objection is made to displace that objection, to prove that it is unreasonable, and only if he does supplant the objection is he then allowed to start a club, that would have been the approach.
After considering it, and especially after having heard the views held on both sides of the House, I cannot honestly say to this House or to myself that there is a probability of legislation in any reasonable time in the future. Where there is no prospect of reasonably proximate legislation, then I think the balance comes round in favour of maintaining freedom, although I recognise the difficulties.
Therefore, I am sorry, because this is a matter which the right hon. Gentleman and everyone else is trying to approach on the lines which they think are right, but I must say that, having considered the matter and the varying claims and difficulties, as well as the appeals made to me, I still feel that when we find war-time procedure being prolonged into peace, and likely to be prolonged without any reasonably proximate chance of the position being changed by permanent legislation, it is right to drop it.
I am sorry to introduce this discordant note into what has been a particularly happy discussion of all the various matters, but I feel bound to stand by what seems right to me, and I am sorry that I cannot meet the right hon. Gentleman.
I have considered that. It was a strong reason which I took into account. But I think that the problem of the bogus clubs has been made too prominent. Against that there is the right of Welshmen, as of Englishmen, to form themselves into political or other clubs as they wish, which is an important one and which should be borne in mind.
I have been sitting during the whole of this debate and, with your permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I wish to speak.
It seems to me that the Home Secretary has made a substantial case for accepting this proposition. I want to make that point because opinion on this side of the House is not uniform. In the vast new housing estates which have sprung up since the war round our provincial cities there are not sufficient public houses, and clubs are a perfectly justifiable thing to encourage. If they are to wait upon the public houses it is an imposition on the community, and clubs in that case might be inhibited by the re-introduction of this Regulation.
The second explanation put forward by the Home Secretary in support of the revocation of this Regulation is, to my mind, just as lame as the first. On other occasions when this matter has been discussed it has been the accepted view of hon. Members on both sides of the House that, pending permanent legislation, this Regulation is serving a most useful purpose.
When the Home Secretary says there is no prospect of permanent legislation in the near future, I am willing to accept it. But that is an additional argument for the continuance of this Regulation, a continuance strongly supported by the National Consultative Council for the Retail Liquor Trade, and the Licensed Victuallers Central Protection Society of London, which is a larger organisation than the licensed victuallers association in my native town of Sunderland to which reference has been made.
The Home Secretary said that he had had negotiations with the various club movements and organisations. He did not tell the House that there have also been negotiations with the National Consultative Council on this very subject. Why he should mention that he has had consultations with the clubs and not that he has had consultations with the Council, I am unable to understand.
Another argument in favour of the continuance of this Regulation is the necessity for economising in manpower, particularly in the Police Force. The revocation of this Regulation, so far as London is concerned, and especially during Coronation Year, will place an additional burden upon the police which they are unable to discharge with satisfaction. If at the present moment the Home Secretary has 500 summonses for unlicensed trading in Trafalgar Square which have not yet been disposed of, I suggest that in revoking this Regulation he is adding a further and unnecessary burden on the police.
For these reasons, I hope that some hon Members opposite will realise the weakness of the position taken up by the Home Secretary and will record by their Votes their opinion that this Regulation should be continued.
I can possibly help the Home Secretary to reconsider his decision. When he quoted paragraph (4, a), he specifically mentioned that he did not want to give to the police
the power to say "yea" or "nay" to a political organisation forming itself as a club, and he told us that he wished to protect the freedom of the citizen. Will he take it from me that in places like North Staffordshire, where Conservative policy is not very successful, there are a number of Conservative clubs and no Labour political clubs. If there were no Conservative clubs in North Staffordshire the Conservative Party would do just as well, and probably better, than it does now. We refuse to have Labour clubs which are drinking clubs. However good it starts out, ultimately, drink is the ruin of the club. I ought not to say this because it may be used against me and the Labour Party by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but it is a fact that politics and drink do not go well together.
If this Regulation is removed the Home Secretary is doing the very sort of thing he is the last person to do. He is giving encouragement to the worst type of club where young and susceptible people can be taken to drink bad liquor. I am not an abstainer, and I can appreciate good wine and ale as much as anyone, but history has shown that bad drink can be utterly destructive of morals and heads. Here the Home Secretary is giving encouragement to means of fostering crime, because crime is associated with the drinking of poisonous material of this kind. I urge him not to force us to defeat him in the Lobby on this issue.
|Division No. 23.]||AYES||[3.5 a.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Driberg, T. E. N.|
|Adams, Richard||Callaghan, L. J.||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)|
|Albu, A. H.||Champion, A. J.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Chapman, W. D.||Edwards, John (Brighouse)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Chetwynd, G. R.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)|
|Balfour, A.||Collick, P. H.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)|
|Benn, Wedgwood||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)|
|Benson, G.||Crosland, C. A. R.||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)|
|Beswick, F.||Daines, P.||Ewart, R.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Fernyhough, E.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Field, W. J.|
|Blackburn, F.||Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.)||Fienburgh, W.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Finch, H. J.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Follick, M.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Foot, M. M.|
|Bowden, H. W.||de Freitas, Geoffrey||Freeman, John (Watford)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Deer, G.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Delargy, H. J.||Gibson, C. W.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Dodds, N. N.||Gooch, E. G.|
|Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||MacColl, J. E.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield)||McLeavy, F.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Grey, C. F.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Stross, Dr. Barnett|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Mellish, R. J.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Mikardo, Ian||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Mitchison, G. R.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Monslow, W.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Moody, A. S.||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Hargreaves, A.||Morley, R.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Healey, Denis (Leeds, S. E.)||Moyle, A.||Tomney, F.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Mulley, F. W.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Nally, W.||Usborne, H. C.|
|Hobson, C. R.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Holman, P.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||Oliver, G. H.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Padley, W. E.||Weitzman, D.|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Palmer, A. M. F.||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Pannell, Charles||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Pargiter, G. A.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Popplewell, E.||Wigg, George|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Wilcock, Group Capt C. A. B.|
|Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Reeves, J.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.||Willey, F. T.|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Ross, William||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Short, E. W.||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Kenyon, C.||Shurmer, P. L. E.||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)||Yates, V. F.|
|King, Dr. H. M.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Slater, J.|
|Lindgren, G. S.||Snow, J. W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Sorensen, R. W.||Mr. Royle and Mr. Hannan|
|Aitken, W. T.||Channon, H.||Gridley, Sir Arnold|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Grimond, J.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Cole, Norman||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Colegate, W. A.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Cranborne, Viscount||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)|
|Baldock, Lt.-Comdr. J. M.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Harvie-Watt, Sir George|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Heald, Sir Lionel|
|Banks, Col. C.||Crouch, R. F.||Heath, Edward|
|Barber, Anthony||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Higgs, J. M. C.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Cuthbert, W. N.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Deedes, W. F.||Holland-Martin, C. J.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Hollis, M. C.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Donner, P. W.||Holmes, Sir Stanley (Harwich)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Doughty, C. J. A.||Holt, A. F.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry|
|Birch, Nigel||Drayson, G. B.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Drewe, C.||Horobin, I. M.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir Thomas (Richmond)||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence|
|Bossom, A. C.||Duthie, W. S.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Erroll, F. J.||Howard, Greville (St. Ives)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Fell, A.||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)|
|Braine, B. R.||Finlay, Graeme||Hurd, A. R.|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Fisher, Nigel||Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N. W.)||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Fort, R.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Foster, John||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.|
|Bullard, D. G.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Kaberry, D.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Langford-Holt, J. A.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Glyn, Sir Ralph||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.|
|Campbell, Sir David||Godber, J. B.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Legh, P. R. (Petersfield)|
|Carson, Hon. E.||Gough, C. F. H.||Lindsay, Martin|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Graham, Sir Fergus||Linstead, H. N.|
|Llewellyn, D. T.||Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)||Nugent, G. R. H.||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Nutting, Anthony||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Oakshott, H. D.||Speir, R. M.|
|Longden, Gilbert||Odey, G. W.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Low, A. R. W.||O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Stevens, G. P.|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mare)||Storey, S.|
|McAdden, S. J.||Osborne, C.||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|McCallum, Major D.||Partridge, E.||Studholme, H. G.|
|McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Summers, G. S.|
|Macdonald, Sir Peter (I. of Wight)||Perkins, W. R. D.||Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|McKibbin, A. J.||Peyton, J. W. W.||Teeling, W.|
|McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Pitman, I. J.||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Maclean, Fitzroy||Powell, J. Enoch||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Tilney, John|
|Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Macpherson, Maj. Niall (Dumfries)||Profumo, J. D.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Raikes, H. V.||Turton, R. H.|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E.||Rayner, Brig. R.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Redmayne, M.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Marples, A. E.||Renton, D. L. M.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (Marylebone)|
|Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton)||Robertson, Sir David||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Maude, Angus||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Maudling, R.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Roper, Sir Harold||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Medlicott, Brig. F.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)|
|Mellor, Sir John||Russell, R. S.||White, Baker (Canterbury)|
|Molson, A. H. E.||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Nabarro, G. D. N.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. (Rochdale)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Nicholls, Harmar||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Shepherd, William|
|Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Nield, Basil (Chester)||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)||Mr. Vosper and Mr. Wills.|
I beg to move, to leave out line 17.
I do not want it to be thought that this is not a matter of great seriousness, and something to which the House ought not to pay a great deal of attention. The fact that the most serious consideration before us is cloaked by a very bad Regulation is all the more reason why the House should consider exactly what this Regulation is failing to do. There can be no conclusion about it at all.
The intention behind the Regulation is to provide for safety in the handling of ammunition and explosives and inflammable materials. The safety, I am presuming here, is the safety of the people who are concerned with those operations, or who are living in the harbours or near the harbours where those operations take place. They are the people of the shore, in the armaments factories; they are Admiralty employees; they are the contractors' men who may be engaged in those operations.
It is proper that the Ministry of Transport should take unto itself responsibility for saying that their safety is paramount when loading and unloading is taking
place; but if the Minister accepts that responsibility, why does he bring before the House again a Regulation which is obscurely drafted? As it stands, this Regulation is putting people in jeopardy. The Regulation has been brought before the House on many occasions, and has been amended once or twice; but it has never been used, so far as I can find out. I doubt whether the Minister can tell us of any occasion when it has been used. Paragraph (2) is of extreme importance. It says:
Nothing in any restriction imposed by or under any Act in relation to the area of any harbour authority or canal or inland navigation undertakers in the United Kingdom shall apply—(a) to the shipping, unshipping, handling, storage or conveyance in the service of Her Majesty or under instructions given on behalf of Her Majesty of ammunition, explosives, or inflammable substances.
What is the meaning of that? A proper interpretation of this paragraph removes from the responsible person, the harbour matter or port officials who are empowered to ensure that safety regulations are carried out in the harbour, the authority which should be theirs. They are men who have been chosen to do the job because they are experts. They have been given control because it is necessary
to have men who are deeply experienced in this work of seeing that ships are not blown up.
Put shortly, the position is that if someone acting for Her Majesty gives instructions for the loading of a ship, the harbour master is not empowered to interfere to see that safety regulations are carried out. Think of the situation. A contractor is employed to load an ammunition barge. He gets instructions from a Service Minister. That contractor is told what to do by the Service Department, and is told that he may take no notice under the Regulations of the harbour master or the regulations established for the dock or harbour. That is dangerous. Ammunition barges do blow up. There have been bad explosions.
On 14th July, 1950, nine barges blew up at Portsmouth. Considerable damage was done in Portsmouth, Fareham and Gosport. One barge caught fire and its load of shells blew up. All the other barges blew up in turn. Windows were smashed. An ammunition factory was destroyed. Around the harbour almost every house was damaged. Great loss of life was only avoided by the heroism of the workers in the operation. Trained men were doing that job. They were men employed by the Admiralty. Think what might have happened had inexperienced men been doing the work. The holocaust might have been quite frightful.
I do not see a representative of the Ministry of Transport on the Front Bench. Perhaps they do not regard the safety of the people as being of such importance as the destruction of the nationalised transport industry. However, I hope that whoever replies to this debate will deal with the following important point. What happens if visiting forces to this country decide that they will unload or load their ships with ammunition, explosives and inflammable materials in exactly the way they want to do it? Under this Regulation there is nothing anybody can do about it. A visiting force which, because of temperamental or geographical reasons, may have entirely different safety regulations from ours, may be engaged in a most hazardous operation in our harbours without the harbour masters or the port authorities having any control over them.
We have a Visiting Forces Act which has affected 23 of our statutes in one way or another, but apparently nobody in the Ministry of Transport bothered, while that legislation was going through, to check against this Regulation. I submit that the reason is that everybody had forgotten about it; they were so busy seeing to it that our liberties here were being checked in another direction.
The Regulation has a queer reference to seaplanes in paragraph 3:
Any reference in this regulation to shipping or to unshipping shall be construed as including a reference to putting on board of seaplanes or to unloading from seaplanes, as the case may be.
Who is using seaplanes? What branch of the Service is using them today for the conveyance of ammunition, explosives and inflammable materials? I am advised that not one of the Service Departments is using seaplanes, and still this archaic reference stays in the Regulation, though there is no reference to helicopters.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) urged upon the Government a few days ago in this House the importance of investigating and encouraging the use of helicopters. I am sure that the hon. and right hon. Members on the Government Front Bench who are interested in aviation and have progressive minds will agree that we are on the eve of the large-scale use of helicopters in this country. Although I am not an expert, I could make a claim that I think is unique in this House, that I am one of the few men who have ever piloted a helicopter over the White House in Washington. I did it under circumstances that terrified me, and would have terrified the occupant of the White House had he known what I was doing. From the limited experience I had on that occasion I was convinced that the helicopter is an instrument for the conveyance of freight as well as of passengers that must not be ignored.
It is too bad that this Government, which professes to be progressive in these things, asks us to agree to a Regulation which talks about seaplanes which nobody is using and ignores helicopters which are to be the means of conveyance for the future. This will not do, for what may happen under this is that the helicopters will come along and the Minister of Transport will find that he has no control over their loading and unloading.
I do not know, but I will undertake to ask the hon. Member for Abingdon, who knows these things, and to inform my hon. Friend.
Anybody who has studied the transport systems of the world will have realised that the time is not far distant when we shall have air take-offs at the side of harbours, and unless this regulation is looked at seriously there is not even going to be control for aeroplanes.
We are asked to look at this Regulation and support it when what we really want is permanent legislation to safeguard the lives of those loading and unloading ships, or working in the docks, or living around the harbours. I agree that the Government intend to safeguard those people, but this Regulation is so ill-thought out that the safety of these people is endangered by its very continuance. Therefore, I move the Amendment in the belief that it will at least induce the Government to look at this again and come forward, one hopes, with legislation which is intelligent.
I have to admit that I find some difficulty in seconding the Amendment, because I see that the first line of the Regulation states;
The Minister of Transport may by order make such provision. …
I approach the representative of the Ministry of Transport in the House to say that I intended to raise this point, but the Minister to whom I have given notice is not in the House. I make no great point of that fact, although it will mean that I must now go into this subject at greater length than otherwise would have been necessary.
This Regulation deals with safety precautions for ammunition being shipped or unshipped in harbour; and I should here say that I have a constituency interest in representing part of Bristol. One sees that the Minister shall make any orders to provide safety arrangements, and he has the power to—
abrogate or modify any restriction imposed by or under any Act …
in order to make his Regulations more effective. On reading the paragraph, one finds that the Minister of Transport has such power. But, since 1939, no orders have been made under this provision. One would have thought that the Government would have discovered that under Regulation 2BA, the Secretary of State may make orders as to any explosive, and impose prohibitions or restrictions as are thought necessary. That is to say, there is no need for Defence Regulation 76 since, under 2BA, there is already power to make such provisions.
Leaving aside whether any orders have been made in recent years, and leaving aside the fact that an earlier Regulation covers the subject, one finds that atomic energy is completely excluded from this Regulation. The hands of the Government are somewhat tied because all that can be done this morning is that something be left out. We cannot put anything in, and I cannot ask any hon. Member opposite to include anything about atomic energy. But, reading about the explosion at the Monte Bello Islands, and remembering that one of the objects was to see the effect of an atomic explosion in a port or harbour, one has to accept that there is a danger to this country which is so dependent on sea trade. An enemy might bring in an atomic bomb to a port or harbour. We must be prepared against atomic weapons being used, and we must assume that such weapons may be shipped or unshipped by us in our own harbours. Those are the comments I make on paragraph (1). No orders have ever been made. From my reading, Regulation 2BA gives the Government all the power they need, and surely it is time that someone thought a little about atomic energy.
Paragraph (2) says that no restriction of any kind under any Act of Parliament applies to Her Majesty's Government when moving ammunition or to any movement of ammunition for the purposes of defence. That means that the vast majority of the movement of ammunition is excluded from the Regulation. I looked to see whether any ammunition had been moved other than by Her Majesty's Government or for the purposes of defence, and, although I have combed the Annual Abstract of Statistics from 1939 to the present day, I could find no mention anywhere of any ammunition or explosives being moved except by the Government or for the purposes of defence. I may be open to correction because small amounts may have been moved and it was not thought worthwhile to mention them in the Annual Abstract of Statistics, but it can represent no great trade in this country. Paragraph (2) excludes any ammunition moved in or out of this country in the last 13 years.
What about visiting forces? Obviously, the United States Government have ammunition, including atomic weapons. It is widely understood that the Americans have atomic weapons in this country, and they are excluded because that is for the purposes of defence. They are totally excluded from the Regulation. I make a narrow point here that we have to be responsible for the safety of people in our ports and harbours and in the areas around the ports and harbours. They could be blown up by ammunition whether it was N.A.T.O. ammunition, Belgian, British or American ammunition. It is really quite improper for a Government to throw away all responsibility for ammunition because it is made in the U.S.A. instead of in this country. If the Government have the interests of the safe handling of ammunition at heart, they should make arrangements for seeing that that ammunition is safely handled.
Under the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Act, which deals with visiting motor cars, be they American forces vehicles or not, the Minister of Transport retains the right to lay down Regulations affecting the movement of vehicles on the road. I am not sure whether he intends to exercise those rights, but in that case the danger to people in this country is that perhaps a woman and a child may be knocked down and a couple of deaths may be caused. That is a danger to this country but, compared with the danger of an explosion in a port or harbour, it is very small. If the Government think it worthwhile to retain some power of supervision over movement of motor vehicles in this country, they ought to retain power over the movement of ammunition.
On the question of the exclusion of Her Majesty's Government from the provisions of the Regulation, I think it not improper to ask the representative of the Admiralty or the War Office whether we can be told anything about the standards of safety of the Navy and the Army in these matters. The Navy, Army and Air Force plead complete exemption from the Regulation and I would be interested to know whether there is any agreement between the Service Departments and the Ministry of Transport about what are regarded as necessary safety Regulations. There is no private trade in ammunition, and on the visiting forces question we are left completely in the air. No doubt the Service safety regulations are very stringent, but I should like to hear a little more about them.
I come to a point of which I gave the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport notice. As I understand it, this Regulation totally invalidates the latest merchant shipping rules published on 13th November, which came into effect a week ago. I am by no means a lawyer, but I understand that I am on what is known as a good point here. This rule, published under the Merchant Shipping Act, purport to lay down very strict rules for the handling of dangerous goods, including explosives.
On page 2 of the rules one notices that under the paragraph headed, "Marking" it is said that it is unlawful for dangerous goods to be taken on board a ship unless clearly marked. Later it is said that if the master of a ship suspects that these rules have not been complied with he is entitled to refuse to receive the explosives on the ship.
I do not know whether that is a point of order, but I am anxious to meet it. There are three Ministries concerned with this Regulation—the Home Department, as explosives authority; the Ministry of Supply, represented by the Parliamentary Secretary, who own a great part of the explosives; and the Ministry of Transport who deal with the harbour authorities, and so on. The Minister of Transport makes the order for us. I am sorry that we are not all represented, but two of us are here and I do not think that that is bad.
I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman realises that I am not making what is becoming an accustomed complaint about the Minister not being in his place. I gave previous notice to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport because he is responsible for these rules which were published a week ago. According to the Explanatory Note, the rules are circulated because they appear to the Minister of Transport to implement the provisions of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.
There are very strict safety rules, so strict that the master of a ship is entitled to refuse to receive explosives if he is not satisfied that the provisions of the Regulation have been fully carried out. That is perfectly proper. A master cannot run the risk of losing his ship simply because someone has been slack. The document says that the rules apply to all British ships registered in the United Kingdom.
Suppose that one of the Service Departments wants to send some ammunition to Korea. I do not know what type of ship normally carries ammunition, but I should imagine that if it were a small consignment it might go to the Far East in a freighter. Suppose that the ammunition is improperly loaded or that it is not marked in accordance with these rules. If the master says that he will not take the ammunition, then it is open to whichever Government Department is affected to say to the captain, "You have forgotten Regulation 76."
I hope the Home Secretary will give this consideration. If I am right, this Defence Regulation by a curious chance invalidates the new rules which have been brought in under the Merchant Shipping Act, in conformity with an international convention. I make this point partly because the handling of ammunition is a very important matter; safety of this kind cannot be treated lightly. But I also make a constitutional point of some importance: that if these Defence Regulations are left indefinitely in their present form there is bound to be trouble of this kind. It might be argued that "nothing in any restriction imposed by or under any Act" meant any Act passed up to that date; but as the Defence Regulation is reintroduced year in year out, I am sure the courts would interpret it as meaning any Act that was in force at each successive time when the regulation was brought into effect.
This Regulation has never been used. There is no ammunition except Army and defence ammunition. There really is not any need for this Regulation, and it does have the effect of excluding the most important form of ammunition. I would be grateful if the Home Secretary could give an answer on this, and particularly happy if he could give an assurance that he will look into it very carefully in all its ramifications—the United States forces, atomic energy, the safety of troopships, and so on. Perhaps he could come back to the House with a more satisfactory way of handling this very important matter.
I wish to reinforce the point that has been made by my hon. Friends the Members for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) and Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), and to emphasise the importance we on this side attach to this Regulation. Both my hon. Friends have explained the grave matters we are dealing with in this Regulation. I am sure it is within the knowledge of the Government Departments concerned, particularly the Service Departments, whom we are glad to see here in the persons of the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty and the Under-Secretary for Air.
I am sorry the Minister of Transport is not here, because, although it may be that the Home Office is prepared to take the responsibility for explosives, in fact the Minister of Transport is responsible for the safety of the ports and harbours. These are very serious tasks that fall to him, and his Department should be represented by him or the Parliamentary Secretary so that they might hear the views we have to put on these matters—for the Minister of Transport is statutorily responsible for making an order. I make a protest that neither the Minister of Transport nor the Parliamentary Secretary is here, particularly since the observations of my hon. Friends are directed especially to him, more even than to the Home Secretary.
Before the war there were written into the byelaws and local Acts of nearly every harbour authority stringent regulations concerning the movement of explosives in and around ports, for obvious and necessary reasons. Ports and harbours are mostly situated in extremely densely populated areas in the commercial centres of large cities, and one has only to reflect upon the situation of the Royal Albert Docks, the Surrey Docks, and the docks at Liverpool, Birkenhead, Southampton, and Hull, from all of which ports ammunition is now being moved.
One has only to reflect upon the nature of the cities and centres of communication to realise how extremely wise the port and harbour authorities were to insist upon making the most stringent regulations concerning the handling of explosives. Where there has been laxity in their operation, the most frightful consequences have taken place. I do not want to comment on the accident at Gosport, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford referred, but there was a similar accident at Gibraltar which resulted in loss of life.
The most striking example in recent years of the catastrophe that can arise from laxity in the handling and movement of explosives was at Bombay in January, 1945, which those of us who were out there at the time—and I happened to be serving with the East Indies Fleet—remember caused a shudder to go through the whole sub-continent, so great was the loss of life and the damage to property that resulted.
Having put the matter in that background, I want to ask the Government why, having suspended, by means of this Regulation, the safety precautions which port and harbour authorities in this country have built up over many years, they have put nothing in their place. If my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford is right, and I am relying upon him, there has been no order under Paragraph 1 of this Regulation which will provide for safety in the regulating, shipping, handling, storage and movement of ammunition and explosives, although the Government have relaxed other restrictions that were imposed.
It seems to me that this is another most valuable discussion, despite the absence of the Minister of Transport and his Parliamentary Secretary, in order to bring out into the light of day what we have not had for some years—a discussion on the possible consequences of the situation. It is the case that the port and harbour authorities of this country are very concerned about the absence of an order made to provide for their safety. They feel that they are at the moment at the mercy of the Government and will have to throw themselves upon the Government if any substantial catastrophe should take place.
I do not wish to be alarmist about this, but it must be obvious to everyone from the regulations that the port and harbour authorities had built up for themselves before the war, and which were suspended by the Government during the war, that they valued this protection very highly, and indeed compelled the Service Departments to go to isolated harbours round the coast for the loading and discharging of explosives. It took the handling of these highly dangerous weapons away from our crowded cities and industrial areas into places like the West Coast of Scotland and the West Coast of Wales, where they could be handled with comparative safety.
I know of the very stringent precautions that are voluntarily undertaken by the masters of ships, by the owners and by those in the Service Departments, and, indeed, by everybody handling these particular matters. They are very precise in their handling of them, but the fact remains that the Government, at the moment, are requiring the Service Departments to use the main ports and harbours of this country for the handling and conveyance of explosives in a way in which they did not require them to do during the war, with potential consequences of catastrophe which the Government must recognise.
There is a duty on the Government to respond to the demands of the port and harbour authorities who know the risks being run in the centres of our commercial cities both to life and property. There is nothing which would prevent the Minister of Transport from sitting down with the port and harbour authorities and making an order, as he is entitled to do under paragraph (1) of this Regulation, so that their fears may be allayed and their responsibility more clearly defined, and so that they will not be left in the position in which they are today.
Now that we have the North Atlantic Treaty Powers working in close collaboration with us, we have large-scale exercises on the Continent and in the Atlantic and the North Sea—we have just finished "Exercise Mainbrace"—there are Allied ships of foreign nations using our ports and bringing in ammunition and explosives of all sorts without any of the advantage of the protections we had in peace-time because they have been suspended by this Regulation. There seems to us to be a strong case for the overhauling of this Regulation, and the making of an order which will give greater protection to the port and harbour authorities and, just as important, to the commercial interests which frequent the harbours and ports. It would also protect the lives of those industrial workers who live in these densely populated areas.
I wish to emphasise that their safety is not being jeopardised by any slackness in the movement of ammunition which I have ever seen, but because the Government have not clearly defined the responsibilities of the authorities. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford is to be congratulated on initiating this discussion, and I hope the Government will try to allay the fears which many of us have felt for a long time, although we may not have given expression to them.
I appreciate why the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has said that this is a serious matter, and I am very glad to be able to reassure him on something which would otherwise have seriously troubled his conscience. He was at the Ministry of Transport when this Regulation was in operation, and I am sure that if, when he was at the Ministry, he had seen the conditions he has described to us now he would have done something about it. The fact is that he has been completely misinformed about the effect of the Regulation. I am sure that neither he nor his Minister would have allowed it to continue in that way.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) suggested that the Regulation was unnecessary and, therefore, useless, because the position was covered by Regulation 2BA. He will appreciate that Regulation 2BA deals with an entirely different point. It gives power to control the keeping, buying and selling, and does not cover the shipping or handling or conveyance. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, said at one point in his speech that an order had been made under this Regulation; but later, when he returned to this point, he said that an order had not been made. But, of course, the Government Explosives in Harbours Order was made in 1939, the day after war started.
Let us look at the effect of that Order because it reflects on the other points upon which doubt has been expressed. The Order begins:
The Minister of Transport may by Order make such provision as appears to him to be required in the interests of safety for regulating shipping, handling, storage, and conveyance. …
It will be appreciated by right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite who have held office that the effect of the phrase:
as appears to be required in the interests of safety
is to limit the Minister's order-making powers to safety regulations. That is the effect of those lines.
Of course the Order which was made said that:
Notwithstanding any restriction imposed by or under any Act in relation to the shipping, unshipping, handling, storage, or conveyance of ammunition, explosives or inflammable substances, the following provisions shall apply to the loading and unloading, storage and conveyance within all harbours in the United Kingdom of ammunition or explosives held for the service of a Government Department.
The hon. Gentleman for Bristol, South-East at one moment appeared to refer to this Order, but I cannot conceive that he has seen it, otherwise he would not have made the speech he did. He went on to raise a point which, if it had had substance, would have been a serious
one; but, of course, he then said that no safety provisions could be applied to the two categories mentioned in paragraph (2) of the Regulation. If I may refer him to that paragraph, it says:
Nothing in any restriction imposed by or under any Act in relation to the area of any harbour authority or canal or inland navigation. …
The point is that that is related to the area of any harbour authority, canal, or inland navigation undertakers, and therefore it does not apply as a general exclusion of the
shipping, unshipping, handling, storage or conveyance in the service of His Majesty or under instructions given on behalf of His Majesty of ammunition, explosives or inflammable substances … or for purposes of defence.
It was believed that that operated as an exclusion of any safety provisions from explosives on Government account. Of course, it does not do anything of the sort, and that is borne out by the Order made in 1939 which has been in operation ever since, and has controlled the matter.
That is why I am anxious to get it clear, and I hoped to do so by intervening at this stage. As I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman—if I followed him correctly, because these are difficult hours of the morning for both of us, and probably for everbody else, too—he says that this provision in Defence Regulation 76 does not invalidate the Merchant Shipping Regulations because Defence Regulation 76 is limited to the area of any harbour authority, canal or inland navigation undertaking in the United Kingdom, and so on. Is it true to say that, although it does not invalidate the Merchant Shipping Regulations in so far as they apply to the areas referred to in paragraph (2) of Defence Regulation 76?
I have not read these particular Merchant Shipping Regulations, but I have read merchant shipping regulations all my life and they usually apply to the conditions on ships and the duties of the people on the ships. They do not usually apply to the area of the harbour. It is not a subject matter about which one usually makes merchant shipping regulations.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has set out to destroy my whole case and I listened very carefully to see where I had slipped up, but it seems to me that he has slipped up, and if I point it out I think it will help. These Regulations dealing with dangerous goods under the Merchant Shipping Act are dealing specifically, throughout at least half their coverage, with the loading and unloading of dangerous goods. Earlier my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) produced a great pile of these Regulations relating to the Merchant Marine; he read them and we laughed; most of them cover what ships should do while at sea. But with dangerous goods the critical moment is at the moment of loading and unloading. This Order, I think, makes the matter quite clear because it deals with territorial waters in Portsmouth Harbour; it says so. Therefore, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman says they do not usually apply to the area of the harbour he has given away most of the case to which I was drawing his attention.
The hon. Gentleman is still, in my opinion, entirely wrong. One thing which is always done by regulations under the Merchant Shipping Act is to provide inter alia for the loading and unloading of ships, which, as he correctly says, usually takes place in harbour. That is the subject matter of Merchant Shipping Regulations, which under the Merchant Shipping Acts with which I am familiar go back to 1894. This Regulation is not dealing with the ship; it is dealing with restrictions imposed in relation to the area, and restrictions in relation to the area are excluded in two categories. But that does not apply to a ship.
The Regulations the hon. Gentleman has in mind are Regulations which are imposed according to the different ways in which the duties involve various persons responsible for the ship. That is why the fear he expressed on paragraph (2) is one that has no basis. That is made perfectly clear, because the Order made—which I gather the hon. Gentleman has not had the chance of seeing—under the Regulation applies specifically to explosives on Government account. I raise this point because it is important that an answer should be given when it is suggested that the grounds on which we have proceeded since the beginning of the war have been entirely wrong.
I always remember that in my own profession a judgment of the House of Lords put that very succinctly in relation to an Industrial accident, when the Court of Appeal in England suddenly said that the well-known action concerning a workman in breach of statutory duty did not lie by reason of a provision in the Workmen's Compensation Act which, I think, at that time had existed for 30 years. As the grandfather of my colleague, the Under-Secretary, put it in his speech: "It is somewhat unusual when the whole wisdom is hidden from everyone for 30 years and suddenly revealed, even to the Court of Appeal."
With all respect to the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, who made a most delightful speech on the matter, it would be rather unusual if this Order had been made, and seen by so many different people at the Ministry of Transport who were dealing with the matter, and the invalidity of the Order had been passed by all those people, but had been suddenly revealed to him.
On the broad point which the hon. Gentleman put, namely, the question of safety, I want to make two points. If it were not for the provisions of this Regulation and the power to make orders under it, the movement of Service explosives would, of course, be subject to certain orders; and one has had to balance—and this is the point to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East rightly drew attention—the cessation of those local orders against the greater convenience of speed. Therefore, we have had to see—the duty is on us to do so—that under this Regulation and the Order we do achieve the same amount of safety. I entirely agree with that.
I go further. The hon. Gentleman would realise that I was going to say this before he made his speech: if he watches me he will see I am referring to the brief with which I have been provided. I say that to reassure him. The point is one that is being considered, and the Home Office and the Ministry of Supply are discussing the arrangements to be made in order that the right kind of control may be provided under the permanent law, and that Regulation 76 may be allowed to lapse.
I am much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but it is a little difficult to understand that my speech was so wrong in view of what he has been saying during the last three minutes. But can he, then, say that the port and harbour authorities are satisfied with what is proposed to be done? Has he had any recent representations from them about the adequacy of the existing arrangements, which are less stringent than they used to be?
No representations have been brought to me. The hon. Gentleman understands why I put it that way—that they are not within my knowledge. But discussions are going on between the two Departments, and I am sure that the relevant people have been consulted.
Just as an annotation to that I should like to say that, of course, it will be appreciated that Regulation 76 would in any event have to be continued until the Visiting Forces Act can be brought into force, because otherwise it would be impossible to provide for the situation, and to decide how to manage the exemptions which have to be given.
Therefore, I hope hon. Gentlemen will not take it amiss if I have argued the point rather acidly, and that they will blame it on the hour of the morning rather than on any feeling on my part about the way it was presented to me. It was rather an important matter, and I tried to deal with it and to make clear that there was not this gap in our safety provisions. I think that it really meets the point which the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) had in mind, and with which we all sympathise. My Department and the Ministry of Supply are engaged in trying to find the best form of permanent legislation.
Surely a large number of ports have bye-laws prohibiting the discharge or loading of explosives. Is the Minister now taking power to abrogate the bye-laws of the harbour authorities so that he can do as he likes? I have been associated with a port where the loading of munitions had to be taken into the roads. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman abrogates the bye-laws will he have power to stop that? There is another point which has not been raised today. In the port, gas cylinders, which are just as dangerous as ammunition, have been loaded during the last two or three years. Do the Regulations apply to the loading of gas cylinders as well as to ammunition? These cylinders were being loaded to be sunk at sea, but they were being handled by dockers.
If the House will allow me to answer, I would say on the first point that we are not introducing this Regulation. It is war-time legislation. To the extent that it deals with local bye-laws it deals with them in relation to the area of any port or harbour. It deals with explosives on Government account for the purposes of defence. With regard to gas, we may have to look into that point. I am also looking into the question of better safety arrangements in the matter of petroleum.
I should like to pursue the point which has been raised that that Regulation 76 involves the merchant shipping rules to the same extent as they apply to ships in harbour. The Minister stonewalled over this suggestion with his usual ability. But it was clear to anyone who knows how able he is in dealing with these matters that he is not briefed on this point. His first answer was that the merchant shipping rules did not apply to ships in harbour.
I may be wrong because it is early in the morning, but what I clearly understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say was that the merchant shipping rules did not apply to ships in harbour. That was disproved by the quotation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) from the rules themselves. I am glad to accept what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says about that, but he said, secondly, that Regulation 76 applies to the area and the area only, and on that he bases his case.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will follow me a little carefully, which is difficult for us all at this stage, to the area of any harbour or canal authority it excepts the shipping, unshipping and handling of Her Majesty's ammunition. It is, in other words, excepting from the area the shipping in the area, and the other exception is the exception of the conveyance of ammunition in any vessel, which shows quite clearly that shipping is included in the area, that the area includes the harbour and the shipping in the harbour.
Therefore, the contention which the right hon. and learned Gentleman put forward, that it is the area exclusive of the shipping in the area, cannot apply. This point was raised by my hon. Friend and mentioned specifically to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. He has had the opportunity to look this up, to bring forward the precise and detailed explanation for this, and we have not had it. This is the responsibility of the Minister of Transport. He has had notice. We are here this morning at this ridiculous hour, dealing with these rather complex Regulations, owing to the inefficiency of the Leader of the House. It is the least we can expect in circumstances of that kind, when the business of the country has to be debated at this hour of the morning—
I think we are entitled to some explanation with regard to the last point raised. I had hoped that we should have heard something from the right hon. and learned Gentleman in the course of his speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) informed us that he told the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport that he was going to raise certain detailed points. It would have been courteous if we could have been told why the hon. Gentleman is not with us tonight at this stage. My hon. Friend having given notice, if the hon. Gentleman has had, for Departmental or other reasons, to leave the House and go on to other duties, I should have thought it would have been possible for him to give the right hon. and learned Gentleman the answers to the specific points.
The answers did not seem to us to be as detailed or as authoritative—I do not want to use the word in any offensive sense—as they would have been had they come from the representative of the Ministry concerned.
We have been treated with great courtesy by the Government throughout the night, and I would like to say that we recognise that. After all, I have sat in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's position on a similar occasion, and I know how difficult it is to persuade Under-Secretaries and Parliamentary Secretaries to remain in case they are required. We do not expect the Minister of Transport to be here; we understand the right hon. Gentleman is ill; but, notice having been given by my hon. Friend to the Parliamentary Secretary, I think that the hon. Gentleman might have seen fit to have been here during the discussion.
I am very sorry, and I must assume the blame. What we did was to prepare a list, occupying three pages of foolscap—I have it here—and setting out who was to deal with items as they arose. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport was here a couple of hours ago, and I think it will be agreed that he gave a full and careful account of what was required. I use no other adjective than that he thought it safe to leave this particular matter to me and, if there have been any shortcomings, the House must put the blame on my shoulders and not consider my hon. Friend to be discourteous; because the arrangement was as I have explained.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has disposed of me on his own, but may I say that I thought it courteous to give notice to the Parliamentary Secretary? The hon. Gentleman told me that he was not responsible, but did say that he would be on the bench. There seems earlier to have been some joke about my age.
Well, I accept what has been said. The Parliamentary Secretary did not wish to be discourteous, but I am not satisfied with the answer which has been given to us. The provisions about working under the Merchant Shipping (Dangerous Goods) Rules, 1952, are concerned with being restricted in the area of a port or harbour, and state:
It shall be unlawful for dangerous goods, being goods contained in a vehicle, receptacle or package, to be taken on board a ship to which this Rule applies for carriage in that ship unless the vehicle, receptacle or package in which the goods are contained is clearly marked with a distinctive label or stencil purporting to indicate the nature of the danger to which the goods give rise, and if the goods are taken on board the ship at any port in the United Kingdom or within the territorial waters of the United Kingdom, a label or stencil purporting to indicate the identity of the goods.
I may be wrong, but I can only say that I am not satisfied. I would say that this rule was a restriction imposed in an Act concerning a harbour, and explosives on Government account could be
excluded from this Regulation. But I thank the Home Secretary for his courtesy to a layman, and a young one at that.
I can understand why the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport did not deal with this matter; it was too difficult for him, and he was right to leave it with his right hon. and learned Friend who has handled it with his usual charm and skill. But, I still claim that the Regulation is drawn in an obscure way. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said he will look into the matter, and I accept that, asking him at the same time to consider how it affects the Visiting Forces Act. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I think it was the intention that the Amendment in my name, to leave out line 18, the next Amendment in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), to leave out line 20, the following Amendment in my name to leave out line 21, and the Amendment in the name of my hon. and learned Friend to leave out line 24, should be considered together.
Owing to the difficulties under which we labour with regard to time, it is not the intention of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch and myself to move the four to which I drew attention. But I want to make the utmost protest against the limitations under which we labour in having to take these matters at the end of a very full day's business and to say that the Government really must not expect that another year we shall be content not to move Amendments which we have put on the Order Paper and which Mr. Speaker has accepted.
This, of course, will mean that we now have to start consideration of the next batch of Amendments with that in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice). I think it a great pity that we should not have been able to discuss these other Regulations, which hon. Members in the present Government always discussed at great length in the past.
May I say in regard to the Amendment in my name that I have taken the same course as my right hon. Friend, but I also would like to make the strongest possible protest at the inability of the House to have any opportunity to discuss these very important matters, all of which deal with the liberty of the subject? The only reason why I am asking your permission and that of the House not to move these Amendments is that there are so many important matters on the Order Paper and it is important that the House should get on to their discussion, but I think it a scandal and a disgrace that the House should be treated in this way.
I beg to move, in line 25, to leave out "ninety," and to insert "ninety-one."
The object of this Amendment is to ascertain from the Attorney-General whether he is quite satisfied that he and his colleagues are justified in asking for a further term of operation for Regultion 90. This Regulation was first formulated in 1940 and it was continued under the Labour Government in the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, and the Emergency Laws (Transitional Powers) Act, 1946, and the Act of 1947. I am ready to recognise that there was a very good case for having that Regulation at one time. It was obviously necessary during the war and we thought it justifiable and necessary to continue it in operation for a period of years after the war. But we have always regarded with some anxiety some words which appear in paragraph (1) of the Regulation.
The purport of this Amendment is to ask the Attorney-General whether he feels satisfied, acting as the guardian of the administration of our criminal law, that there is still a sufficient case in 1952 for retaining this Regulation with those words in it. The Regulation creates the
offence of attempting and conspiring with any other person to commit offences against the Defence Regulations. It makes it an offence for any person to do any act:
preparatory to the commission of an offence against any of these Regulations. …
Those are the words about which I and my colleagues feel some anxiety. They obviously served a purpose during the stringent period of the war and thereafter, but is the Attorney-General still satisfied that they are necessary as part of our criminal code? These Defence Regulations are part of our criminal code. Does the Attorney-General still think it necessary to have words which make it an offence not merely to conspire or to attempt to do something which is prohibited but which go further and make it an offence to do any act preparatory to the commission of any such offence?
The words are extremely far-reaching. They go earlier in date to the beginning of the attempt. They go earlier in date to the actual formulating of a conspiracy. They seem to relate to the doing of something at a stage before the actual beginning of the offence itself. The effect of the words is made even more grave by the next paragraph, which makes it a further offence to assist any other person to commit an offence against paragraph (1).
I should like the Attorney-General to say whether during the last year he has had reason to make use of these words; whether anybody has been prosecuted for the offence of doing an act preparatory to the commission of some transgression against the Regulation; what was the result of the prosecution, if there was one, and whether any appeal was taken against it. Also I should like to know whether the Court of Criminal Appeal has felt difficulty in construing those words. If the Attorney-General has not found it necessary to use these words and if the courts have not been called upon to interpret them, then it is now time, many years after the war, no longer to continue their existence in this Regulation.
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that Regulations creating offences should, so far as possible, be looked at and, so far as it is necessary to retain them, should be embodied as part of the permanent criminal law. I would say that there was a case for some years after the war for retaining this Regulation, but now, in 1952, I suggest that if the Attorney-General has had no occasion to invoke them, if the courts have not had to interpret these words, and if experience has not shown that it is necessary to have recourse to them, there is no satisfactory reason for continuing them.
I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to give us information about the number of prosecutions which hinged upon these words. If he feels on reflection that it is not really necessary to retain them, I hope that he will agree that this Amendment should be accepted.
I support the view of my right hon. and learned Friend. In the words of this Regulation,
any act preparatory to the commission of an offence,
we have all the objectionable features that so often attach to emergency provisions. They are very wide in their effect and they are far too comprehensive. It would certainly be a great satisfaction to us to have some information on what use has been made of these provisions by the Government, and a greater satisfaction to learn that they were contemplating a partial revocation of the Regulation so that this provision could be eliminated.
May I draw attention to the fact that this Regulation is applicable to Scotland also? I have a number of pertinent questions to put, but we are without the services of the Scottish Law Officer. In fact, it is so long since we have seen the Scottish Law Officer that I am beginning to forget what he looks like. It is a grave reflection on the Government that they cannot provide a Law Officer to answer Scottish questions.
I express my thanks to the right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend (Sir Frank Soskice) for his giving me notice of the points he was going to raise. That is of great assistance; it is only what I would have expected of him. I think I can shorten matters very much by saying I was very glad to consider the point. I agree most heartily that criminal provisions contained in Regulations of this kind should be most carefully scrutinised, and that care should be taken, so far as possible, to limit these special provisions to cases in which they are absolutely necessary. It will be appreciated, however, that it is not possible to amend these Regulations so as to put them into better form, and there are, therefore, cases where it is necessary to retain a Regulation if there is a part of it, which is not separable, that is really necessary.
I agree, on consideration of the matter, with regard to the reference to doing acts
preparatory to the commission of an offence.
that it is not desirable. In answer to the question by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), it is a fact that "act preparatory" occurs in the Official Secrets Act, 1911. Whether that is a respectable parentage or not, I will not discuss at the moment. At any rate, so far as this Regulation is concerned, I entirely agree that it is not a desirable feature. So far as I know, it has never been relied upon; certainly it has never been relied upon successfully in any prosecution, and I agree it should disappear as soon as possible.
It will be necessary, however, to take special steps to revoke, by Order in Council, the provision which makes that particular part of the wording applicable. All that I can say to the House is that I do intend to have steps taken to revoke that provision by Order in Council as soon as possible.
I beg to move, in line 29, to leave out "seventeen E."
This Amendment has been put down for the purpose of obtaining from the learned Attorney-General some explanation for the continuance of this Regulation. This Regulation is one with which I had a good deal to do during the war period by reason of the position I then occupied, and it was of very great value in helping soldiers serving overseas in connection with such matters as the proceedings which they were often compelled to bring in the magistrates' courts. It provides that there shall be an extension of time within which proceedings can be taken by soldiers serving overseas under the separation and maintenance Acts.
I find it difficult to believe that the continuance of this Regulation is justified at the present moment, when it would be quite possible, under the existing legal aid arrangements in the Army, to ensure that the soldier is sent back to this country in time to enable him to take such proceedings as may be necessary, without the extension of time provided for. There is much more that could be said on this subject, but it is quite fantastic that, at this time of the morning—4.42 a.m.—it should be necessary to argue this Amendment to the extent which it deserves to be argued. I therefore suggest that the learned Attorney-General might be able to give us some really adequate reason why he wants this particular Regulation continued.
I beg to second the Amendment.
In this instance, it would appear that we are dealing with a provision which it is desirable should take a permanent place in the statute law of this country. This is a Regulation which affords a very real assistance to members of the Forces serving overseas, and, as there are still large numbers of British citizens concerned, and as, so far as we can see, that is likely to remain the case for many years, this would seem, I repeat, to be a provision which it is desirable should find a place permanently in our statute law. This Amendment provides the Government with an opportunity of stating what their intentions are in that regard.
I beg to move, in line 31, to leave out "II"
I gather it would be for the convenience of the House if we discussed this Amendment together with the following Amendments to leave out "III" and to leave out "twenty-six," although we may have to take them separately for voting purposes.
They concern the Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) Regulations, 1939, which deal with the various marketing schemes. We know that the present Government came into office having declared themselves vigorously on the subject of marketing schemes; that they were in favour of going ahead with new producer marketing schemes where they were submitted by the industry and of resuscitating, certainly, the Milk Marketing Board, and possibly some others.
Regulation 26 is the Regulation under which the Milk Marketing Board is suspended from its marketing powers and made answerable in all details to the Ministry of Food. The Regulation sets up a complete duplicate of operators and operations. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture wrote a pamphlet on agricultural marketing, which was published in 1951, in which he discussed this very thing. I wish to make two short quotations from it, not because I want to score points or because it cannot be said that we did not have time to do it; but because, after hon. Gentlemen opposite came to power, having declared themselves so firmly in favour of doing something with the least delay, they are under a special obligation to justify themselves when they do indulge in delay.
On page 39 of the pamphlet the hon. Gentleman came to his conclusions, which, I must say, did not seem to be very conclusive:
The conditions which justified State trading in war-time have now disappeared. There is no doubt that the public interest could be better served by restoring the trading powers to the traders.
On page 41, he said:
To summarise, it is in the public interest that the pre-war boards be restored to their full trading powers without further delay.
That was, I repeat, written in 1951, after an extensive and exhaustive study of the subject. The hon. Gentleman has had rather more than a year since then and still we have no action at all. And the Government are now asking us to renew for a further period the very Regulation which prevents the Milk Marketing Board from getting on with the job which, I agree, they did extremely efficiently in the period when they had full possession of their powers.
We are asking the hon. Gentleman to justify the delay which has already occurred in putting into operation what he declared so firmly should be done in 1951, and to justify the further request that there should be another year's delay during which these interminable talks can continue. It would be an abuse of the hospitality of the House to enter into a lengthy discussion about marketing boards and policy, but there is little doubt that a successful milk policy, and particularly the development of other forms of consuming milk other than drinking, will not be developed until we give back to this board its marketing powers.
Not only do I believe that the Milk Marketing Board is essential to a good milk policy, but I think it is essential to a good livestock policy far we cannot afford an easy distinction between beef and milk herds. The two must go hand in hand, and the development of a good livestock policy is hanging fire because we are not going ahead with milk policy at the same time.
Another point which is perhaps more important is that the present situation is very expensive. The Milk Marketing Board have a very efficient accounting and office arrangement at Thames Ditton. They are, in fact, doing the job, while the Ministry of Food maintain a little army of people who do really very little else but check the army of people which the Milk Marketing Board employ. I do not know how big the milk division of the Ministry is now, but it is not negligible.
Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us how many officers are employed in the milk division, how many are engaged in checking the operations of the Milk Marketing Board, and what the cost is of the division to the country because of this duplication. We could get rid of the duplication and some of the cost if we were prepared to take a decision here and now. The hon. Gentleman will remind me that we had this under consideration for some years. I repeat what I said before, that we were considering it in years nearer to the war and were starting from scratch.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have come in to start work where we left off, with the additional argument that they had already so clearly made up their minds before they came to power and had clearly declared what it was needed to be done. It is difficult to see what has prevented them doing it in the past 12 months, and what makes them want a further 12 months. I find it difficult to believe that they should be granted an extension of this Regulation, and I hope for a convincing case from the Parliamentary Secretary, or a frank avowal that the Regulation is not required.
Parts II and III of the 1939 Regulation deal with the old bacon and livestock schemes. Here there is a very different case, but a very strong case indeed, for not proceeding with these Regulations. The bacon marketing scheme, which was put into cold storage when the war broke out, had never been a very successful marketing scheme. Various arrangements were made to keep it technically in being. A number of people have to remain on the board; there has to be a certain quorum, I think two; and there are provisions about payment. No one who knows any-think about this subject can possibly imagine that the pre-war bacon schemes can come back at all in their pre-war form. The amendments to the 1949 Act, for one thing, preclude it. It just could not be resuscitated.
For another thing, thought in the industry has gone a long way beyond that; it was never very widely accepted before; there was a good deal of doubt and dispute about it, and the recent National Farmers' Union Working Party report makes it quite clear that the resuscitation of this bacon scheme or the livestock scheme is not now in accord with general thinking. If we got rid of them altogether we should be doing what everybody concerned with the industry knows has got to be done. It really in- volves dropping these two Regulations and then taking the necessary positive action to wind up the two schemes.
I am sure that there is no argument that can be adduced in support of keeping these two schemes in cold storage except, "We might as well keep them there until we get firm future decisions about policy." I do not think that is a very good thing. We were told the other night by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury with a great flourish that the Government believe in getting rid of any Regulations that do not make sense. On that occasion I thought they got rid of a very good one for a very poor reason. Here we have two which do not make sense and we ought to get rid of them.
In addition, at the moment they are costing somebody some money; some expenditure is involved. The Parliamentary Secretary may very well say it is not coming out of the public purse. Well, it must be coming from the funds which were built up, and those funds belong to the industry; either they ought to be returned or they ought to be kept for use in a much more positive and progressive way.
The maintenance of two of these Regulations in this form is rather silly. The Milk Marketing Board suspension Regulation is a very bad thing and ought to be ended. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us tonight that he will take positive action to deal with the first two, and that he proposes, for very convincing reasons, either that we can afford to leave the Regulation for a short while or else to withdraw it altogether and then let the Milk Marketing Board revert to the position all of us who are concerned with agriculture here tonight know it ought to have.
I want to join my right hon. Friend in asking what is the justification for the continuance of these Regulations. The Regulations had one purpose, and that was the war-time suspension of the marketing boards. It is true that the cases now differ as between the Livestock Act, the Bacon Marketing Board and the Milk Marketing Board, all of which came into operation in October, 1933. These boards were placed in cold storage at the end of the war and remain there still. These marketing arrangements have been under continuous examination since the end of the war. Since 1945 we have had a careful examination made by the Lucas Committee. It is true that neither the Government nor the Opposition of that day accepted the conclusions of that Committee, but it did make a careful examination of these marketing arrangements and produced a body of evidence which will be of value to us.
The whole of the arrangements for marketing have been under close examination in the light of all our prewar experience, and the Ministry and the Ministers have had to consider all these arrangements in the light of the 1947 Act, which gave a guaranteed price and security of market to the farmers. Of course, it made it absolutely necessary that the pre-war marketing board system should in fact be slightly adjusted to fit in with the new situation created by the Act of 1947, but we did have, in 1949, the Agricultural Marketing Act which gave to the Minister new powers which met the new situation created by the 1947 Act. The Minister's authority was greatly increased; his powers were widened in order that the consumer might be protected in a situation in which we had injected a subsidy as between the producer and the eventual consumer of the article being sold.
When we were in Government we were, as my right hon. Friend has said, told from time to time by the then Opposition, by those who spoke on agricultural matters, that the Tories favoured a return to the producer marketing boards. They said, "We favour a return of those boards provided there are certain safeguards introduced." They mentioned particularly, in the Tory Agricultural Charter, the necessity for ensuring that there would be a greater degree of supervision by Parliament and of the responsibility of Ministers to it. That Charter was dated June, 1948. It is quite clear to me that minds were already made up on the Tory side on this point of the restoration of certain safeguards added to the producer marketing boards. The Act of 1949 did, in fact, make provision for that legislative protection which was mentioned in the Charter.
In the debate which we had in the House on the Second Reading of the Agricultural Marketing Act the present Minister of Agriculture, speaking for the Tory Front Opposition Bench said:
We are still firmly convinced that the most economical means of handling and marketing home produce is through the medium of producers' marketing boards and that the basic principles of the Agricultural Marketing Acts of 1931 and 1933 should be maintained for this purpose.
Later, he said:
When the time comes for Members on this side of the House to resume the responsibility of government—and that time will come—we shall continue to encourage producers to use the facilities of the Agricultural Marketing Acts for the efficient production and marketing of their products."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January, 1949; Vol. 460, c. 197–203.]
There was no ambiguity about it. Minds were clearly made up firmly on this point. But we have, as also my right hon. Friend said, this pamphlet, which was written by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary who, I believe, is to reply to the debate. I must say that it appeared to me to be an excellent summary of the position under the Marketing Acts.
It is true that it gave rather more credit to the Tories than they deserved, and rather less to the Labour Acts which have been passed in this connection. We were told—and although this was called a discussion pamphlet this particular part of it certainly was an assertion, and not something which was for discussion—that
Although it is not easy to devise a satisfactory method by which the Marketing Boards could handle the deficiency payment, the difficulty is not insuperable, and there is no doubt that a solution could be found when the decision on policy has been taken.
Therefore, clearly, all they had to do was to take a decision on policy and it would be easy to find a solution of the problem of the deficiency payment. If that was the case, why has that decision not been taken? They have had 12 months in which to do it, and to go on from that to giving the Department the job of finding a solution which is apparently an easy one to find.
There is in the pamphlet a number of other things with which I will not deal, as my hon. Friend touched upon them; but there is no doubt that their minds were made up, and that people who read that pamphlet were led to believe that this was a matter easy of solution. At the back of the book were given notes for discussion group leaders, who were told, in those notes, that they should be careful to keep the discussion away from vague generalities, and within the scope of the experience of their members.
The Minister of Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary ought themselves to keep away from the vague generalities which we have had up to now and concentrate on the business of providing a set of marketing schemes which will give us what we want, give the producers what they want, and under which I believe they would be able to make improvements in their methods of marketing and production.
It seems strange to me that the right hon. Gentleman, should tell the Scarborough Conference this year that the best way of forming producer marketing boards to meet present day needs was not easy to find. That came after the story we had been told about how easy it would be to do the job providing the policy decision were taken. I should add that he went on bravely to say that the Government was determined that a solution should be found, and found quickly. The Milk Marketing Board has expressed eagerness to resume its functions. We are right in asking where lies the delay.
It is no good hon. Members asking why we did not do it. As far as I remember, we never suggested that all that was necessary was a policy decision and the solution of all these difficulties would come from that. We were nearer the war, and there was the fact that we recognised the difficulties; but the time has come when a decision ought to be taken and when, in regard to the Milk Marketing Board, control should be handed back with the addition of the safeguards made possible under the 1949 Act.
We have seen that the National Farmers' Union and interested members of the farming fraternity are anxious for clarification of the marketing position. Farmers are asking for an early decision, and marketing reform is obviously an urgent problem which in the national interest ought to be solved. The purpose of these Defence Regulations was, obviously, to weigh one national interest against another. The need for more food production and better methods of marketing with, if possible, cheaper distribution, is greater than the maintenance of these Regulations.
I understand that the Minister of Agriculture now has 13 wise men of farming to act as liaison between the counties and Whitehall. I wonder what the secret thoughts of the 13 wise men are at the moment about this position? My hon. Friend has been talking about the agricultural charter. I have taken the trouble, as a good Socialist, to read all the literature of my opponents and I have in my hand two documents written at different times, one in June, 1948, and the other a little later, about the position of marketing and the agricultural charter which was launched upon the world at the famous Welsh town of Llandudno, in 1948.
In one of these documents we were given the impression that the "wicked" Socialists were maintaining all these Regulations and limiting marketing purposely, and we were also given to understand that when the Conservatives got into power, in considering distribution and marketing they would:
oppose the continuation of the powers of the Ministry of Food … We believe that the permanent responsibility of the Government for seeing that the nation is properly fed can best be discharged in future by a partnership between the Ministry of Agriculture, as responsible for home food production, and the departments concerned with the consumer, distributor and overseas trade.
What opportunity of partnership for the Minister of Agriculture exists in these peremptory powers that even this House, after tonight, will not be able to discuss? The right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of Agriculture also said:
Efficient marketing can and should be provided in future by a further development of producers' organisations, both voluntary co-operatives and statutory Marketing Boards.
Here comes the nub:
We wish to see the local organisations of these bodies strengthened.
How can local organisations of these bodies be strengthened if the Government retains these powers? He continues:
In the stable and prosperous conditions which we believe our agricultural policy will provide, these producer bodies will be free—as they certainly were not free in the days of world economic depression before the war. … They must provide a full service of market intelligence and arrange for the storage or processing of temporary gluts.
We are told in the famous document which was issued four years before this one that
… the regulation of imports and the completion of the Marketing Act of 1931 by the Marketing Act of 1933 gave the impetus for which organised marketing had been waiting.
The agricultural world is waiting for that impetus now.
The farmer was at last given the chance to work under conditions of reasonable security. The Milk Marketing Boards were started forthwith and can bear comparison with any similar agricultural organisations in the world. The high milk output of this country before the war, and increase in the sales of liquid milk during the war—on which the whole of our war-time nutrition has pivoted—were made possible by the work of the producers' organisations. The positive achievements of the Marketing Boards have been underrated.
I believe, therefore, that following truthfully their own policy, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot honestly ask for these Regulations to go through tonight. I would ask the Government to look at this again. The main functions of the Marketing Boards, we are told, have been suspended. The Ministry of Food was formed for buying and sharing out the total available supplies under a fair system of rationing and price control so that the basic foods were within the financial and physical resources of every family in the land. At least, that was so when we were in power, but now it is rationing by the purse.
The Government condemns the very Regulations for which it seeks an extension this morning, and without further ado I urge the Parliamentary Secretary to withdraw them. The Government will not believe me because its supporters do not read their own literature. I have previously had to leave the Chamber to get into touch with that oracle, "Winnie Welcome," and I shall be forced to try to ring her up later this morning to ask what her policy is so far as these market- ing Boards and these Regulations are concerned. I support whole-heartedly my hon. Friends in the plea they have put forward.
I fear that I shall have to ask the House to reject these three Amendments, despite the eloquence of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). I will deal, first, with the Milk Marketing Board, to which the greater part of the argument has been directed. My right hon. Friend has said on more than one occasion that he hopes to see the powers of the Milk Marketing Board restored at an early date, and he has more than once declared his belief in the value of that body. This morning, I am happy to find myself joining him in that.
But to proceed with the subject of the Milk Marketing Board. The last statement by my right hon. Friend was on 13th November, when he stated, in answer to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd):
I can give an assurance that the Government are prepared to consider sympathetically schemes promoted under the Agricultural Marketing Acts, 1931–49, designed to meet current needs and requirements for the efficient and economic marketing of home produce.
Then, he said that each scheme would be considered on its merits, and went on to say that he had had three draft schemes—for apples and pears, herbage seeds, and peas—under consideration for some time. He added:
I propose to initiate discussions with the promoters without delay on two of these schemes with a view to their early presentation to the House. The issues raised by the application of the Milk Marketing Board for England and Wales for restoration of its marketing powers include the question of the method for implementing Part 1 of the Agriculture Act, 1947. These issues are being dealt with in the review of various aspects of long-term policy which I announced early this year and which I hope, in consultation with representatives of the industry, to carry a great deal further before next spring."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 78–79.]
Having acknowledged our interest in and our support for this development, may I say that I am delighted to find hon. Members of the Opposition declaring themselves in favour of it also. Occasionally, there have been doubts in some quarters about the wisdom of restoring these powers and it is encouraging to us, grappling with the difficult problem of finding a satisfactory form for that restoration, to have the support of all concerned.
I think it fair to remind the right hon. Member, although he tried to reduce the argument, that the application for the restoration of the trading powers of the board was made to his Administration in the early part of 1950. It is true that the pamphlet from which he read and which I wrote indicated that the powers could be restored soon after we took office, but we did suppose that in the 18 months or so when the right hon. Gentleman and his friends were governing and had received the application, they had done a great deal more work on it than we found they had done. The fact is that despite the right hon. Member and his friends having put the 1949 Act on the Statute Book the amount of work they actualy did on the application for the restoration of the powers of the board was extremely small.
This is a remarkable doctrine. I will not go into the question of what the hon. Gentleman found on the files; his opinion is as good as mine as far as the House is concerned. But will he tell me where, in the 53 pages of this pamphlet, he makes the categorical statement that the powers of the board should be restored straightway? Where does he refer to the work the Government have done?
We are not debating the pamphlet. If I were to include in the pamphlet every opinion and source of information it would be a great deal more than 50 pages. There is nothing in the comment of the right hon. Member which destroys my comment that it was reasonable to expect that he would have made some progress with the application made to his Administration. The fact is that my right hon. Friend and I are giving urgent attention to the question of restoring the powers of the board and that we have made some progress in the preparatory work. We are hopeful, on the lines my right hon. Friend has indicated, that there may be further progress to report in the next few months.
The right hon. Member asked a question about the cost of the board at present. As he will probably remember, the financial agreement between the Ministry of Food and the board is a fairly complicated one and I do not suppose the House would wish me to give details at this hour of the morning.
That is not what I asked What I want to know is if duplication exists in the Milk Division of the Ministry of Food. If he has not the figures the hon. Gentleman ought to have them. I want to know how many officials they employ to check the work of the Milk Division and what that costs, because that is on top of the £600,000.
I very much doubt whether my right hon. Friend would agree that there was duplication. If the right hon. Gentleman will put down a Question to my right hon. Friend I am sure that he will be given the best answer possible. The broad picture of the marketing of milk is that for the present we require this Regulation so that the Ministry of Food can continue with the arrangement until such time as we have worked out a solution satisfactory both to producers, consumers and the distributive trade, to restore the trading powers of the Milk Marketing Board.
The boards for the bacon industry and the livestock industry were also mentioned. The right hon. Gentleman said that these bodies no longer had a useful purpose and, therefore, should be wound up. It is true that the Bacon Board, the Pigs Board and the Bacon Development Board have been in cold storage ever since the beginning of the war and that the Livestock Commission has been suspended. But none of these bodies is costing public funds anything at present. The Bacon Board and the Pigs Board have very small expenses and, such as they are, they are paid out of their own funds. The Livestock Commission is completely suspended, only the powers remaining.
It has been thought by the Government, and indeed by previous Governments, that until such time as the future of livestock marketing has been decided—and it is a big and complicated subject—it would be wrong finally to wind up these boards even if there was a possibility that they might not be needed in future. It is for that reason that we feel, especially with regard to the two previous producer marketing boards which had an independent identity, that it is only fair to them to leave them legally in being until such time as the whole future of livestock marketing has been decided.
Even at this hour of the morning, not being particularly an agriculturist, I want to make a protest to the agriculturists. For 13 years they have had a body called the Bacon Development Board in what has been described as cold storage. I have just been looking at what that cold storage is, and a more unreal phantasmal existence I have never seen attributed to any public body before. It is just kept alive. It has an emergency committee that may be paid up to £100 a year if the Minister thinks it ought to have the money.
Surely, if the combined wisdom of successive Governments and successive Ministries cannot produce a more sensible expedient than to keep a body for 13 years in that state of ghostly existence, then there must be something wrong somewhere. The Ministry of Agriculture pullulates boards and commissions all over the place. In this instance, it might give way to its natural impulse and kill this board instead of keeping it officiously alive like this.
It is the most sinister comment on the British view of what research ought to be to see what the board—poor, ghostly thing—has by way of retaining powers. For 13 years it has been taking such steps as it thinks desirable to pre- serve its assets. It may have hired or let out its rooms, or the services of its staff; it may even have made some payments to them; but the only approach to an active function carried on by this extraordinary body is that it may research into the production and marketing of pigs suitable for bacon, or the production and marketing of bacon, if the Minister or the Minister of Food allows it to do it. What a contemptuous view of research!
May I remind the Parliamentary Secretary that I have a constituent who thinks he has discovered a cure for bowel oedema in pigs? I understand that if he has discovered a cure—who am I to know?—it may be of considerable value. If the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister persist in keeping this poor ghost alive, I hope that they will give it the job of dealing with my constituent.
The Parliamentary Secretary's reply was one of the most appalling that I have heard, and I say that with all the affection I have for him. There was not a single word of defence of the Bacon Board, the Pigs Board, or the Livestock Commission. He merely said that the Government could not think of any good reason for winding them up and that they were keeping them on in the hope of thinking of something eventually. If that is how the Defence Regulations are being carried on, it is poor do.
So far as the Milk Board is concerned, we now understand that what the Parliamentary Secretary wrote was written on assumptions that turned out to be wholly false, and that, therefore, the conclusions were also false. The agricultural representatives on the Government side have left us severely alone in this, as in the other agricultural debate. I commend to them what the Parliamentary Secretary said tonight about Conservative policy written before he came into office.
The only other comment I address to the Home Secretary. The Government have come here to seek approval for the carrying on of Regulations and when they are asked what it costs to keep up the machinery we are told to put down a Question next week so that we may get an answer. It is no part of my business to absolve the Government from their misdeeds. If they want to be convicted in the agricultural areas of having no sense of urgency, in a sense I am content. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, line 31, to leave out "twenty-nine." I understand it would be for the convenience of the House if, in dealing with this Amendment, I also referred to the Amendments to leave out "twenty-five A," and to leave out "and thirty."
This small group of Regulations should be taken rather seriously—in some respects a little more seriously than hitherto. I will deal with the Amendment concerning twenty-five A, which relates to agricultural wages in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will have something to say upon it later. The only claim that I have to be dealing with Scotland is that my maternal grandmother came from Edinburgh, but that would give me a greater claim to be the Secretary of State for Scotland than the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to be the Minister for Wales.
What I am puzzled about is that this Regulation gives the Secretary of State for Scotland power to prescribe minimum wages lower for certain classes of people than the minimum wages prescribed in the appropriate wages order. What I find it difficult to understand is why that power should be in a Defence Regulation continued from year to year. It may or may not be a good thing that some people working in agriculture should be paid less than the minimum wage. We have grown used to the practice in agriculture—though I have never been very happy about it—of paying certain groups less than the minimum wage, the justification being that these people would never be employed at all if they had to justify earning their full corn, and so we have let it go with reluctance.
In England and Wales, this power is part of our ordinary agricultural wages procedure, enshrined in orders dealt with by the wages boards. We have no Defence Regulations. There must be some history behind this. I am not clear how this grew up, but I cannot think that it can possibly be right that it should be carried out in this way. If it is to be done at all, it must be justified as part of the permanent legislation.
The Secretary of State must justify to the House using Defence Regulations for these people, when it is not so done in England and Wales, and when the matter does not seem to have any relation to Defence Regulations, even in Scotland. It may or may not be right to agree to this provision, though I am sure it is not in that form, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us a strong reason for so doing, or say that he will recommend that it be dropped.
The other two Amendments are to leave out Regulations 29 and 30. Regulation 29 deals with the employment of children in agricultural work. This is something which we could talk about a great deal and on which we could light another bonfire. This was a hotly disputed provision, and I have always taken the view, not that it is necessarily harmful, but that children are at school to learn, and we all spend far too short a time in our lives doing that very essential preliminary to the rest of our lives. Therefore, it is not a good thing to pass too easily provisions by which that very short period can itself be shortened still further.
This provision gives to the Ministries power to allow the local education authorities to exempt children from attending school for certain periods of the year in order that they may help with the collecting of the potato harvest. I have little doubt that it has been extremely useful in certain years in the immediate past, but I have a very strong feeling that we are rather slow in developing a really good mechanical potato harvester, as much because of it being too easy to find other ways of getting the harvest in as for any other single reason. My own feeling is that, if we make it not quite so easy, we shall put a good deal more pressure on the development of mechanical ways of doing the job.
I do not believe it is necessary to carry these Defence Regulations at all. I think the time has come when the Government should say that the industry is going to organise its own forms of seasonal labour and its own way of doing the job. Whatever the difficulties have been in the past, it is now much easier to get seasonal labour. It is much easier now to get people to lift the potatoes if we are prepared to pay them, and I believe the time has come to drop this Regulation.
If the Government feel they must keep this power I think this is essentially one which should be defended and enshrined in an amendment to the Education Act. This is rather a sly way—I use that word because I cannot think of another at the moment—of getting this hotly-contested and unpopular power in a manner which is unlikely to arouse much public attention. If this or any other Government had to justify it properly by an amendment to the Education Act, they would think several times about it. I do not think it is a very good thing to try to slip it through in this way.
So far as the "and thirty" Amendment is concerned, I fail to see that anything can be said for this Regulation at all. It is a Regulation which takes children and young persons working in agriculture out of the protection of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, and makes it possible to prescribe longer hours for work in agriculture. I cannot believe that anyone can argue that children should be worked longer on the land than in some factory premises. We know how this matter arose and how much hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have pressed for the removal of other things imposed in 1939 and 1940. In the conditions prevailing in 1952, there can be no argument for carrying this on.
If the Home Secretary, who has a great interest in the protection of young people, realised that he is asking us to make provision for working children longer than is permissible under the main Act, I do not think he would do so. If Tory agriculturalists want this power, they should make an Amendment to the Children and Young Persons Act, but I do not believe they would attempt to do that. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give us the benefit of his humanity and understanding and come to the conclusion that it is not proper to slip this Regulation through at a quarter-to-six in the morning after a Sitting which has lasted 16 hours already.
Because of the time, I repress my natural instincts to press this much harder. No doubt my hon. Friends will support me, and also, I hope, some of the hon. Members opposite who must have had a boring time sitting silently listening to our speeches, good though they may be. It must be very hard for them to restrain themselves. We ought to get more agriculturalists and humane persons on the benches opposite to support us, and I hope that with this argument the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that he will not press for the continuance of any of these three Regulations.
In Regulation 25A we have a very strange power still being wielded by a Minister of the Crown. One of the things Ministers of Labour in this country have been chary of doing is to take the power to fix wages, and yet we have in this Regulation the power retained by the Secretary of State for Scotland not only to fix wages but to fix them lower than the minimum; in other words, to discriminate in wages.
We are discriminating against school children. It would be out of order to argue now whether we should employ school children at all, but I hope the Government will give us a better opportunity on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill next week to deal with this question as far as Scotland is concerned. Other categories mentioned in the Schedule are students and those in the schemes for the employment of youth service groups. Another provision underlines our point about the need for permanent legislation, because it refers to the Women's Land Army, which no longer exists. Schemes for volunteers for forestry operations during holiday periods are mentioned, and another provision deals with whole-time male workers detained under the Royal Prerogative.
First of all, the Parliamentary Secretary has to justify why it should be necessary for the Secretary of State to take for himself such powers, and secondly he has to justify the discrimination itself. There are many of us who feel that this could become a cheap labour charter