Orders of the Day — Emergency Laws (Repeal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th November 1958.

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Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , City of York 12:00 am, 12th November 1958

I will come to the other ones in a moment. Let me deal first of all with the hon. Member's point.

The Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act would be a formidable Act to amend, to slice or to prune in any way. I think the whole House would agree that we need these powers at least for the moment for the purpose of strategic control, and to substitute a new Act, which is something I dare say we should all like to see in due course— I do not know—is a major legislative operation which clearly ought not to be undertaken, I would submit to the House, till we know where we are in relation to things like the European Free Trade Area negotiations about which the Economic Secretary was talking.

So far as the Exchange Control Act is concerned, which this Bill does not touch, everybody, I think, would agree that it is right to keep that in its entirety. We need it. Clearly we are going to need it, and we need the supplement we get in relation to those kinds of transactions dealt with in the Finance (Defence) Regulations. Frankly, I have some difficulty in understanding the protest of hon. Members opposite about the fact that we have here selected as we have.

There is one incidental point I could perhaps conveniently deal with at this stage. I am very sorry I had the misfortune to miss the speech of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu). I am very sorry, but there were other obligations which made it necessary. If I rightly read the note of his speech on which I am depending he was asking for an explanation of the kind of events which the Government were contemplating would render necessary the powers under paragraph (d) of Regulation 55 (1) as it will be after this Bill. I hope I have the point rightly. It appears from the wording at page 13 most conveniently.

If I may take him to task without impertinence, I thought, with great respect, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) simply was not making the point fairly just now on this matter, because he was saying that the power to deal with the interruption of supplies, as it might be, which here appears, would be dependent upon some action of a foreign Government. He made the point by leaving out the other words which raised the problem which, I think, was in the hon. Member's mind. The words are: or as the result of other special circumstances arising in any such country". That is, in a foreign country. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman may not have meant to put it as he did, but he put it solely on the first set of words, and, of course, it makes a difference.

I hope we shall not be chided for drafting in wide terms because at other moments we are chided for risking too narrow a foresight in this field, and that is why we have used wider terms here. The sort of thing we have in mind is that a country has put a ban on supplies, a political act of a foreign Government. We have to maintain supplies against interruption for other reasons, civil war, unrest—[An HON. MEMBER: "Suez."] Suez, if you please, somebody sitting on our line of supply by Governmental action, if you please, or for things like had harvests or a series of bad harvests.

I do not think I could give any exhaustive list of what from a lawyer's point of view would be covered by these words. I suppose that "other special circumstances arising in any such country" would be construed on the basis of what lawyers call the ejusdem generic rule.

I would submit that it is right not to draw that too tightly or we may tie ourselves too narrowly on the circumstances in which we could exercise that power. We do not put domestic crises into this, as opposed to foreign crises, because, we hope that if we—or any other Government in this country—needed to deal with a domestic crisis, then Parliament would at once give the Government the powers for which they asked.