Duration of Act

Part of Fuel and Electricity (Control) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th November 1973.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol Central 12:00 am, 29th November 1973

I am glad that the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) has put down the amendment. It covers a point I made during the speech by the Under-Secretary. I asked why the powers could not come to an end after a reasonable period, which is normal parliamentary practice. Why have the Government chosen 30th November 1974? Is that the date for the General Election? If that is the explanation and if the powers have to go on, if they can be reactivated by an Order in Council, what are the Government expecting? If no General Election is planned and the Government hope still to be holding on to office do they expect a situation of more or less perpetual crisis?

I am intensely puzzled by it all. I pay this tribute to the Conservatives. When they take to bureaucracy they do it thoroughly. No Socialist administration could improve on that. The hon. Member for Bedford called in aid of his argument my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). I am sorry that he is not here. It is asked whether there can be two kings in Brentford. I do not know about that, but there can be two opinions in Bristol. As a democratic Socialist I should greatly favour the oil industry coming into public ownership—and I expressed that view at the time of the Labour Government when it was possible to do it. I should like that to happen, but not by these hidden powers. The proper way to do it in a free country is to bring legislation before the House of Commons for proper discussion. I do not think the Labour Party should consider bringing the oil industry into public ownership by means of scraps of legislation left behind mistakenly by the Conservatives.

On grounds of normal democratic theory and practice we deserve a fuller explanation.

I am sorry for the hon. Member for Bedford. Apart from the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), who is always very valiant, he sits there alone as the champion of freedom. Where are all the others on the Conservative benches? I join him—it is just a coincidence—in asking why the date of 30th November is necessary. What is the logic about it? Are we to expect perpetual crisis? If that is the explanation, the country should know the worst.