§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty under section eight of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act. 1945, praying that the said Act, which would otherwise expire on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-three, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-four.This Motion is not only the first but the most important of a series of five which we shall consider today, the last two of which stand in the name of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply. These five Motions follow the lines of similar Motions approved by the House a year ago. The precise effect of the later Motions can be explained when we come to them but it will, I think, be for the convenience of the House if cur general discussion of the principles of this matter takes place on the first Motion.
This is the more appropriate since, as will be apparent from paragraph 7 of the White Paper on the Continuance of Emergency Legislation, it is the first Motion which covers the greater part of those Defence Regulations which it is proposed should be extended for a further year.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I agree with the general line which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is taking, but I would ask that it should be clear that, as last year, in discussing the first Motion we may allude in a general way to what is covered by the other four Motions and, as it were, have a Second Reading debate on the whole issue. Thus I think we should save a considerable amount of time and possibly prevent some confusion.
§ Mr. Speaker
If it would expedite progress and be for the convenience of the House I should have no objection to hon. Members in discussing this Motion referring to such ancillary and connected matters in the other Motions as may be appropriate to their argument.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
At the outset I should like to explain one point about our procedure which is apt to cause confusion. Defence Regulations have been continued since the war under two separate procedures. On the one hand, there is the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, and on the other the Emergency Laws Acts of 1946 and 1947.
Different substantive Regulations have been continued under each of these procedures, but many of the supplementary provisions in Part V of the Regulations have necessarily had to be continued for both purposes, so that, although Regulations from Defence Regulation 82 onwards appear in the Schedule to the next Motion for Emergency Laws Acts purposes, their continuance for Supplies and Services purposes will be effected as a result of the Motion now before the House, which covers all those Regulations listed in paragraph 7 of the White Paper. In fact, the supplementary provisions of Part V of the Defence (General) Regulations enjoy a double existence, if not a double life.
I should like to say a few words about the general principles of our approach. The House is asked today to approve Motions which appear forbidding and complicated. For this I must ask the indulgence of the House, and content myself with a reminder that the drafting is dictated by the form of the enactments by which the continuance of emergency legislation was effected in the years immediately after the end of the war. The essential problem which the House has to consider and with which my colleagues and I have had to wrestle in 1953 can be reduced to simple terms, and our approach to it has been far from complicated.
We dislike those emergency powers. We believe, as we said in 1951 in "Britain Strong and Free," that no Government should have powers greater than those required for the immediate business in hand, and that the war-time emergency legislation must be thoroughly overhauled. In this belief we have carried out during 1953 a most comprehensive and searching review of the whole field, in order that we might be in a position today to lay before Parliament a coherent plan in relation to such powers as we must now ask to be continued.
In making this review, one of the most important objectives was to abandon 200 altogether such of the surviving emergency powers as could be dispensed with. For this purpose the principles adopted included the following:first, that administrative convenience alone was not a sufficient ground for keeping any Regulation or part of a Regulation, but that retention of a provision could be considered only if it could be demonstrated positively that its continuance was necessary in the public interest; secondly, that the retention of powers which might be necessary or useful in a future national emergency, but were now in abeyance, could no longer be justified; and thirdly, that in the circumstances of 1953 a less comprehensive range of control and enforcement was appropriate.
The other main object of the 1953 review has been to identify such of the remaining powers as seemed to serve an important continuing—I repeat the word "continuing"—public purpose and in suitable cases to put in hand the preparation of legislation. As a result, several Bills dealing with aspects of emergency legislation will come before the House in the current Session, and we have plans which will enable further Bills to be brought forward in later Sessions.
As in so many subjects, I do not think that the principles of our approach will raise much controversy, but I now have to face the point as to how far these principles have been successfully put into practice. For the purposes of our debate and those who are interested in it, the White Paper which I have mentioned and the 20th Edition of the Defence Regulations are the key documents. The Defence Regulations were re-edited and issued at the beginning of the year. The edition in the red cover, and may I assure right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that there is no political significance in the colour—
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Let us by all means have every helpful comment that we can. The 20th Edition contains all the Regulations to which there may be need to make reference today.
I am glad to be able to say that since the 20th Edition was published there has been enacted the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous' Provisions) Act, 1953, and there have been no fewer than 14 Orders in 201 Council revoking Defence Regulations in whole or in part. The House will gain a quick impression of the extent of the inroad made into the surviving Regulations during 1953, under the combined effect of the Act, the Orders in Council and of decisions not to renew certain provisions this December, by looking at the table on page 4 of the White Paper.
I am aware that a statistical yardstick is somewhat crude and unsatisfactory, but I invite the House at this stage to take note of the total effect of the work that has gone on throughout the year. Seventy-six Regulations have, or will have been, eliminated during 1953, and a further 17 partially revoked. The full details of the latter will be found in paragraph 5 and the Appendix of the White Paper respectively.
Well over half of the legacy of emergency Regulations which the Government inherited on coming into office has been disposed of. If we had done nothing else in 1953—I shall explain in a moment that we have done a great deal more—this drastic pruning of the surviving emergency legislation alone would justify us in asking the House to approve the action taken by the Government to deal with this problem.
At this time last year the House was understandably critical of the progress achieved in 1952—I make no complaint about that—but this year the House will, I believe, be better pleased; and not the least part of that pleasure may justifiably consist of knowing that the vigorous spur applied last year has not been without its effect on Departments.
I do not intend to consume time today by any detailed retrospect. The figures speak for themselves. Perhaps I should mention, however, a few of the more significant revocations. These include the special penalty paragraphs from Defence Regulation 55 and other related Regulations. These provisions were expressed in terms of severity appropriate to dealing with black market offences in time of war and its immediate aftermath. They prescribed minimum and maximum monetary penalties much exceeding those normally available to magistrates' courts, and could be coupled with imprisonment up to one year. I have a great objection in theory and in practice to minimum sentences of any kind. I think that they restrict the discretion which any judicial 202 authority, be it judge or magistrate, should have; and I felt that was wrong. On conviction on indictment even heavier penalties could be imposed.
There is one point which I must make clear in connection with this revocation. The Government do not have it in mind that such economic controls as the situation demands should be continued for some further period should be less vigorously enforced. For this purpose of vigorous enforcement, we believe that the penalties in Section 92 are sufficient because, as the House will appreciate, if I maybe legalistic—I hope it will be one of the rare occasions in this speech—serious offences can be tried on indictment, and on indictment there is a penalty for every individual concerned of up to two years' imprisonment or a £500 fine, or both. In the case of a company—and in this matter of offences the more serious ones are very likely to be committed by companies—there is provision for a fine without limit; a company can be fined any amount. I do not think that we have denuded ourselves of powers to the extent of leaving it difficult to enforce whatever controls are left.
The next point on which I should like to inform the House is that there has been a careful examination of the whole of Part V of the Regulations, which is the part comprising general and supplementary provisions concerned with enforcement. We have revoked the power to use force to enter premises for the purpose of exercising powers under the Regulations in Defence Regulation 89, and we have done away with the special provision in Defence Regulation 90 for dealing with attempts to commit, or conspiracies to commit, offences against the Regulations. That revocation is, of course, without prejudice to the general law on attempts and conspiracies.
We have also revoked paragraph (2) of Defence Regulation 93, and this has the effect of restoring, in regard to offences against the Regulations still in force, the general requirement that summary proceedings must be started within six months of the date of the commission of an offence; that is, an extra six months has been done away with. I think that everyone will bear me out that all these points were felt and raised in all parts of the House when we were discussing the Regulations last year. I have tried, in 203 regard to enforcement, to meet the feeling which I thought was shared by the whole House when we discussed these Regulations a year ago.
I should also like to mention the revocation of the whole of Defence Regulation 58A, which deals with the direction of labour, except for paragraph (4), which provides the authority for the Notification of Vacancies Order. An undertaking was given by our predecessors that the powers of directing labour would not be used save in the event of a national emergency. We have decided to go further. We regard it as pointless to retain a power which, if it should ever be needed in future, will necessarily form part of a much more extensive range of powers required by the Government for a wide variety of purposes in face of a threat to our national existence.
May I just explain for the benefit of any of those who may be in doubt on the subject that when we do away with every part of Regulation 58A, apart from paragraph (4), which is necessary for the Notification of Vacancies Order, it cannot be put into force without legislation? The Defence Regulation cannot be re-made and the direction of labour be recreated without fresh legislation being passed which will empower that to be done. I think that is an important background to the matter to those who are considering it. The same applies, of course, to all our revocations.
Finally—and the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will, I hope, be a little pleased at this because it has been a quarry of his hunting for quite a considerable time—there is Defence Regulation 16. That Regulation dealt with the stopping up or diversion of highways for the purposes of opencast coal, and it has provoked a good deal of comment on previous occasions.
No one would deny the necessity, on economic grounds, for opencast coalmining to continue for some further period of time, however much controversy and however strong controversy there might be, irrespective of party or anything else, as to where the opencast coalmining is to go on. That raises quite a different matter on which every constituency has a different point of view. But on the continuance of open- 204 cast coal mining there would, I think, be general agreement as to the need.
The power in Defence Regulation 16, however, was expressed in altogether too wide a form for the purposes for which it was needed. It was the solitary remaining provision in that part of the Regulations which dealt with the security of the State. We felt that the correct way to deal with this anomaly was to make an amendment of Defence Regulation 51A in more restricted terms—I repeat "more restricted terms"—and to get rid of Defence Regulation 16 altogether. This has been done and, as will be seen from the last entry in the Appendix to the White Paper, certain words have been added to paragraph (1) of Defence Regulation 51 A, which gives power, for the purposes of the working of minerals, to provide for the temporary stopping up of any highway other than a trunk or other classified road. This power is much narrower than the one in Defence Regulation 16.
I now turn to our proposals for 1954—
§ Mr. Malcolm McCorquodale (Epsom)
Before my right hon. and learned Friend leaves that point, may I say that I do not quite understand his reference to Regulation 58A. In the White Paper, it is stated that Regulation 58A is being retained, but I now understand my right hon. and learned Friend to say that it has been cancelled.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I thought I said it clearly, and I am sorry if I have not done so. May I pause for a moment to deal with the point? I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) has a copy of the Regulations in front of him, but if by any chance he has and he will turn to Regulation 58A, which is at the bottom of page 41, and if I might do it partly by demonstration, my right hon. Friend will see that there is part of the Regulation at the foot of page 41. All that has gone, the whole of page 42 has gone, with the exception of paragraph 4,and the whole of the rest of the Regulation, which is at the top of page 43, has gone, so that Defence Regulation 58A now consists only of the following words:The Minister may by order make provision for regulating the engagement of workers by 205 employers…and may, in particular, provide by any such order—(d) for any incidental and supplementary matters for which the Minister thinks it is expedient to provide.That is why I say that it is now limited to providing the basis for the Notification of Vacancies Order, which is still in use, and, of course, for matters severely limited by these words; it is no longer authority for the main purpose of the Regulation itself—the direction of labour. That has gone and cannot be replaced. I wonder whether I have made myself clear.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I note what my right hon. and learned Friend has said, but I cannot see it in this document before us. The White Paper says that Regulation 58A is to be retained for another year, and I see nothing in the Motion before the House to say that it is not.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am sorry, and I know it is a complicated matter, but I did try, in view of all the points raised last year, to make the amendment perfectly clear, and I referred earlier in my speech to paragraph 5 and the Appendix. If my right hon. Friend will look at the Appendix, he will find that it is dealt with in the partial revocation of Regulation 58A and it keeps the paragraph which I have just pointed out.
§ Mr. Ralph Assheton (Blackburn, West)
May I put this point to my right hon. and learned Friend, in order to get it clear, at any rate for myself? Is it the case that direction of labour could not be reintroduced without another Act of Parliament being passed?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Yes; I have said so, and I say it again. It cannot be introduced, because in form these things which we are considering today are Regulations in continuance, and once we revoke the Regulation there is nothing to continue. There is only the small power, which is severely limited, of variation, and I hope my right hon. Friend will take it from me—as I was a lawyer once—that that would not cover the question of re-enacting the Regulation.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
I understand that paragraph 4 in Defence Regulation 58A on page 42 will be retained, and that all the rest is to go. I rather feel that paragraph 4 is still doing everything which the other parts of the Regulation, which are to disappear, formerly did, and I wonder if the right hon. and learned Gentleman can give us some specific instance of the type of power now intended to be used when the Minister—…may by order make provision for regulating the engagement of workers by employers.May I ask him what is really in the Government's mind concerning that paragraph?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
It is limited. At the moment we have an order made under paragraph 4—the Notification of Vacancies Order—so that employers can be made to notify vacancies—for example, in the export trades—so that it will be clear to everyone who desires to move to them that these vacancies are available. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the terms of paragraph 4, he will see that that is a matter of regulation, and, again, without going into details of the argument, the use of a Regulation is entirely different from the question of directing labour, and, of course, the difference is more evident and clear, because the rest of the Regulation deals with direction and this deals with the subsidiary power.
I am most grateful to hon. Members who have asked questions, and I think that part of my job, if I may so put it, is to make sure that the House is as clear on these matters as I can make it. I have no feeling about being interrupted; the only trouble is that it is taking up other hon. Members' time.
I want to go on to deal with the proposals for 1954, and I want to assure the House that to settle a programme for 1954 has been at least as much in our minds in recent months as the simple revocation of Regulations. Part of the task has been to identify those parts of the surviving Regulations which required to be replaced by permanent powers before revocation and were capable of being dealt with in the current Session.
The second point we have had to determine, as far as we could, is the fixing of 207 dates for the revocation of useful Regulations serving a temporary purpose. Again, if I may just paraphrase that for a moment, the first point is replacing Regulations which have some permanent value by legislation, and the second is whether we get the right date for stopping a useful temporary Regulation. That was as I saw the problem in front of me.
As regards legislation, to deal with that first, the House passed the Bill which became the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1953, during the Session just completed. If I may use the term, that was a rag-bag Bill, an unattractive type of legislation, and I hope the last of its kind. For the future, it is necessary to proceed subject by subject in self-contained Measures. This will be an advantage from the point of view of the House, but I must point out that there is a corresponding disadvantage from the point of view of clearing up the emergency legislation. It may slow down the rate of progress.
When there is a crowded legislative programme, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has obvious difficulty in fitting in Bills which, although they may be useful and desirable, cannot be shown to be urgent and essential. Nevertheless, the current Session's programme includes at least seven Bills which will contribute to the process, and I hope the House will feel that this constitutes a notable start.
First, there is a Currency and Banknotes Bill, which will revoke two of the Defence (Finance) Regulations, and that has already been introduced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When the Housing Repairs and Rent Bill is passed, Defence Regulations 68A and 68AA, dealing with reconditioning of housing, will be revoked, and by Clause 36 of the Bill the way will be paved for Defence Regulation 68CB to disappear, while the corresponding Scottish Bill provides for the revocation of Defence Regulations 68B and 68BB.
Four other Measures have already been introduced in another place. These are:The Food and Drugs Amendment Bill, the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Bill, the Inventions and Design (Crown Use) Bill, and the Licensing (Seamen's Canteens) Bill. I am not without hope that at least 208 one further Measure bearing on this matter will be brought forward later in the Session. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that there is no connection between my expressing that hope and the disappearance of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House from the Chamber.
When the Bills to which I have referred become law, 19 Regulations will be revoked; and, in addition, we are planning, during 1954, to get rid of at least another 10 Regulations. The outlook for 1954 is thus, that of the 97 Regulations referred to in the last column of the table at the head of page 4 of the White Paper, 29 will probably be revoked next year, leaving 68; but of these 68 I should perhaps remind the House that at least38 constitute formal and supplementary provisions, including definitions which support substantive Regulations.
There is thus a hard core of some 30 substantive Regulations, comprising 16 Defence (General) Regulations and four of the associated codes. The two main groups are those which pivot on Defence Regulation 51 (Taking possession of land) and Defence Regulation 55 (General control of industry), and they raise difficult questions. I thought it was only right—and I hope hon. Members will not think I am imposing on them—that I should say a serious word about those two groups. I think they are of great importance for the life of the country and for our legislative position.
Defence Regulation 51 provides the legal basis for the requisitioning of land and buildings, and with it are associated Defence Regulations 50, 51A, 52 and 85 and, to some extent, 50A and 62. One must also have in mind Section 28 of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945, which is also in point. As you, Mr. Speaker, are well aware, questions of property tenure are apt to take a long time to settle, and the orderly liquidation of the emergency powers relating to land offers one of the most difficult problems with which we are faced in this field. It is clear that the powers cannot be abruptly relinquished, but what I hope the House will wish to hear from me is how the Government propose to work towards a solution of this problem. I am aware that the subject of requisitioning is sufficiently wide to justify a debate 209 in itself, and within the time available to me I can only touch lightly on our approach to it.
Our attack on the problem is twofold. There is, in the first place, the giving up of requisitions wherever circumstances permit in favour of methods of tenure more appropriate to peace-time conditions. Secondly, there is the need to determine how far legislation may be required on certain matters before the Regulations can be dispensed with. As regard the first of these, that is, the giving up of requisitions, all my Ministerial colleagues concerned with the exercise of requisitioning powers have given instructions in their own Departments for a drive to be made to secure by negotiation that as many properties as possible now held under Defence Regulation powers, and for which a continuing need is foreseen, should be leased or perhaps purchased instead of being held under war-time powers.
This applies equally to requisitions effected by local authorities under delegated powers, and the Departments concerned have urged the local authorities to speed up the process of relinquishment. Equity and good sense alike require the earliest practicable solution of as many cases as possible on these lines. Again, the principle is clear but its application gives rise to difficulties which must take time to solve.
I hope that it will help the House to appreciate more fully the extent of the problem and the vigour with which it is being tackled if I give a few figures. When this Government took office in October, 1951, a total of3,358 buildings, in addition to sites, were held on requisition by Government Departments. This figure excludes houses and flats held by the Housing Departments, to which I will refer in a moment. In the two years since then, that number has been reduced by 35 per cent. to 2,174.
This total, which I agree is still large, includes 3 million square feet of office space and 24 million square feet of other accommodation held by the Ministry of Works for such purposes as storage, hostels and slaughter houses. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works is planning to lease, purchase or give up by the end of 1954 at least half of the 1,700 properties for which he is responsible. 210 The rate of progress is necessarily affected by current restrictions on finance and building resources that can be made available to provide alternative accommodation.
Now I turn to the War Office, which has extensive holdings of requisitioned land for training and other purposes; their holding under requisition is now reduced to some 80,000 acres as compared with a peak figure of 700,000 acres. Of this, 58,000 acres are used for training. The bulk of that will have to be acquired permanently, and negotiations are proceeding. The balance of 22,000 acres is mainly connected with buildings held on requisition. Of these, the War Office held about 1,000 sites a year ago. Over the last year there has been a reduction of some 200 sites, a further 200 are in process of being returned to their owners and about the same number are being purchased or leased. That leaves 400 where the position is under examination at the moment.
The Ministry of Supply was responsible at the end of the war for about 7,000 requisitions. These have now been reduced to 265, covering 102 sites. In 190 of these cases out of the 265 negotiations for a permanent settlement are taking place. The General Post Office expect to clear up 69 requisitions in the next two years out of 103 now held. The fact is that a great many requisitions are being given up and everyone concerned is aware of the Government's determination to press on towards a solution; but I am the first to admit that we have still a long way to go.
That brings me to the question of legislation about land. If I may put it this way, it is clear that Parliament will have to play a part in the solution of our problems. I give as an example the problem of large-scale military exercises, which can at present be carried out in this country by virtue of Defence Regulation 52, the last occasion being the autumn of 1951.
This is an example, Mr. Speaker, of the indulgence which you were good enough to approve. The Regulation is continued under the procedure covered by the next Motion. In view of the Amendment on the Order Paper, we shall be having a specific discussion upon it, but it would be for the convenience of the House if at this stage I explained 211 how we are planning to provide for its eventual replacement.
The only powers available other than Defence Regulation 52 are those contained in the Manoeuvres Acts of 1897and 1911, which may not be adequate for modern needs, and the question therefore arises as to how far these Acts will need to be amended or replaced by new provisions before Defence Regulation 52 can be dispensed with. The scope of a Bill on this subject is now being studied, and I hope that by the time the renewal of emergency legislation is again before the House we shall be in a position to make proposals as to what should be done.
There are other aspects of land use and acquisition which will also require to be dealt with in legislation. It is, for example, the curious position, of which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields is aware, that under the law as it stands at present, local authorities have more effective powers for the compulsory purchase of land than the Government themselves. Permanent powers, with appropriate safeguards, will be required by the Ministry of Works and the General Post Office.
Then there is the problem, to which I referred in another connection, of opencast coalmining by the National Coal Board under the authority of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. There are also other matters, such as the cultivation of common land, which require to be dealt with by legislation.
I think I have said enough to indicate that the matters to be dealt with in any Bill or Bills of this kind will call for critical examination by the House when they are presented. I am sure the House will agree that the nature of the subject equally demands that time and care should be expended at the drafting stage and that legislation in this Session would not be practicable. This is a question not of perpetuating Defence Regulation powers but of defining in a form acceptable under peace-time conditions the proper permanent powers, with safeguards for existing owners and occupiers, to be exercisable by Government Departments.
I do not know in what form or at what time it will be possible to bring forward Bills for the purposes that I have indicated, but what I have to tell the House 212 now is that the necessary preparatory inquiries have been set on foot and that they will be pursued with vigour. We recognise that the position cannot be allowed to drift and that it will be necessary before very long to set a terminal date by which requisitions under the wartime powers must be liquidated.
There is another matter which I mentioned and on which I must say a word, for the House will expect it, and that is the 75,000 requisitioned houses which are used to provide homes for inadequately housed families. That is more than 20,000 fewer than the number of houses held at the peak of requisitioning in 1948. Since this Government took office, the rate of release has steadily increased, and in the last quarter 1,900 houses were derequisitioned, although no one thinks that this rate is fast enough. This is a difficult and complex problem, for there are 125,000 families living in the 75,000 houses, and it is no easy matter to find a solution which will be fair as between the owners of the properties and the present occupiers and also as between the Government and the local authorities.
§ Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the derequisitioning of houses is having an adverse effect in the large cities, where houses perhaps have been converted into flats or, at all events, two families, and in some cases three families, may be living in a house? The local authorities are derequisitioning the houses at the request of the Minister. The owner of the house may not want it for his own occupation, and he is selling out and cashing in. Yet at the same time the local authority has to provide accommodation for those people from the new houses, to the disadvantage of applicants who may have been living in lodging for many years. This is bad.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
—which is tripartite or quadripartite. We have to look at the families that I have mentioned and at the people who own the property, who may or may not be well off; we have to look at the local authorities who have their housing problem, and we have also to look at the Government's overriding 213 responsibility. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government recently sent a circular to local authorities covering the Second Interim Report of the Working Party and explaining that the Government are considering this matter.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Sparkbrook(Mr. Shurmer) will be the first to agree that this is a matter on which there must be consultations with local authorities before the Government make proposals. But my right hon. Friend, whose activities in the field of housing must have convinced the House of his capacity to offer constructive solutions to baffling problems such as this one, has recognised the urgency of the matter and has it in hand, and these consultations will go on.
I did not want the House to say that this subject was omitted. I wanted to give a general picture because I know how concerned hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House are about the subject. I have tried to give the position with regard to requisitioning under the group of Regulations which pivot on Defence Regulation 51.
I want now to say a word about the other main group of Regulations, which centre round Defence Regulation 55, which makes provision for the general control of industry, and Defence Regulation 55AB, which deals with price control of goods and services. This group includes Defence Regulations 55AA, 56A and 58A, with which I have already dealt. When the Government came into office, we took over a legacy of a tightly-controlled economy. We have made it our business over the last two years to give practical effect to the pledge that we made to the electorate in 1951 that:…controls should not exceed in number or in range the demands of the present crisis. They should hamper initiative as little as possible, and be reduced as quickly as possible.I am well aware that economic policy is a field into which Home Secretaries venture at their peril, and the House will not expect me to expound in any detail matters which are best left to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Ministers in charge of Departments concerned with economic matters. But it is common knowledge that each of my colleagues in his own sphere of Departmental responsibility has 214 applied himself to carry out the policy which we were elected to put into effect and that, as a result, over the last two years systematic progress has been made with the work of freeing the national economy to enable the native genius of our people to play its full and proper part in national recovery and prosperity. However, I do not think it is appreciated that in recent months economic controls have been abolished at a quite unprecedented rate, and I should like to give a few figures.
When the Government took office, there were not fewer than 277 separate economic control Orders in operation resting on the sanction of Defence Regulation 55. The range covered by these controls was extensive. They comprised the basic controls with which everyone is familiar—food rationing, fuel distribution, strategic goods, aluminium, sulphur, timber and other raw materials. But they also extended to less obvious territory, such as bananas—I have no personal feeling in referring to that one—bristles, fertilisers, true hemp, knotted netting, organs and pianos, cast-iron baths, unwrought zinc, flax seed, colliery arches and lawn mowers.
By 1st November of this year, no fewer than 178 out of the 277 control Orders had been got rid of, while 31 of those remaining continue in a substantially modified form compared with two years ago. The Board of Trade was responsible for 108 of the Orders. In two years that number has been reduced to 14. That figure has since been temporarily increased by four as a result of the recent decision of the House in connection with the Miscellaneous Controls (Revocation) Order.
Of the 99 Orders under Defence Regulation 55 in force today, half are concerned with controls of foodstuffs which are being rapidly eliminated. Some of the remaining Ministry of Food Orders are, however, required to carry out the guarantees given to farmers under the Agriculture Act, 1947, until more permanent marketing arrangements have been made.
I think I may fairly claim that the Government have fully lived up to their declared aims in the economic field in this respect. This has been done, I should remind the House, not in any irresponsible mood of discarding controls 215 for doctrinaire reasons, but as part of a systematic policy for the restoration of the economic health of the nation, and we claim that that is being justified today by the quickening impulse of normal trading conditions.
My part, as Home Secretary, in the process of relinquishing controls is limited, but there is one aspect of it on which I should touch. The enforcement of an extensive system of economic controls could not fail to produce a large crop of prosecutions and convictions, and large-scale interference with the activities of the people going about their daily business inevitably tended to bring before the criminal courts many otherwise law-abiding citizens.
In the years immediately after the war, convictions for offences against Defence Regulations in England and Wales were running at a monthly rate of close on 1,700, the vast bulk of them being rationing and similar offences against controls. I think it is right to say that anyone concerned with securing proper respect for the law could not fail to view convictions on this scale with concern.
I do not seek to make this a party point, for our predecessors were equally aware of it, and by 1951 the monthly average had dropped from 1,700 to 504. In the first nine months of this year, I am happy to say, it has come down still further to 220, and in the third quarter of 1953, which is the latest period for which figures are available, the monthly rate is 132. As the remaining controls are dispensed with, we may look for a further welcome decline. This is an incidental, but in my view by no means an unimportant, by-product of the general policy which we are carrying out.
About the other miscellaneous powers not falling into the two main groups of which I have spoken, I would only say that an adequate case has been made out for each of the Departments concerned and that that case has been accepted by Ministers only after careful study. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who is to reply to this debate, will be happy to give information as to the reasons for keeping any individual Regulation that I have not mentioned.
I am sorry to have taken up so much of the time of the House, but I have 216 tried, as briefly as possible, to survey what we have done in 1953 and how we intend to go on in 1954. We recognise that the overhaul and examination of emergency legislation is a continuing process. The results achieved in 1953 are considerable, but much remains to be done. We aim to press on with this task, and I accordingly invite the House to approve this Motion, and, in approving it, to recognise that the achievement of 1953 gives warrant for thinking that 1954 will be productive of not less acceptable results.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I am quite sure that the whole House would desire me to express to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department our thanks for the care and lucidity with which he has explained the various proposals that are being put before us this afternoon by Her Majesty's Government, and if we do not share some of his enthusiasm for some of his less creditable exploits, his, after all, is only the common lot of Home Secretaries who have to move these Motions.
However, I am particularly grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his recognition of the good work that we did last year by the very prolonged consideration which we gave to these matters, although it was held against us by the Leader of the House when he was trying to find excuses for guillotining the Transport Bill. After all, even if the recognition has been long delayed, it is none the less well deserved and heartily welcomed.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has given us a very full and detailed account, not merely of what the Government are proposing to do, but of their reasons for doing these things. There are one or two comments that I should like to make, in a purely general way, on the various issues raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
Personally, I am inclined to agree with him in his general objection to minimum sentences, because I am quite sure that, even in what are now quite ordinary matters of the law, their necessary infliction following upon conviction leads to juries being very hesitant to find people guilty even in what I regard as a comparatively serious offence, that of driving under the influence of drink.
217 The fact that conviction in such an offence is followed automatically and compulsorily by a year's suspension of the licence makes some juries, on which too many motorists are present, rather hesitant about finding a fellow motorist guilty if there is any possible way of doing the other thing. Even the question of driving without a third party insurance, which carries a similar penalty, is sometimes also lightly regarded by justices in petty sessions because of the inevitable penalty they will have to impose if they find the man guilty.
There is, therefore, a very strong and compelling case for avoiding minimum penalties being inserted in the legislation, or the Regulations, unless they are absolutely necessary. But I am not quite certain that we have reached a stage, in this particular field, where the Government have been altogether wise in rejecting the minimum penalty imposed for some offences that do cover a very considerable area of offence. I should like if I may be permitted to correct the right hon. and learned Gentleman on one matter. I am told that the Section 92 to which he referred, and on which he is to rely in the future, should read Defence Regulation 92.
I took advantage of the erudition of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), by getting him to go through the White Paper, compare it with this book, and to cross out in red ink all the things that have been repealed or amended in the White Paper, so I was rather better informed on this question of 58A than was my own right hon. Member—the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale). It is a matter of regret to me that, at this early stage today, I am not reinforced by the presence of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch, but I have no doubt that, if the debate follows the same course as it did last year, he will come up with the reserves, thoroughly fresh when the others are exhausted. But it would be wrong of me not to pay tribute to the amount of work he did to ensure that, as far as possible, I should not fall into error, either of omission or commission, in dealing with the Government's proposals.
I welcome the disappearance of Defence Regulation 16. I was always under grave suspicion by many of my colleagues 218 that I was not, myself, very vigorously enforcing this Defence Regulation, or viewing with great favour applications under it. I am very glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been able to find a way by which all that is practically required can be achieved by his Amendment of another Order and so restrict the wider use that was always possible while Defence Regulation 16 remained.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not allude to a matter which formed no small part of his case last year, which was that a Select Committee would be appointed to consider the way in which the House could control delegated legislation. That Select Committee was appointed. I had the honour to serve on it with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) and other of my hon. Friends and hon. Members on the other side of the House, under the chairmanship of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies).
We met throughout the whole period of last Session; I think we met practically every week that the House was sitting, and, towards the end of the Session, met even more frequently. We completed the report, which was formally presented to the House just at the close of last Session, but that report has not yet been printed and circulated to hon. Members, and, therefore, it would be out of order for me to make any allusion to what it may contain.
I can, I think, at least say that we were almost unanimous in our report and that there are certain recommendations, with regard to the procedure of the House in dealing with those matters, which we have made in a co-operative spirit. I can only hope, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends and colleagues who served on the Committee that, when the report is available, the Government will give very serious consideration to so amending the Standing Orders and procedure of the House as to enable the recommendations to be carried out.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If I may intervene for a moment. I did not refer to the report for the reason that my right hon. Friend has noted, that is, that it is not yet before the House but, as he has been good enough to refer to it I should like, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government and, I am sure, on behalf of the whole House, to express our gratitude for all the work that has been put into this matter by the Committee.
§ Mr. Ede
In the absence of the Chairman it is hardly for me to express anything other than thanks for what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said. May I hope that, as far as the Government are concerned, it will go beyond gratitude, and that they will profit by the recommendations that we have made.
The Home Secretary then dealt with the legislative proposals of the Government for dealing with those Regulations which they now think ought to be embodied in permanent legislation, that is to say, by a Regulation which, even in the circumstances of today, does embody something that ought to be preserved in the general law of the country and, possibly with some modification of the terms that were used in the Regulation, continued in force and embodied in the statutes. I agree with him that those of us who served with him on the Committee that dealt with the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1953, would not view with very great favour continuing to deal with the matter in what he, I think quite rightly, described as a "rag bag" Bill.
It is far better that these matters should be embodied in the law in Acts that can be quite easily identifiable as dealing with a particular subject, because sometimes the fact that a matter has been dealt with more or less comprehensively in one of these Miscellaneous Provisions Bills does escape the notice even of lawyers, of people who used to be lawyers, and those who try to get justice without incurring the expense of lawyers.
Therefore, I welcome the arrangement by which he intends, as I understand in this Session and possibly in next Session, to take certain other of the Regulations that it is desired to preserve more or less intact, and to put them into Bills that will be really Departmental Bills, and 220 easily identifiable as being part of the legislation dealing with a specific subject.
I notice that there are several of the provisions now in the Regulations that are more or less covered by Clauses of the Bill introduced by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, dealing with housing repairs and rents. We shall, of course, examine those Clauses, when we get to them, with the utmost care, to make quite sure that the defences that those Regulations have set round some of the humblest homes of the country are fully preserved, and that, in putting them into permanent legislation, there is no whittling away of provisions that were made under the Defence Regulations.
The other Bills in which this matter is being dealt with this year are, I think, rather less controversial than the Housing Bill is likely to be. There again, however, most of them have started in another place, and when they reach us here we shall give them the same kind of attention, in order to make quite certain that what has been gained is not lost in the process of putting them into permanent legislative form.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman gave us a very detailed account, for which I thank him, of what the Government are doing in the way of requisitioning land and houses. I think the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) was an indication of the great difficulty that will surround the de-requisitioning of those properties which have been taken for definite housing purposes, and it will need the very greatest possible care to ensure that the balance of justice, which is always so difficult to attain in these matters, is preserved.
One knows within one's own personal experience of persons whose property is requisitioned and upon whom hardship is inflicted; then when one goes and sees the property and discovers who are living there, one is aware of the difficulties which will confront them if the house is de-requisitioned and they are turned out. One sees at once the great problem that must confront the Ministry and this House when they have to attempt to establish a balance between those claims. We sincerely trust that the Minister and his colleagues will be very careful in the proposals that they make and the practice that they follow when they try to 221 reduce still further the number of these requisitioned houses.
Generally, I think we should agree that it is advisable that where the property is permanently required by the Government, as soon as the Department makes up its mind that it will require this property, no matter which Department it may be, it should proceed towards arranging what the right hon. and learned Gentleman somewhat magniloquently described as a more acceptable form of tenure. Whether it be purchasing or leasing, it seems that to get on to a reasonably permanent basis is probably in the best interests both of the actual owner of the property and of the Government Department concerned.
That is the kind of requirement that the Treasury makes when a Government Department asks for power to spend money on adapting requisitioned property for the particular purpose for which they hold it. I am glad to see that the Treasury is so ably represented here this afternoon by the Financial Secretary, who must really be wishing that he was back on this side of the House so that he could tell us exactly what he thinks about a Government that continues any Regulations for a single second. I am sure that it would ease the work of the Departments as well as relieve the mind of the owner if these more permanent arrangements could be reached.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to two alternatives—compulsory purchase and compulsory leasing. I am sure that he appreciates that there is no power in law for compulsory leasing. It would require a fresh departure in legislation.
§ Mr. Ede
I hope I did not say "compulsory leasing," because I was trying to follow the form of words used by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. But I would not have it thought that, of necessity, I would rule out compulsory leasing in dealing with this matter.
I commend to the attention of his colleagues the words of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in alluding to the greater powers that local authorities have for dealing with compulsory purchase, when compared with those possessed by Government Departments. I have no doubt that he has already discovered in the Home Office that in some matters 222 where a local authority would have no difficulty in obtaining land for a specific public purpose, the Home Office itself possesses no such powers, although it has a few more than when I first went to the Home Office. It is, however, gravely hampered occasionally in carrying out quite necessary social work because of the absence of powers that every local authority would expect to enjoy. The curious thing is that most compulsory powers exerted by local authorities have to be approved by a Government Department which itself does not possess the power that the local authority has exercised, and merely asks for confirmation from the Government Department concerned.
There is, of course, the very great difficulty to which the right hon. and learned Government alluded, which, I understand, he hopes to cover by legislation in the near future, about the land required by the War Office, particularly for military manoeuvres. I know that during the lifetime of the late Government that matter presented very considerable difficulties to us because, after all, the scale of military manoeuvres now in this country is out of all proportion to the scale when the Military Manoeuvres Act, 1897, was first passed. The methods of conveying troops have altered so much.
I assume that the first military manœuvres in which I ever took part, in the year 1900, were governed by the Military Manœuvres Act, 1897. In those days the infantry marched. It is true that the three field officers rode on horses, but the rest of us marched. That is no longer the case, as I understand. Among the many benefits conferred on the infantry in recent years, not the least of them has been that they are under less liability to march than they were in 1900.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison)
They still have some liability to march.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
They never were.
§ Mr. Ede
No. I am merely repeating what my regimental sergeant major said 223 to me and what I said to the troops when I held that position.
It is, however, a matter of very serious concern, and I have no doubt that it will be dealt with at some greater length by my right hon. and hon. Friends connected with the agricultural industry when we reach the Amendment that we have tabled dealing with this issue. The amount of damage that can be done by modern vehicles on manœuvres is considerably greater than were the depredations that the troops occasionally made at harvest time among the growing fruit on the trees in the areas in which they happened to be.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman made one remark which, I must say, caused me some alarm. I have noticed that there is growing agitation on the question of dealing, in some legislative form, with common lands. He mentioned that almost as the small dust of the balance. Great as was my dislike of Defence Regulation 16, I could view some of the proposals for dealing with common lands with even greater hostility than I regarded Defence Regulation No. 16.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman wound up with an account of what it is proposed to do with economic control. He rather hinted that it might be there that we should find more ground for disagreement than elsewhere. The right hon. and learned Gentleman set out, with some show of satisfaction, the statistics in this particular field. From his point of view I suppose that he and those who support him can regard them with some satisfaction, but hon. Members on this side of the House are by no means certain that, here, haste has not got the better of wisdom on the part of the Government.
When I read some of the rather plaintive appeals being made to industry and finance by the Chancellor of the Exchequer I am inclined to think that if some of these Regulations and Orders were still in existence his words would be received with greater respect, and more action might follow by those to whom the words are addressed.
When I was negotiating for real estate for a local authority I always found it very advantageous to have a compulsory purchase order in my pocket if I wanted 224 it. I have no doubt that if I had consulted the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) professionally with regard to the question whether or not I should seek powers for a compulsory purchase order, he would have said, "It is always better to take full advantage of all the powers you possess, in the hope that you will not have to use them."
We do not think that the economic circumstances of the country are so assured that the Government have been wise in dispensing so rapidly with controls that give a certain driving power to exhortations addressed to leaders of industry and finance by members of the Government who are responsible for the supervision of our economic life. I sometimes think that the Government have almost reached the laissez faire Liberalism of 100 years ago. I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) would feel quite at home now with Bright and, Cobden. Although they might be rather alarmed at finding him so eloquent and persistent a supporter, he would find nothing very difficult in accepting all the things that, between that date and this, were supposed by the Tory Party to be mere Whig heresies.
It is quite certain that there are great and powerful interests who do not at all times find it acceptable, even in our present economic plight, to accept the guidance of those whose permanent interest it is to see that our economic restoration is carried through and completed. We therefore view with very considerable doubt the rapidity with which not merely Orders but Regulations have disappeared. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, each Regulation that disappears can be given effect to in the future only by legislative Acts, and that fact is not lost sight of by those who, while the Regulation exists, realise that the Orders previously made under it can be reinforced. On this aspect of the matter we view the activities of the right hon. and learned Gentleman with less approbation; in fact, on occasion, with positive disapprobation.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman also said something which I regretted hearing from a Home Secretary. I believe that any offence committed against the law of the country is an offence. I regret 225 that motor car offences have become so prevalent among what was formally an almost completely law-abiding section of the community, and that a conviction in a magistrates' court is now regarded as of far less importance than it used to be. I recall, when I first served on a Lord Lieutenant's advisory committee, we had a rule that no one who had been convicted in a magistrates' court could be recommended as a magistrate.
During the 25 years that I served on that committee the attitude of motor drivers changed so much that we found it very difficult to find anybody whom we could recommend from among the middle classes, for all had at one time or another appeared in the magistrates' courts and had been fined for motoring offences. We managed to find a few, but we had to abrogate that rule.
The prosecutions under Defence Regulations were undertaken because the law had been broken. The law had been made owing to the desperate plight of the country, and I regret that it should bethought that in some way or other such an offence is less reprehensible than others. We do not say, because burglaries have increased in number, that we should lighten the law and lessen the penalty with regard to burglary. I know some people who would like to see the law in this respect made even more stringent. It is one of the depressing things of our time that people seem to think that an offence committed by a lower-middle-class person is not likely to be as serious an offence as some of the more ancient ones which have been dealt with for a very long period of time.
We are indebted to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the very clear and lucid exposition he gave of what he proposes. I hope he will feel that I have dealt with the principal points raised. I have purposely not gone into too much detail on some of them because at this stage in our proceedings it is better to state our general attitude rather than to get bogged down in small details. Nevertheless, we are grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for having dealt in considerable detail with the proposal.
I do not know how long we shall continue our discussion today. Last year we gave up in despair, because, if we had continued much longer, we should 226 have lost a discussion of a Private Member's Bill to which we attached some importance. That might have been jeopardised if we had continued much longer with our discussion. At any rate, I think we start off in rather better temper than we did last time, and while I am not wanting to say anything that would restrict any discussion that is necessary of these matters, I trust that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will feel that, while, of necessity, we have to make reservations on a great many points, we do welcome the transition of some of these Regulations into permanent legislation.
He can rest assured that in that field, at least, he will have our support, even if given with our critical examination of his proposals. With regard to the others, and particularly with regard to the abandonment of some of his economic controls, we can only hope that he will not be there so long that the worst effects of what he now proposes will take place.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Ralph Assheton (Blackburn, West)
I intervene with some hesitation in this very difficult and obscure subject I have neither the advantage of the Home Secretary's great legal knowledge, assisted by a first-rate Department of State, nor the advantage of having the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) to devil for me, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) told us was his good fortune.
I do think that we ought to congratulate the Home Secretary first of all on the way in which he presented his case and the extremely patient way he dealt with interruptions by my hon. Friends and myself, and also on the very full account of what it is intended to do. I think we must also congratulate him on the record which he showed us of the achievement in reducing the number of Regulations under which we are governed.
I am one of those who very much dislike delegated legislation. I think we all do, although we recognise that in this 20th century we cannot altogether do without it, but I would say a little following on what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields has said about breaking laws. I agree with him that breaking laws is a very serious thing, 227 and I hope that it will never be that in this country laws can be broken lightly, but I would remind him and the House that we have moved a long way in the last 20 years from the old position when it was always recognised that every man was presumed to know the law. That may have been a little hard then, but that presumption today is still the law, and yet it is quite imposible for any individual to know the law.
I think that the general public do not feel the same sense of guilt about breaking some of these Regulations and Orders which are made by Ministers—some signed by Ministers, some signed only by civil servants—that they do about breaking the old-established and better-known laws of the land. I think that was a point that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields perhaps missed to some extent. It is a fact that the general public know these laws have not been debated in Parliament. They have not gone through Second Reading, Committee stage, and Third Reading in this House, and been again debated in another place.
There they are, suddenly foisted upon the community; and the community do not know very often what is in the laws. They have had no opportunity of being informed. Members of the public could, of course, buy the Defence Regulations, but no ordinary member of the public could equip himself with all the Orders made under the Defence Regulations. Believe it or not, a number of these Orders are not even printed.
§ Mr. Assheton
Some of them are not even numbered, as my hon. and learned Friend tells me. How an ordinary member of the public can find his way through this maze of legislation I cannot say. So I think there is something to be said for the individual member of the public who does not feel that it is such a serious offence to break one of these laws. He is not right in thinking that; he is wrong; but I have some sympathy for him when he feels that.
My right hon. and learned Friend gave us certain assurances for which I was very grateful, and he explained certain matters of which I was ignorant. He dealt, in particular, with Regulation 58A. 228 I was glad to know that the reintroduction of the direction of labour cannot be effected without an Act of Parliament. That is very satisfactory, but I do not find it very satisfactory that Regulation 58A should still exist at all, since it is required for what I consider to be only a comparatively minor purpose. Although it is only for a comparatively minor purpose, the powers given to the Minister of Labour and National Service are, in my opinion, excessive.
Even now, under this Regulation the Minister may by Order make provision for regulating the engagement of workers by employers, and…may, in particular, provide by any such order for any incidental and supplementary matters for which the Minister thinks it expedient to provide.He can say that no one is to go into such and such a trade. That is a stringent power to have, and when we have the assurance, which Ministers have given us, that no greater powers will be kept than the existing situation demands, I ask myself whether by the test of that we ought to continue to accept Regulation 58A.
However, Regulation 58A is really just child's play compared with Regulation 55. Let me direct the attention of the House for a few minutes to Regulation 55—general control of industry. What can the Government do under that?A competent authority"—that, of course, means any one of a number of Ministers—…may by order provide (a) for regulating or prohibiting the production, treatment, keeping, storage, movement, transport, distribution, disposal, acquisition, use or consumption of articles of any description; (b) for regulating the carrying on of every undertaking engaged in essential work.Those powers are enormously wide. and they are powers which, as I understand them—I hope I am not making a mistake—my right hon. and learned Friend is asking us to continue for another year—all those tremendous powers. When the Financial Secretary to the Treasury wound up the debate on 20th November last year, he specifically said:We give the assurance that we shall watch them carefully"—that is, this business—to make sure that excessive powers are neither held nor sought."—[Official Report, 20th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 2176.]Can he or the Home Secretary really believe that those powers that I have just 229 enumerated are not excessive for the purposes the Government have at present in hand? My hon. Friend went on to talk last year about the difficulties of the war in Korea and so on, but even that has, happily, come to an end, or been suspended for the time being. Even if it were still going on, I could not believe that the excessive powers under Regulation 55 should be retained.
My right hon. and learned Friend told us—and we are very glad of it—that an enormous number of controls had been abolished. The have not been abolished. They have been suspended. That is all. The power to reintroduce those controls, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields has just told us, is still inherent, is still there, and Ministers can at any time reintroduce all those controls dealing with industry. That is a matter of which we must think very seriously. I do not propose for a moment to challenge the Government tonight or to suggest that what they are doing should not be proceeded with tonight, but I do beg my right hon. and learned Friend to consider before next year this whole position very seriously.
I hope and pray that he will not come to this House this time next year to ask us once again to accept the re-enactment, for example, of Regulation 55. I have used that as an illustration, because I think it is the most striking illustration I could use. It would take me a very long time to go through the other Regulations and deal with them, and I do not propose to do so, and I end with a plea from this side of the House to the Government to realise and remember that people will not be satisfied to leave such enormous powers in the hands of Ministers. We do not believe in leaving an enormous amount of power in one set of hands. The whole idea of the people of this country and of our Constitution is that power must not rest in too few hands. At the present time there is more power in the hands of Her Majesty's Government than I, at any rate, think fitting.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)
I agree wholeheartedly with the observations which have just been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton). I hope it will not embarrass him if I describe 230 them as a healthy, Liberal approach to this problem. I found what he had to say about Defence Regulation 55 much more acceptable than what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) had to say. I found his argument in this respect very strange indeed. He talked about controls giving driving power. I would have thought that they would almost inevitably produce precisely the opposite result.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to talk about economic restoration, as if economic restoration depended in any degree on the maintenance of the Defence Regulations. I certainly much prefer the approach of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West towards economic controls and the maintenance of Regulation 55. I share his hope that during this year we will see the end to the type of controls envisaged in that Regulation.
I should like to add to the comments made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West on the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields about prosecutions and convictions under the Defence Regulations. Where there are convictions for offences which do not, in the eyes of the public, involve moral turpitude, there is being created a state of affairs which may cause general damage to the administration of justice in this country.
Undoubtedly, many convictions obtained under the Defence Regulations were not convictions which carried moral turpitude in the eyes of the public. Possibly some of them did, but some of them did not; and it may be that some which did not should have. The fact remains that a very large number of them did not carry any stigma in the eyes of decent, honourable citizens. When we find such a state of affairs it means a weakening of the respect for the administration of justice, in that the label of having been convicted for a criminal offence ceases to have anything like the stigma which it should have had and which it always had in the past.
I certainly accept the principle of the Government's approach to the use of these powers as outlined by the Home Secretary. It would be churlish of me not to pay tribute to the Government for the 231 substantial improvement which has been made during the last 12 months.
The point I should like to make in this respect is largely one of emphasis. The Home Secretary has referred to a number of powers which are no longer being retained by the Government, so that some powers which existed under the Defence Regulations are being taken from the Executive. There is not one which he mentioned which did not have my approval, but I would have preferred him to do away with the Defence Regulations altogether, because the continued existence of emergency legislation in this form is an affront to Parliament.
I wish the right hon. and learned Gentleman had displayed a greater sense of urgency in removing not so much the powers as contained in these Regulations—that is a different question altogether—but of altering the position whereby these powers are given to the Executive in the way in which they are held at present. It is a reflection upon the whole Parliamentary set-up that wider powers should now be held by means of these Orders in Council, which were given to the Executive to meet an emergency situation.
We are dealing now with Regulations some of which have been in force since 1940. They were given in a form under which all the House could do was either to accept or reject them. It had no power of amending them or of making any counter suggestions.
All I would say in that connection is that what is paramount from the point of view of Parliament and its relations with the Executive is that no powers should be retained except by means of Measures carried through this House in the normal way, with all the essential safeguards associated with the passing of legislation. It is convenient for the Executive to have these powers and not to have them interfered with. It is convenient from the point of view of the management of the business of this House not to have to introduce additional Bills to give the Executive a power which it already has.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I agree, in substance, with what the hon. and learned Gentleman says and I wish 232 that this had gone to the Delegated Legislation Committee. What we all want to know is how to deal with the 2,000 Statutory Instruments which are passed each year, and which are not subject to discussion or amendment.
§ Mr. Bowen
I did not have the advantage of sitting on that Committee, and I look forward to reading its Report when it is published. In this respect, however, these Defence Regulations are framed in a way which many forms of delegated legislation are not. I appreciate that if we are dealing with such matters as price control there is a necessity for elasticity to give power to the Minister to vary prices at different times, because conditions are continually changing.
However, here, in the main, the Government are asking for the retention of powers which have been given to the Executive, and are not prepared at the moment to subject the question of whether those powers should be given to the normal legislative processes of this House. All I would say is whether or not any of these powers should or should not be retained—and we can assume that some of them need to be retained—the sooner they are acquired by the Government through the ordinary processes of legislation the healthier it will be for Parliament.
It would be healthier from another point of view. If Government Departments had to justify the retention of these powers in a detailed Bill which would be subject to examination in Committee, they would find that many of the powers which they now have under these Regulations would not be necessary. Any hon. Member exercising his private rights would subject these powers to careful scrutiny. That is essential in the promotion of any Bill.
Therefore, while welcoming the progress made during 1952–53, I am disappointed that the Home Secretary envisaged coming to the House in 12 months' time to ask once more for the continuance of emergency legislation embodying 68 of these Regulations which were given in time of war. The Government should make a real effort to improve upon their programme in this respect. They should examine again very carefully whether many of these powers need to be retained—I have referred to 233 one already—and, having done so, should try to see that these powers are acquired by normal Parliamentary procedure and not by this means.
I should like to make one or two comments on some of the individual Regulations. I share the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) with regard to Regulation 58A. I appreciate that it is only envisaged that it will be invoked for a relatively innocuous purpose, namely, the notification of vacancies. But after all, the powers remaining, according to the words of the Regulation, are extremely wide:The Minister may by order make provision for regulating the engagement of workers by employers.…I think that the fact of his leaving in words of such a wide character tend to take away from the general pleasure which I felt at the abolition of any powers of direction of labour. I would feel far happier if the Home Secretary could go a little further and make it quite clear that this Defence Regulation will only be used for the powers which he mentioned, namely, the notification of vacancies.
One of the difficulties is that all these powers acquired by the Executive in this way are powers which inevitably interfere with personal liberty and personal rights. In the White Paper, the phrase is used that some of the legislation would be of a complex character. I do not for one moment deny that, but the fact that the legislation would have to be of a complex character and that the matters concerned are matters for which Parliament has a particular responsibility, make it all the more important that they should be subjected to the ordinary legislative processes.
I want to say one other thing about the powers of requisition and powers of acquisition of land, and the position of the Armed Forces in regard to requisitioning. This is an extremely difficult problem which often gives rise to a sense of injustice on the part of the public. I think that we all try to appreciate the point of view of the Services in this matter, but I also think that the time has come when any powers which Parliament thinks fit to give to the Services should not be given through 234 the medium by which they are given at present, but should be clearly defined and limited in an Act of Parliament.
I hope that the Home Secretary will see that the Government improve considerably on the programme which they envisage for 1954, and that we shall not be faced in 12 months' time by having to approve once again emergency legislation involving 68 Regulations for a further period of 12 months.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
I do not think that I can follow very far the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), but I can agree with him that it would be preferable if, instead of having Orders and discussions of this sort, we made laws of a more permanent character through the ordinary processes of law-making in this House, rather than by the processes we adopt as a result of Defence Regulations and the like. I admit that that is desirable, but I do not know how we should accomplish it with the business of Parliament organised as it is.
I thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman came to the basis of the case when he said that we have been creating by Orders and Regulations offences which did not carry a sense of moral turpitude. It was on that ground that he suggested that we ought to re-examine the whole of this question again. I agree that it is important that the laws should correspond with the general sense of the community in regard to the moral turpitude, but that is the question which is begged by everyone who uses this argument.
Where does moral turpitude arise concerning the offences with which we have to deal? For example, my hon. and learned Friend has been talking about the regulations and the law regarding drink and the use of drink by motorists. Many people think that there is no moral turpitude involved there. But the more we examine the matter the more we find that people's actions—[Hon. Members:"Oh."] There is a tendency to complain when I raise this issue, but it has been raised at some length already. If hon. Members do not like this argument let me take another, although I propose to come back to it before I finish.
235 Let us take the law and regulations relating the use of the roads. On the question of stopping at a red light—is there any issue of moral turpitude involved? Of course there is. But many people do not recognise it, and therefore an Order has to be passed to deal with those who have not a sufficiently developed sense to realise that the desire to cross a road anywhere—the claim to be free in the use of the roads and to ignore the dangers—is something which has to be curbed in the general interests of the community. Unwillingness to accept that general interest is in itself an indication of moral turpitude.
There is a tendency to make a distinction without very much difference. All these Orders and Regulations came into being in wartime, in a special time of danger, to be used against wrong doing or actions by individuals, but when they come to be more thoroughly understood they are seen to be a danger to the life of the community. Because they are a danger to that life they should establish a sense of moral turpitude on the part of those who decline to obey and carry out the law.
I therefore agree that, even as we get far away from war and from the conditions which produced these Orders, every time they are before us they must be carefully examined as to the part they have to play in protecting the life of the community from those who wish to make breaches in it for their own interests. Generally speaking, that is what these Orders have been doing, and that is why many of them should still be retained to deal with the sort of problem that will continue to confront us.
We have been referred to the question of Orders that deal with the requisitioning of houses and land. The Home Secretary said that so far as requisitioning of houses was concerned all the heads of the Departments involved in that policy are carefully watching the position, and that no hard and fast decision has been arrived at. Is there a sense of moral turpitude involved in this question of the need to requisition houses? I think there is.
Let me quote a case from my constituency that must be parallel to cases with which other hon. Members will be familiar. A large house was taken over from a religious organisation in order to 236 divide the tenancy of rooms between 12 or 14 women, who found a home in the house. Then, the organisation that owned the house wanted it back again for its own purposes. Lawyers' letters were sent to all the occupants, with the result that 12 of them were frightened off by the lawyers' letters, and the two others, more certain of their rights than the 12 who lost the day, held their position in the house until an eviction order was claimed against them in the county court. I am pleased to say that the court ruled—I do not know under what law, but, at any rate, under the powers available to it—that those two persons should not be evicted; and they are in the house at the present time. The rest of it is unoccupied.
The council, uncertain of its position under the Minister's new attempts to cut down the requisitioning of houses, does not know what to do in order to get the house back again for the general use of the large number of the homeless people in my constituency. I submit that any power in the hands of local councils which enables them to requisition houses should be retained. The Government should not be standing in the way of the homeless for whom houses have not been found by other methods, despite the 300,000 houses now being built annually.
In respect of the house to which I have referred, every Regulation should be retained which gives the local authority, especially when use is not made otherwise of houses or parts of houses, the right to step in and requisition that accommodation to help to meet the terrific problem that faces us all and about which all parties now pretend to be very anxious as a first priority. There is no case whatever for weakening on this issue.
When I turn to the question of land, I look, perhaps, through other spectacles. There is in my constituency an industrial corporation, who will not mind my giving their name so that the case may be ventilated. It is the British Bath Company, which makes baths and kitchen sinks and exports them all over the world, thereby earning valuable dollars. We ought to be pressing forward their activities by all means in our power. The kitchen sink, instead of being made, as formerly, of stone or earthenware, is now made of metal.
237 One would have thought that the metal sinks could all have been built together into nests and exported abroad in that form but the people of Canada who buy them for dollars will not have them in that form. The customer, it should be remembered, is always right if one is discussing modern problems of trade and retailing. Every kitchen sink must be packed in a crate. This entails a tremendous requirement by the company for storage space for the baths, because when the St. Lawrence is frozen the ships carrying them cannot be sent into Canada. There are regular periods in the company's operations when it is making baths for storage and needs all the land that it can get for that purpose.
But the War Office is just over the fence, and it has got a great deal of the company's land for the Ordnance Department. I admit that the War Office has shown reasonable understanding of the difficulty, and the matter is not yet settled, but when it is settled it would be assisted by the retention of the appropriate Regulations and their implementation according to the general needs of the community. Even though, in fighting a case on behalf of the British Bath Company, I might complain about these land Regulations, I think it is necessary that they should be brought more into conformity with the general law.
Another set of Regulations which, it is suggested, should be scrapped are those dealing with prices. At page 107 of the Defence Regulations one reads of the complete removal of these Regulations under the Government's proposals. There may be some case for scrapping the Regulations when it is remembered that in other directions in retail trade—for example, the alterations in furniture and cloth production and sale—the rather special necessity for keeping a maximum price on different commodities has been removed. But I should hardly have thought that the party opposite were feeling quite free to scrap all these price Regulations after the promises that have been made about the necessity to safeguard the cost of living.
Many of the articles from which Regulations are now to be removed are commodities that enter into general trade. People will become increasingly subject to the pressure of higher prices, against 238 which we were seeking to defend them when these Regulations were imposed. As things develop, we will probably find that we have made a great mistake in scrapping the price Regulations.
I will quote an example. In connection with the Monopolies Commission, we are confronted at present with the issue of the prices being charged for matches. There is a general, widespread resentment in the community, especially as what has been taking place comes to be better understood, at the price now charged for matches, which were once sold extremely cheaply to the community. The need to have the matter examined by the Monopolies Commission has been admitted, but what is to happen at the end of the examination, when the Report is received upon the powerful Match Corporation which we have asked the Monopolies Commission to investigate, if we deprive ourselves entirely, by scrapping all these Regulations, of the power to fix a maximum price for matches? At this time, while the question of monopolies is being closely examined, it is very inadvisable entirely to scrap that type of Regulation, which has been some protection for the community.
I pass to another set of Regulations which has been dealt with already by a number of speakers, but about which I have a rather special point of view. I refer to the Control of Engagement Order, dealt with on page 42 of the Defence Regulations. It is interesting that this year and, indeed, this week, we should be scrapping this Regulation when we have just arranged for the continuance of conscription for another five years. We are making up our minds, apparently, that we no longer need to rely on any compulsory process for the direction of labour.
Let me be quite frank with the House. I entirely agree with scrapping this Order. I have wanted it done for a very long time. My old friend, Rhys Davies, who represented Westhoughton in the House for many years, used to protest against the continuance of the Order.
We are told on page 42 that the whole of Regulation 58A is to go with the exception, as the right hon. Gentleman 239 explained to me when I intervened, that he still retains powers tomake provision for regulating the engagement of workers by employers…and may, in particular, provide by any such Order—(d) for any incidental and supplementary matters for which the Minister thinks it expedient to provide.I can well imagine that anything which occurred to the right hon. Gentleman in a time of difficulty, concerning labour, would be regarded by him as "supplementary matters" for which it was expedient to provide. I am not at all anxious that he should retain those powers. If he intends to get rid of the whole of 58A with the exception of paragraph (4), then he would have been better advised to get rid of paragraph (4) as well.
In any case—and I stress this point, in particular to my hon. Friends—the need for facing the problem of a certain amount of direction of labour, if the House insists on maintaining conscription for the whole of the young manhood of the country, is not to be gainsaid. If the House is determined, irrespective of the personal desires of these young men, to take all young men of 18 and upwards into the Army, Navy or Air Force on the ground that they are needed for fighting and training for fighting; and if that is in a special category and is required because of the needs of the community, then we ought now to be considering the question of the coal miners, the sailors, the exempted persons in agriculture and elsewhere and ought to be taking into account the fact that they are exempted because apparently there is a superior need for their services as miners, agricultural workers, seamen, and so on.
If there is a superior need from the point of view of the community that their services should be retained in those fields of operations, and if at the same time we are conscripting others willy nilly into the Forces, then we have no case at all for withdrawing the semi-conscription from those who are required for services of a more urgent character.
I want everyone to be free of conscription, and as soon as I see conscription abolished I shall at once be willing to admit that the case is open for getting rid entirely of the direction of labour, but I warn my hon. Friends—the miners' 240 representatives for example—that at a time when it is quite likely that there will be a superior demand for miners' labour—even more than at present—when coal is scarce everywhere and men are not to be found to dig it, then, if we retain on the Statute Book an Order for the conscription of men for the Armed Forces, there will be no ground on which we should not proceed to the retention of men by compulsory processes for those services which the House regards as superior even to the services of the Armed Forces.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
While I accept much of what the hon. Member has said, will he agree that the effects of industrial conscription, to which he has referred, might be even more serious than the effects of military conscription, which is limited in time and which results in all probability in a young man returning to his own home? In the case of industrial conscription the man might be sent to another part of the country and his whole life upturned.
§ Mr. Hudson
As I said at the beginning of my speech, I take somewhat the same view as did my old friend Rhys Davies, who was constantly pointing out the total disadvantages of industrial conscription of any sort.
I am merely saying to hon. Members who allowed themselves to slip into the acceptance of conscription for military, naval, and air purposes that they have laid the groundwork for themselves which will mean that, stage by stage, as difficulties increase in securing coal, they will be increasingly forced into the acceptance of industrial conscription. That is why I object to the retention of paragraph (4) by which the Minister says he wants to keep that part of the Control of the Engagement Order which will give him powers in matters which are incidental to the general needs of the situation.
I have only one more topic to raise and that concerns the whole question of the control of industry, about which hon. Members opposite are most exercised in their minds. They want these controls entirely removed. To remove them just now, in the midst of the burden of the dollar gap which the war has put on our shoulders, is sheer madness. The Government are appealing as the Labour 241 Government appealed, and this Chanlor is doing very much what the late Sir Stafford Cripps did all the time he was Chancellor—appealing to everyone to confront this basic problem.
If this House was really considering its duty those appeals would make it impossible to scrap the controls that have tended to keep industry in its place. We have often heard on Tory platforms about the advisability of getting rid of irksome processes and of not holding back the freedom of industry, but I submit that no generalisation of that sort is adequate to overcome the problems facing us, namely, of getting the working people to have an even greater sense of sacrifice. For that is what they are being asked, to make every effort they can to put on the market the production we need so much.
If we are to talk to them about keeping their wages steady; if engineers, particularly in the export trade, are to be persuaded by this House to get over their resentment, we cannot remove these controls now. And they have every right to feel resentment at the callous way in which their claims have been received by the employers. To announce, as this House is now announcing, that the controls on the engineering industry are to be loosened, is to imperil much of the best work of this House. It will not be made easy for any who are engaged in leading trade unions, and encouraging the working people to have a sense of responsibility regarding our problems, when the House itself, in an attitude of utter irresponsibility, flings overboard the Regulations that have done so much to ease the general situation in the first place. I hope, therefore, that these matters will be more carefully considered in the future.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Hylton-Foster (York)
How trying must be the life of the Home Secretary. My right hon. and learned Friend has been sitting here since he himself finished talking some hours ago and has been abused from behind because he is not doing away with Regulation 55 and, just now, he has been listening to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), to whom we always listen with such delight, abusing him because he was removing Regulation 55. It is a very 242 confusing situation in which to find oneself and I wonder what it feels like.
I find myself in almost complete agreement with the anti-delegated legislation aspirations of the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen). The great difference between us, I think, would be that I would feel much more sensitive to the amount of time that this House can devote to legislation in any one Sesssion. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman was being rather hard on my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in decrying his aspirations to do exactly those things which the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan was hoping would be done.
The problem really is not to get rid of controls altogether—I imagine few hon. Members suppose that there ever will be a day when we can conduct the affairs of this country without some form of delegated legislation. I do not myself look forward to that as a practical possibility. What is much more interesting is how we can proceed to control the controls, and it is on this point that I am so anxious to be able to read the report to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred. That is what I want to hear:how, having to endure delegated legislation in some form, we in this House are to be able to control it in that form? Whether, when we have it, we still continue to call it a Defence Regulation, thereby acknowledging its origin in emergency does not matter provided we keep a firm control over the delegated legislation and keep it down to the least possible dimensions.
Having listened with great interest to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields, I was sorry that the rapture with which he received the proposals of the Home Secretary was so qualified. The Order Paper became more and more unintelligible the more we listened to the right hon. Gentleman. I understood him to be agreeing with the Home Secretary that the right thing to do with the legislative provisions now contained in Defence Regulations which we want to be permanent is to put them into easily identifiable legislation and not in the rag-bag, box of tricks, pattern of statutes like the last Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act.
If that is really the view of the right hon. Gentleman I do not understand the 243 objection to keeping, for instance, Regulation 52. Anybody can understand that the farmer does not like tanks charging about over his land, but from the point of view of discussing whether we keep Regulation 52 or wait for easily identifiable permanent legislation, I do not understand his objection.
§ Mr. Ede
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to interrupt, one reason for putting an Amendment forward to these Regulations is to get some account of the use that has been made of them during the past year, and some indication of what the Government are likely to do in regard to them in the future. It was only this afternoon that we heard from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there was this proposal to put forward some substituting legislation. Possibly, if we had heard that before, the Amendment might not have appeared—but I am making no promise.
§ Mr. Hylton-Foster
I am greatly obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. All of us who are home-goers by nature and like our beds at an early hour will no doubt be looking forward to a withdrawal of the Amendment. However, I must keep in order. I have a bad reputation for getting out of order on things of this kind and I do not want to offend.
Then there is the jolly topic provided by the Burial, Inquests and Registration of Deaths Regulations. I cannot, for my own part, follow, with a perfectly good statute already created—easily identifiable permanent legislation—what would be the objection to keeping the Regulation until that comes into force.
§ Mr. Hylton-Foster
No. I do not wish to fall into an error of law, which I most frequently do, but I am under the impression that when we enacted that statute we provided that it should come into force upon an appointed day Order. Subject to correction, I do not believe that an appointed day Order has yet been made. The statute exists, but it is not in effect. In those circumstances I wonder why certain right hon. and hon. Members opposite find some objection to keeping the Regulation going until the appointed day.
244 I regret keeping the House so long, but there is a certain glee, a negative glee in acclaiming the decease of legislation. I know nothing quite parallel to it, except the theme of the hymn writer when he wrote,My mind on pleasant subjects dwells, Damnation and the dead.I desire to have my share of enjoying the extremely satisfactory legislative topiary which is carried out in the Appendix. Nobody has had a bite yet at the third paragraph of Regulation 54B, which died during the year. I should like to see the House acclaim its decease in affirmative terms, because that is the last remaining specimen of a particularly obnoxious kind of legislation—legislation whereby not only the delegate of Parliament but the delegate of the delegate is empowered expressly by Regulation to overrule an Act of Parliament.
I was horrified to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields, he having had such great experience as a magistrate, saying that having an automatic penalty has had the effect among magistrates of preventing their convicting. That is a most alarming thought. But I entirely agree with what the Home Secretary said about the deplorable effect of a minimum penalty in restricting the powers of the courts to award what sentence it likes. I believe, however, that there is an even worse evil underlying these minimum penalties.
Two years ago I began with other hon. Members to beg to have them removed. They have gone now and I want to celebrate that fact and to say that when minimum penalties are laid down and magistrates or, even worse, Her Majesty's judges are obliged to impose a minimum penalty we are either announcing to the world that we cannot trust the courts of justice to rise to their responsibilities and impose the proper penalty for the offence or we are acclaiming to the world that our law is out of tune with public opinion and that it must be a bad law. I, therefore, rejoice to see these penalties go.
Yet another Regulation goes with it—Regulation 93AA. I have always thought it ignominious for a demonstrably honest people, such as we are, to require a Defence General Regulation to tell us what stealing is. Much of all this is a matter of emphasis. The hon. and 245 learned Member for Cardigan says that what is happening this time is a substantial improvement. I prefer to call it a glorious, vigorous assault on this delegated legislation, which we want to get rid of, an assault which has been in a large measure successful and holds promise of even further substantial progress. I hope that the House will give enthusiastic assent to these proposals.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
Nothing has given us on this side of the House more pleasure than to hear the declaration in favour of liberty that has come from hon. Members on the other side who imposed a continuation of conscription in the last few days. It is a little difficult to follow their reasoning. Personally I should like to express our sincere gratitude to the Home Secretary for using the particular power which always impresses the House—his great gift of clarity in expounding very complicated matters. He made a most lucid opening speech and I was greatly indebted to him, because until he had made that speech I had only a vague idea of the implications of what we are discussing today. I am not by any means sure that I have any clear idea now. [Laughter.] Yes, indeed. I shall draw attention in a moment to one little matter which the Home Secretary himself forgot and a number of Regulations to which he made no reference at all.
But, first of all, I have to face this question of minimum punishment and the observations which have been made on that subject. The House will know that I have a direct personal interest and therefore I should have preferred to have nothing to say about it, but having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), it would be pusillanimous of me not to say at least one or two things. I am not sure what is meant by moral turpitude. I am not usually good at interpreting rather pompous polysyllables. If it means that a man should be ashamed of a conviction I entirely agree. But I think that there are degrees of moral turpitude. If my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North finds himself at two o'clock in the morning on a lonely road 15 miles from home and the front lamp of his bicycle goes out on a moonlit night he will be subjected to a degree of temptation to 246 which he will be fortunate if he does not succumb.
I am on record as having said what I am about to say long ago before I had a personal interest. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary said that he was opposed to minimum punishments, perhaps he was overlooking what is the main and most substantial minimum punishment that the law imposes, that is capital punishment. I would welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's agreement with me on this. There is no option for a court or a jury. They are bound to impose capital punishment for murder. Even the latest Report on the subject says that there is so much difficulty in differentiating between mercy killings and other killings that one should accept the principle of the minimum, and capital punishment. If the Home Secretary is opposed to minimum punishment, and I do not know the views of the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) on that—
§ Mr. Hylton-Foster
I suspect that the hon. Member would not wish to impose on any single individual the decision whether or no capital sentence should be imposed.
§ Mr. Hale
It is clearly unnecessary for me to answer that, because I am not in favour of permitting any individual in any circumstances to impose a capital sentence. On that I am quite clear and no one can be under any possible dubiety about my attitude. The hon. Member posed a question which has been posed for 2,000 years. He asked "Quis custo-diet ipsos custodies?" and translated it, "Who shall control the controllers?" I would have translated it differently and would have asked, "Who shall brain-wash the brain-washers?" That postulates a series of problems which we of this generation ought to confront.
I should like to refer to one Regulation to which reference has not yet been made. I am glad to see it maintained. I hope that it will be maintained and used and understood a great deal more than it is. If I may interpose in my own observations for a moment, I should like to say, something else that comes before that. We on these benches face a dichotomy on this matter. I do not like Defence Regulations and I do not like the form that 247 these matters take. I should like to see those things which it is thought ought to be retained embodied in permanent legislation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary was once a lawyer and is still a lawyer, because lawyers are rather like highways—it is difficult to divert them except under Defence Regulations.
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will realise that one of the real objections to the Regulations is that no one has ever understood them. No one has had the chance. It is quite a serious matter. They were passed all in a lump without discussion in the course of a few days in 1939. There were stacks of them and they have been amended since. If one wants to find them even in the Library of the House of Commons, which is very good, it is not easy to trace them and ascertain their content. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said that he had the assistance of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) in marking his card and that now his card was adequately marked he was able to say what was in force as the card had been marked by one of Her Majesty's counsel learned in the law, and a Member of Parliament to boot.
That may be so, but practising lawyers never had the chance of finding all these Regulations. At the moment when they were passed, I was busy ascertaining my income to be 6s. a week whilst my wife had 24s. and my children 7s. I had my mind concentrated more on my economic position than on jurisprudence and amendment of the law. That was the dilemma and that is why there is a real difficulty about the whole system of doing these things en bloc. No one likes it and no one is fond of it for its own sake. No one approves of having laws which we do not need.
The one Regulation which I should like to see given more publicity is Regulation 68CB, which permits a protected sub-letting of a house even in contravention of the terms of lease, subject to certain conditions. I am bound to say that until these debates I was not aware of that power, and it seems an important one. One of the very real problems which confront hon. Members in giving advice 248 to constituents is the difficulty of knowing on what terms a house has been let.
It is one of the curiosities in the long term, initiated by the Rent Act in 1915, that no one knows in the case of a rent-controlled house whether there were arbitrarily imposed any conditions of tenure the breach of which would make the tenant liable to be dispossessed by a judgment of the county court. Thetenant might be a victim of a breach of terms of his tenancy and, unfortunately, landlords from time to time supply rent books some of which have printed rules and some of which do not have printed rules. No one knows the rules and no one knows the terms in such a connection. So it is not infrequent that I have tenants come to me and say, "I have taken a subtenant in part of my house. I have done it really in the public interest because in a town like Oldham it is very necessary that people should not be discouraged from sub-letting a part of the house. Now the landlord is serving me with a notice. What can I do about it? Have I to face county court proceedings?"
It is exceedingly important that borough councils and urban authorities should take advantage of this legislation, open a housing register and see that publicity is given and, on appropriate terms, have sub-lettings registered in such a way as to preclude this difficulty and make the maximum use of our present housing accommodation. It is really true that the number of people per house today has gone down very much indeed. The number of people per tenement is today comparatively small. On the other hand, the number of tenements which are hardly adequate to provide a home for anyone is very high indeed. All too frequently sub-letting of a part of a house would be better than living in a house which should have been condemned some years ago.
I wish to come to one or two matters to which no reference has been made up to now. I find myself in the physical difficulty that my copy of the red book has disappeared since I rose—[An Hon. Member:"It has been requisitioned."] I think I might ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to use his officers to investigate that matter when the debate has concluded. It seems a highly suspicious circumstance that it appeared again a moment ago and has been returned to me with such alacrity.
249 I want to refer to the Defence (Finance) Regulations, 1939. As I understand, those which are being continued in force are Regulations 2A, 6, 7AA, 8, 9B, 10 and 11. This seems a classical example of what happens when we legislate by instalments and repeal Regulations by instalments, pulling out a paragraph here and there and sticking in an amendment in the form of 7AA here and 7 AB there. The unhappy public have to find out what the law is and what it is meant to do and what part is being preserved. If I refer to these Regulations in inverse order we shall get a better idea of their relevance today.
The final Order is Regulation 11. That gives the short title and does not have great significance, except that it enables us to know what the Regulations are to be called. The preceding one maintained in force is the Interpretation Regulation, which tells us what the terms "bank notes," foreign currency" and so on mean in the terms of the Regulation. The preceding Regulation, 9B, is a restriction on right to make agreements in contravention of the Order and again is purely administrative. The Regulation preceding that is Regulation 9,which is a rather amazing one because it generally provides that the provisions of Part V of the Defence Regulations, 1939, shall apply to the Defence (Finance) Regulations.
It is not easy to find why that is so, but as Part V is only general and supplementary provisions, they are not of great operative effect but merely provide the penalties for breach of an Order. So we have got to Regulation 9 without having found anything that is of any great operative value. Regulation 8 gives the Treasury power to obtain information for the purpose of enforcing these Orders and we are still in the sphere of what one might call ancillary provisions. Regulation 7AB gives power to call in notes of £5 and upwards, which I believe has been done, and so far as I know that is not of great operative importance at the moment. Regulation 6 has some significance today. It deals with the control of capital issues. That one is quite important and it is rather regrettable that it is not being operated to any great extent at the moment.
The only Regulation left—up to now we have only had Regulation 6, dealing 250 with capital issues, which has any marked significance—is Regulation 2A, which starts in these words:Where the Treasury are satisfied that owing to the changes in the external or internal position of any country or territory action is being, or is likely to be, taken to the detriment of the United Kingdom, or otherwise to the prejudice of the efficient prosecution of the war…,the Treasury may take certain action. I have not the slightest doubt that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell me that Orders are operated under that Regulation and that steps can be taken in relation to foreign currency or the moral turpitude of anyone who lives on the Riviera for seven months and so on. That may be, but I say it should not be. I say that an Order framed like that, which permits us to make financial measures against countries which appear to be operating a policy to the detriment of the successful prosecution of a war which has been over, in practice at any rate, for seven or eight years, is not the sort of thing on which we ought to hang financial measures at the moment. I therefore suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman what he might consider that, and say a few words about it, and tell us what is the scope and ambit of the Defence (Finance) Regulations at this moment.
I do not want to be discourteous. I am on my best behaviour today. I have been studiously polite to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. But there is one little matter on which I would modestly and temperately raise a little voice of criticism. When he flattered himself that he had at last revoked the Order which provided for the stopping up of highways, I suggest that on the whole he was pinning a medal on his breast with a little more abandon than his particular deserts in this connection merited, whatever may be his deserts on general grounds. What he has done is to revoke the Order which enabled the stopping up of highways by opencast coal operators. We have been told it was rarely used anyway. If it was a question of a Civil Defence store, or to enable electricity operations to take place, we have been told year after year that it would take effect, to use a Parliamentary term, "in due course."
But when we come to the only Regulation in respect of which highways have been stopped up all over the country, 251 that remains. Highways are stopped up for military purposes, for aviation purposes, for aerodromes and so on. I am subject to correction—I am always subject to correction in any of the observations I make—but I understand that that Regulation goes on. Highways remain stopped up. The old maxim of the law, "Once a highway, always a highway" remains one of those archaic maxims which has disappeared from operative life. So far as I know, no one intends to interfere with the War Office, or indeed with any military organisation or authority, in their desire to stop up highways without much regard to the public interest and without much consideration and, indeed, without there being much chance of anyone making any observations.
That is really all I wanted to say. But I feel that the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) would not wish me to sit down without referring to the joy with which the historian or the collector of antiques or objets d'art hears at long last the voice of laissez faire Liberalism raised once more in this House. From time to time in the course of correspondence in "The Times" we read that the voice of the cuckoo has been heard at unusual times and in unusual circumstances with great joy. But to hear from a party which supports conscription today—[Hon. Members:"No."] Oh indeed, yes. We were told so by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) only a day or two ago. He said, "We support it today, but may oppose it tomorrow."
§ Mr. Hale
The hon. and learned Gentleman shows no sense of moral turpitude at all. He is trying to get away with his disgrace by saying that other people share it. Let me say at once that it is not my party. It is the party to which I pay very loyal and generous adherence, with very great joy, and of which I am a perfectly happy member; and I continue to adhere to all their principles except on this point. I did not vote last Monday on the issue of conscription and I have made it clear publicly that I shall not vote for conscription in any form 252 again—unless, of course, my views alter very considerably.
I notice that people, as they get older, change their views on this subject. One reflection which comes to my mind is that if only half of the thousands of people who gave their lives during the 1914–18 war had been pacifists at that time they might have lived to be militarists today. But there it is. At least, mine is the little more respectable method of being not so opposed to combat in my youth, but now attaining discretion in these matters, instead of the reverse.
But the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan tried to divert me from my observations on his observations. He wants competitive capitalism to be absolutely free. He wants the laws of supply and demand, whatever they may be, to operate freely. He wants to import goods from all over the world so that the capitalist laws will have a last chance of having sway, no matter what happens to the rest of the world, and this little island will be the ultimate plot of freedom.
Under that freedom uneconomic coal pits will operate and we shall have no coal. Controlled electricity plant will cease to be controlled and we shall have no electricity generated from the coal we have not got. We shall have a complete close down of half our industry. But we shall still have conscription and an Army. That is the one exception which the hon. and learned Gentleman makes. We shall have an economic situation without coal, without hope, without plans. But we shall have a large armed force—
§ Mr. Speaker
By the wish of both parties I agreed to a very wide discussion on this matter, and the limits are indeed wide. But they are not so wide as to include what the hon. Gentleman is now speaking about.
§ Mr. Hale
I would only say that we, on this side of the House at any rate, recognise the need for the continued existence of a large number of controls. It 253 occurs to me that when the implications of the recent by-election result make their full force felt, the right hon. and learned Gentleman may very well find that we shall need even more controls of a certain type to re-plan the industry of the country, and to rescue it from the slough of despond into which it has drifted under un-planned Conservatism, spurred on only by the increasingly despairing speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) for his speech. He was amusing, as he always is, in spite of the somewhat strange mixture of metaphor towards the end, which perhaps was due, Mr. Speaker, to a very proper desire to bring his speech to a conclusion after your intervention. But he was something more than amusing, at any rate as compared with the points of view of his hon. Friends. He was at some points positively improving, a quality which I think would in itself offer more scope to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) than the qualities of wit and persiflage which we normally associate with the hon. Member for Oldham, West.
The hon. Member did not do anything quite so unconventional, from the point of view of hon. Members opposite, as positively to say that freedom was a good thing—that would be a little too much to expect—but he did go so far as to say that it was not wholly in all the circumstances an unredeemably bad thing. I feel that that is a notable advance from the hon. Member for Ealing, North and other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, whose point of view in regard to these matters seems to be that freedom is wholly bad and wholly to be deplored; unless of course it is freedom which is linked with some abdication of national responsibility. That is the point of view they put, not of course in so few words—that would hardly be characteristic—but generally speaking that was the point of view put forward by the hon. Member for Ealing, North in his speech—
§ Mr. J. Hudson
Will the hon. Member permit me to say that I put precisely the opposite of that point of view, with the illustration that I offered to the House—and which I assumed the House, and even 254 the hon. Gentleman would understand—that when I limited a man's freedom at the road corner by putting a red light against him I really contributed to his greater liberty and to his ultimate freedom to move in safety on the roads.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
That point was made in one part of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but the fact that he said something opposite in one part of the speech does not conclusively mean that he did not take the point of view which I suggest at some other part of it. I tried conscientiously to follow him through the varying points of view which he advanced, and I admit that I found it a little difficult. I found it difficult even to be sure whether he was arguing for or against industrial conscription. I was not sure on which side of the fence he finally came down after his rather lengthy analysis.
Most people see a difference between a temporary period of National Service in discharge of a national obligation and the clamping down of a detailed framework of controls on the national economy. Hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House cling to their view, however old fashioned and undesirable it may seem to hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the native genius of the British people flourishes best in a climate of general freedom.
It is in pursuance of that philosophy that the Government have so far approached this question of the Defence Regulations and administrative law during their two years of office. I should like to congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the number of Regulations that have been revoked, though I think it is right to say that if one judges by weight rather than mere numbers the record is perhaps a little less impressive. However, that is only to be expected. I congratulate him also on his desire to put emergency powers into a statutory form.
I agree with what was said on that point by the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen). His speech was very good. He did not really lapse until he made his intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West. It is a poor excuse for the conduct of his party to say that it was not much worse than the conduct of the Labour Party. But on the generality of his point of view, he was right about the 255 marked superiority of a legislative enactment over this form of Regulation.
I also congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend for doing away with the minimum penalties which I, among others, have always felt to be a most unfortunate part of the Defence Regulations. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) addressed himself to this point but, rather curiously I thought, he seemed to consider that the main disadvantage of minimum penalties was the possibility that juries might thereby refrain from convicting. I should have thought that that was an ancillary, almost an incidental, disadvantage.
I should have thought that the main disadvantage was clearly that which was so well put by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster)—that it is putting an improper restraint upon the discretion of the court to take account of the circumstances of the case, which is clean contrary to the principles which animate our law. One can clearly understand that at the time when these Regulations were originally formulated there might have been some case for the minimum penalties. At that time, these offences being new, and being offences because of the special peril of the country, some guidance might have been required on the subject of penalties. These minimum penalties should not have survived a single Parliamentary Session after the end of the war, and most people will be heartily glad to see them go.
I wish to make special reference to two Regulations. I refer first to Regulation 51 which has been referred to several times today and which is of great importance from many points of view. As I understand the position, the effect of what we are doing if we extend the operation of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act for a further year, will be two-fold. For one more year it will enable requisitioning authorities to take possession of new land or buildings; but it will extend the period during which requisition can be made on premises already requisitioned for two years after the expiry of the extended Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act—that is to say, until December, 1956. If that is right it is as well that, the House 256 should realise that there is this further period for the holding on to premises which are already under requisition. The chief problem of this Regulation is the great human problem of the 125,000 families living in the 75,000 requisitioned houses, which means 75,000 other persons or families being kept out of their property.
The only way in which the problem can be approached is under what is known in the Rent Restriction Acts as the balance of hardship principle. But that is a hard principle to have to interpret or enforce, because it means hardship almost always on at least one of the two parties concerned. Unfortunately the Defence Regulations, unlike the Rent Restriction Acts, being temporary Measures, there is no machinery even for embarking on this difficult test of the balance of hardship. This is one of the inevitable shortcomings of temporary legislation of this sort.
I should have thought that as a long-term measure requisitioning is inherently unsatisfactory. For example, there is no procedure for the hearing of objections or for inquiry when premises are requisitioned. It is unlike compulsory purchase under which there is an elaborate code of objection and inquiry because that is of a permanent nature. But, as requisitioning is becoming semipermanent, it seems unfortunate that there are no such provisions affecting it. Also, the compensation questions arising out of requisition are exceptionally difficult and complex. I know of no statutes more complicated than the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred. All these seem to me to be reasons why the requisitioning procedure is unsatisfactory when taken as a quasi-permanent institution.
The other Regulation to which I wish to refer is Regulation 56A which, strangely enough, has not been referred to except in passing by my right hon. and learned Friend. It is a Regulation of the very first importance because on it is based the whole control of building operations and the licensing machinery in respect of capital works. The House would like to hear what is in the mind of the Government in connection with this Regulation and how long it is expected to go on in its present form.
257 I appreciate that there is a good deal of flexibility under the Control of Building Operations Orders which are made under this Regulation and which have increased in a gratifying way what are known as the free limits of licensing for building work. However, I wish to suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend that if this Regulation is to continue, or is likely to continue at any rate beyond the coming year, there is a good deal of scope for improvement in it. It is a provision which is typical of the complaint made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West that all these Regulations were drafted in a hurry and originally enacted without discussion. There is a good deal in the Regulations, as in many others, which would profit by an overhaul in the language and the definition of the Regulation.
I close by saying that, of course, one of the unsatisfactory things about Defence Regulations, when they are creating criminal offences, is that there is no necessity for what is called guilty intent in regard to the commission of offences under them. For example, in Defence Regulation 56A the mere fact of building, the mere fact of erecting a certain works, is of itself an offence, whatever the intent or the absence of intent may be. That seems to me to be a deviation from our normal principles, just as the prescription of minimum penalties was.
The hon. and learned Member for Cardigan probably spoke for most Members of the House when he said that Defence Regulations as such were necessarily less desirable because of their form, quite apart from their content, than appropriate legislative enactments. Most of us, while congratulating the Government on what they have succeeded in doing so far, would urge them to continue on this way.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) not only for a lucid, witty speech, but for giving to these Orders and Regulations cogent and critical examination, very different from that of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), who was off again on the old cry—ancestral voices prophesying doom.
When one recollects that when the Supplies and Services (Transitional 258 Powers) Act was being enacted by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in 1945 it aroused the wildest enthusiasm in the Labour Party, as it was represented as an Act of necessity in order to carry out their design for socialisation in this country, it is quite remarkable that only the hon. Member for Ealing, North is now left behind in that same mood, and with that same purpose in his speech, while other Members, except the hon. Member for Oldham, West who is practically with us in his critical examination, have deserted the Chamber and gone elsewhere.
I wish to start my short speech with a question to the hon. Member who is to reply. It is on a technical point. During his speech, my right hon. and learned Friend referred to Regulation 58A, relating to the control of engagements Order. He was interrupted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) who is now not in his place, and he replied. That reply did not entirely satisfy me. I should be most grateful if the Government could make it clear.
It seems that we are passing for another year the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, and its Schedules. In paragraph 7 of the White Paper we are told the Defence Regulations which will continue, some with modifications, some not. Those which will lapse are apparently not included in the list.
When my right hon. Friend was speaking he was asked how much of Regulation 58A would continue, and he said "Paragraph (4), about the registration of workers, and no more." Of course that is correct and that is what will happen, but what is the legislative sanction? Are we to have the Defence Regulation before us on an affirmative Resolution in its new form as paragraph (4) and only paragraph (4)? I can see how it happens in some other cases. For example, if one looks at page 5 of the White Paper one finds Regulations 68A, 68AA, 68B and 68BB, and it is clear in the just published Housing Repairs and Rents Bill that these Regulations are to be repealed by that Bill. I wish to know how the rest of this list in paragraph 7 is repealed or modified, statutorily.
The second matter to which I wish to refer concerns Regulation 51, which deals 259 with the continued requisitioning of houses. I am very firmly convinced that the time has now arrived for the Government to give serious consideration to a scheduled and carefully calculated programme of de-requisitioning private houses. The magnificent housing drive of the Government—the local authority drive—is having its success; private building is enormously improving. Surely we are now sufficiently remote from the war and the community is becoming sufficiently provided with houses for this policy to be carried steadily forward. I do not think it is going fast enough.
I know of a great number of persons who own their own houses, who surrendered them for the purposes of the war and who have not been able to get them back. They resent the attitude of Her Majesty's Government—our own Government—in not seeing that the pledges given in time of war are fulfilled. This applies also to the requisitioning of land, to post-war credits, high taxation and a lot of other things to which I shall not now refer.
There is a large section in the community which feels that Her Majesty's Government—Her Majesty's Conservative Government—ought to implement the pledges that Governments gave at the beginning of the war and which have never been redeemed. Many people who own their houses are perfectly satisfied that the persons in them could be housed elsewhere at no greater inconvenience to themselves and that they, the owners, should get back once and for all the houses which they once lived in and which are, perhaps, their only or their best possession. I urge the Government to carry on steadfastly with this policy in the coming year.
My final point is in regard to what the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said in the comparable debate last year. I do not think from what has gone before today that we shall hear the same thing from him now. He left me in a state of some doubt and unhappiness last year. His was the last speech. Here we are returning to the subject, and I have waited all this time to have it out with him. My hon. Friend said:It is much less dangerous to entrust powers of this sort to a Government whose approach to these problems is as I have indicated than 260 to a Government—were there to be such a Government—which had a tendency or bias towards undue and excessive interference in the affairs of individuals.Then he gave a rather nice example from the field of viniculture, and continued:But I think there is a certain force in the contention that a Government whose approch to the problem is that of this Government can be trusted not to take or use excessive powers, and, indeed, the fact that a good deal of this debate has consisted in hon. Members opposite trying to force on this Government powers which the Government with equal pertinacity refused to accept, is a very clear indication of that truth."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 2168–9.]That is not good enough, for this reason. I quite agree that my hon. and right hon. Friends are very good tenants of the present House but we do not know what tenants are to come after, and the House has to be put into such a condition before they leave their tenancy as to be quite uninhabitable from the point of those who follow. I mean to say that there must not be left one Regulation, whether in the category of these Defence Regulations under the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act or under the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act which is no longer required for specific purposes. These Regulations which can be embodied in legislation should be so embodied, even if it means astrenuous Parliamentary programme.
In my submission, at the end of this Parliament, there must not be existing on the Statute Book powers which are not required or which are not used by the present Administration but which may be used in other circumstances and for other purposes by some others. I feel absolutely certain, from the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend, that that is his purpose, but I should like my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, who is replying tonight, to stand a little in a white sheet on what he said last year and to reaffirm to the House and the country that my view is correct.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
The House will sympathise with the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke)in his unhappiness, and I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to allay that unhappiness, though the growing unhappiness of the people of this country 261 will not be allayed until we get the present Government out of office. But I do not want to be provoked by the noble Lord, because the atmosphere and spirit of this debate has been very different from that of the debate we had last year, and I hope it will remain so.
This has been a friendly and constructive debate this year, largely because of the usefulness and effectiveness of that year's debate and the reasonable assistance which the Home Secretary gave us throughout those discussions. The difficulties last year were due to the unreasonableness of the Leader of the House, who is not now with us, but, in retrospect, we can see that the improvement we have been able to make during the past 12 months shows that the discussions we held last year were well worth while and have led to profitable results, which only emphasise how thoroughly unreasonable the Leader of the House was at that time.
The House will appreciate that one of the difficulties of discussing the various matters which we have been endeavouring to discuss this afternoon is that the powers are removed by Statutory Instruments revoking the powers previously obtaining, and I agree with the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) that one of the essential problems is to provide a more effective way of discussing delegated legislation generally. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said, I hope that when the Select Committee's Report is published, it will be seriously considered by the Government, and will lead to an improvement in the opportunities afforded to the House for discussing delegated legislation.
It is clear from such discussion as we have had today that the Government, spurred by the debate we held last year, have considerably tidied up the Defence Regulations. I think they can fairly claim that the results achieved are considerable, and I should like to suggest to the Financial Secretary that perhaps he ought to consider producing another edition of the Defence Regulations. I know the difficulties of making this an annual publication, but, in view of the very substantial amendments made and the deletions made from the present 262 volume, it seems to me that there is a case for a 21st edition of the Regulations.
We have nevertheless some serious reservations about some of the steps which the Government have taken. However, while it is no particular consolation to be told that the machinery of the Board of Trade regarding price control has been largely dismantled, at any rate we can take comfort in the fact that the power of price control remains. In fact, what is disturbing hon. Members supporting the Government is the importance of the powers which remain. We are supporting this Motion today because, among other things, it provides for the control of opencast mining, for a continuance of requisitioning, because it provides—and this is what I would emphasise to hon. Members opposite—for general control of industry, and because it provides for price control of goods and services. It is for these reasons that we support the present Motion, and I can quite understand the embarrassment of the noble Lord and other hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Willey
No, there is a specific power remaining. After all, the Ministry of Food still have price control powers, and general control of the price of goods and services remains.
We approve some of the steps which the Government are taking, such as putting into permanent form the provisions about labelling and clean food, but we know that, during the next 12 months, some of the provisions which we are now extending for another year, for example, those affecting agriculture, may be revoked during that time, and we share the disturbance of the whole farming community about what may take their place. The opportunity to discuss that matter will arise if and when the Government make up their minds on the steps they will take. Meanwhile, we support the continuance of the powers which the Government seek to continue to control industry, price control and to continue requisitioning.
Our disappointment is that the Government have not chosen the right order of priorities. What the Government should have done—and we support what they 263 are doing—in endeavouring to reduce these Regulations as far as possible to permanent form was to have taken these vitally important Defence Regulations first. What we would have welcomed in this House would have been a Measure to provide for full employment and to ensure that industry should serve the nation, but, until we get such proposals, we support the continuance of these essential Regulations.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has said that this has been an interesting debate and one singularly lacking in elements of asperity. There seems to have been in the House a general body of agreement to the effect that, broadly, a good many of these powers require renewal for a further year, but, equally, that the more such powers as have to remain can be put upon a normal statutory basis the better.
I think that that attitude summarises at any rate a very large body of opinion which has been expressed in the debate, but general agreement on that does not mask the fact that we are here, to some extent, dealing with instruments of policy, and that, therefore, a different view as to the number and sharpness of the instruments that may be required naturally arises as a result of that policy.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) made it perfectly clear that he regretted the abandonment of certain of these controls, because it is part and parcel of his general political and economic philosophy that the State should intervene to a greater extent and in greater detail in economic affairs than has been the policy of this Government. That does raise fundamental issues of policy—issues which I do not think the House would wish me, even it you, Mr. Speaker, would permit me, to enter into at any length.
It is clear that we should bear in mind that, underlying the very large measure of general agreement upon what should be done at this moment to deal with a large number of these Regulations, there is the very real difference between those who naturally, from their own point of view wish to see a large measure of retention 264 of these powers, because they would be necessary instruments of policy, and those of my hon. Friends whose whole approach to economic policy is to give a much greater degree of freedom and non-interference by the Government than is desirable in the view of right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I shall seek to reply in detail to a number of points on individual Regulations which have been made during the debate. We might do this job better if we bore in mind the broad general picture which was outlined, with his habitual force and clarity, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, in moving the Motion. The statistics given in paragraph 6 of the White Paper to a considerable extent speak for themselves, although I agree that one can introduce a certain element of weighting as between different Regulations. The fact remains that, as a Government, we inherited from our predecessors 215 Regulations and that when we came to the House last year in a similar debate the number was down to 173 and that today it is down to 97.
Those figures bring out our general attitude towards this emergency legislation. Like the preacher to whom the late President Coolidge once heard deliver a discourse on the subject of sin, we are against it. When my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) suggested that I should come before the House in a white sheet I thought that it was much better to do so clad in an adequate White Paper. These figures make our attitude clear.
Another way of appreciating what has been done is to do what the right hon. Member for South Shields did, look at the latest edition of the Defence Regulations, either with the aid of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) as he did or with the aid of a skilled Department, as I did. It is remarkable to see the number of lines drawn through the Regulations during the last year; and in that context I quite agree with the hon. Member for Sunderland, North that those circumstances necessitate the production of a new edition. Preparations are in hand, and although I cannot promise it to him as a Christmas present I very much hope that it may be ready by Christmas.
265 In considering the general conspectus of what we have done the House will wish to indicate its appreciation of the work which has gone on, under the direction of my right hon. Friends, on this subject in the Departments of State. Anybody who knows anything about the work of a Department of State knows how much easier it is to retain powers than to give them up. There is always the argument that we perhaps would be well advised to keep a particular power for a rainy day. The fact that it has been possible to eliminate such a very large number of Regulations calls for some appreciation from the House of the very hard administrative work and thought that clearly have been given to achieve a result of these dimensions.
I shall deal with a number of broad points raised by hon. Members. Perhaps it would be appropriate if I began by saying a little about the Defence (Finance) Regulations, to which the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) referred and which are, of course, departmentally of some concern to me. As hon. Gentlemen will see from the White Paper, we revokedearly in August no fewer than five of these Regulations as well as the greater part of a sixth.
We revoked Defence Regulation 1, under which we could acquire securities for the purpose of selling them overseas:1A, under which we had power to direct the sale of certain securities; 1 B, under which we could give directions as to the custody and disposition of documents of title in certain cases; 5 A, which was an exempting power in connection with Regulation 1; 7, under which we could exempt from Stamp Duty instruments in connection with transfers to us; and, as has already been pointed out, all of Defence (Finance) Regulation 9, except the largely formal first sub-paragraph, which simply links the Defence (Finance) Regulations with the main body of the Regulation.
In addition, as my right hon. and learned Friend has pointed out there has already been presented and is before the House the Currency and Banknotes Bill which, if Parliament sees fit to pass it into law carries with it the revocation of two more Defence (Finance) Regulations, 7AA and 7AB. I may add that the future of one further Defence (Finance) Regulation, No. 6, is under consideration. We have made all these very large 266 reductions during the past year and I hope that they will reassure my hon. Friend, if reassurance be needed, on our general attitude on this question.
We come to the retention of Defence Regulation 58A (4) in circumstances in which 58A is itself being revoked. Let me clear away the technical question which I was asked by my noble Friend. The noble Lord asked me how, as a matter of legislative technique, the revocation of all the paragraphs of 58A other than paragraph (4) was effected. It was effected by an Order, the Defence Regulation No. 12 Order, 1953, made on 19th November and laid before this House on 20th November. As a matter of procedure that Order has the effect of revoking the relevant paragraphs of 58A.
As to the merits of the matter it is a fact that by revoking the other parts of 58A, notably the first paragraph, the power to impose direction of labour has been revoked and, as my right hon. and learned Friend told the House, it will not be possible to reimpose it except by legislation. All that therefore remains are the provisions in paragraph 4. The reason for the retention of paragraph 4 is that it is upon that Regulation that the Order known as the "Notification of Vacancies Order" made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, depends.
The purpose of that Order, which operates directly on employers and not directly upon the workers, is to secure that vacancies are notified to the Ministry of Labour and that employers shall obtain staff through the Ministry of Labour Exchanges. The purpose of this is to enable the Minister of Labour to discharge his duty of seeking to direct labour in the directions in which, in the public interest, it is most needed.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour informs me that in the last six months his efforts in that direction have had substantial effect in securing that guidance was given to labour and in persuading it to move to all the industries where a real shortage of labour exists and in which, in the national interest, it is important that shortage of labour should not continue. One of these industries has been the aircraft industry, whose remarkable achievements in both the civil and the military field ought not to be handicapped in any way.
267 What the future of that Order and of the Regulation on which it depends may be it is not for me to forecast. In the circumstances which now exist my right hon. and learned Friend feels that he is able by the exercise of the Order to serve a very useful public purpose in assisting the maintenance of the supply of labour to industries of very great national importance.
The big, general issues which were discussed included the group of Defence Regulations under which requisitioning takes place and the group concentrated upon Defence Regulation 55, under which the so-called "economic controls" are operated. Perhaps it would be convenient if, at this stage, I said a word or two about both of them. My right hon. and learned Friend made quite clear what the policy of the Government is on the requisitioning of offices by Government Departments, and, once again, the figures that he quoted indicate that we are not stopping at good intentions. However anxious any of us may be—many of us are—to make even better progress than has been possible, the figures indicate what our intentions in this direction are.
Much more difficult, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have indicated, is the question of the requisitioning of houses to provide accommodation for the homeless. The hon. Member for Oldham, West referred to his own experience in his constituency. I have had very similar experience, as no doubt most hon. Members have had. Indeed, I have had the experience of hearing the case in one instance both from the owner of the house and from the tenant, and as I listened I felt overwhelming sympathy for the one to whom I was at that moment listening.
These are very difficult problems in which the balance of justice and fairness in the individual case is quite extraordinarily difficult to be dogmatic about, which I certainly should not wish to be. It is certainly the fact that, as the building of new houses under the direction of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government continues at the high level at which it is now proceeding, the circumstances which made requisitioning a human necessity will diminish, and there will be provided an alleviation of an enormously difficult 268 human problem, as well as a very difficult administrative problem for the local authorities, upon whom falls the extraordinarily difficult task of deciding individual cases.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) and other hon. Members have asked a number of questions about the main body of the economic controls which are embodied in Defence Regulations 55, 55AA and 55AB. What I have said in general terms about controls applies to these in particular, and I think that the use which we are making of them—hon. Members on this side of the House approve of it but hon. Members opposite, broadly, disapprove—is diminishing. None the less, we cannot yet dispense with those Defence Regulations.
I should like, in support of that assertion, to give one or two examples of the way in which it is still inevitably necessary—I am sure that hon. Members, broadly, will agree—to operate the powers drawn from these Regulations. For example, the three Regulations together provide the authority under which are made the Orders which implement the systems of guaranteed prices and marketing arrangements for farmers under the Agriculture Act, 1947. It seems to us clear that it is necessary for this purpose to continue the Regulations at least until details of new marketing arrangements have been worked out and, if necessary, new legislation obtained. What is material is that the present directions for implementing the guarantees in the 1947 Act depend on the continuance of the three Regulations.
Equally my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is using Defence Regulation 55 as authority for a Statutory Instrument, No. 1016 of 1951, under which the Government are able to fulfil their international obligations in relation to the movement of strategic goods to certain countries. In our view, that is a necessary step, and I am sure the House generally will agree that it is a proper use of Defence Regulations.
Similarly, the Admiralty operate a similar Order under these powers in respect of the construction of ships for certain countries. Powers under these Regulations enable the Minister of Supply to control certain scarce metals, 269 including magnesium and nickel, and the allocation of tinplate. The Ministry of Food require Defence Regulation 55 in order to carry out the necessary controls in respect of foods which are still rationed and still allocated while rationing remains. Again, these Regulations are the legal foundation for the rationing orders. A similar class of case is the allocation of coal for domestic use, and the Minister of Fuel and Power requires powers under one or other of the three Defence Regulations in respect of both allocation and price control.
Those are only examples. I do not want to weary the House by reading out a long rigmarole of them. I have said enough to indicate that for certain purposes, in respect of which the Government have, for better or worse, a duty to operate powers, the Regulations are required.
I fully share the apprehensions which have been expressed by one or two of my hon. Friends about the possibility of abuse of these powers on some future occasion. I would, however, stress that the danger only exists so far as Defence Regulations remain. As I have already explained to the House, and as my right hon. and learned Friend explained earlier, when a Defence Regulation itself is revoked, only legislation can put something similar in its place. Where a Defence Regulation remains, it is then, of course, possible to restore an Order made under it which has previously been revoked.
From the point of view of my hon. Friends, it is clearly the most satisfactory course, when it is possible, to revoke a Defence Regulation and make a clean sweep. Equally, while we need a Defence Regulation for the carrying out of essential purposes of Government in these days, it is necessary to retain the Defence Regulation.
However, I fully agree—some hon. Members reminded me that I said something to this effect last year—that we should not retain such Regulations a moment after the necessity for making use of them and the powers drawn from them has gone. That, I am sure, is a principle which will commend itself to the House. I believe it commends itself not only to my right hon. and hon. Friends, as I know it does, but also to a considerable number of hon. Members 270 opposite who have spoken and who have made what seem to me to be most legitimate criticisms of difficulties to the citizen and subject which arise from this somewhat complex and not always easy to follow body of delegated legislation.
My right hon. and learned Friend told the House that, where powers are still required, we are hoping to make some progress in putting them upon a statutory basis by passing the necessary legislation through the House and accepting such powers as may be delegated by us to the House in the course of the passing of that legislation. I am certain that that is a satisfactory course to pursue, and it is for that reason that the various Measures which my right hon. and learned Friend foreshadowed, will, we hope, in due course, be presented to the House if they have not already been.
There are, of course, limits, as all hon. Members appreciate, to Parliamentary time which necessarily impose themselves on any processes involving legislation, and it is perhaps a matter of individual judgment whether we are seeking to occupy too much or too little of the time of the House for dealing with this topic. However, I can assure the House that the general desirability of proceeding in that way is fully appreciated by my right hon. and hon. Friends, and, once again, the evidence of what we are doing is perhaps much more conclusive than anything that I can say at this stage.
We therefore ask the House to renew this diminished—and soon, let us hope, further to be diminished—body of emergency legislation. In a way, its aspect is rather like that of the 10 little nigger boys of the song. An Amendment is moved, and then there are nine, and the process of elemination, generally welcomed in the song as in the House, then follows. It is a matter on which opinions can very legitimately differ. Some of my hon. Friends may think we are going too slowly and some hon. Gentlemen opposite may think we are going too fast. To some extent in this debate, as in last year's debate, the criticisms made from both sides of the House have been very much on those lines. It is certainly a fact that as a result of that the process of reduction has very much accelerated, and that the progress made in the past year was a great deal more than that made in the previous year, and I very 271 much hope that that accelerating tendency may continue to do its good work.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty under section eight of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, praying that the said Act, which would otherwise expire on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-three, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-four.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.