§ Where the Minister of Munitions makes an order revoking any order previously made by him under Section four of the principal Act, the order so revoked shall, if the revoking order so directs, be treated for all or any of the purposes thereof as if it had never had effect.918
§ Mr. HOLT
I beg to move to leave out the Clause. I do so in order to draw attention to the very sweeping character of the powers conferred by the Clause. Under it the Minister of Munitions might, it seems to me, make an order declaring an establishment a controlled establishment, and in eighteen months' time make an order rescinding the first order, and then the whole of the proceedings under that first order would be rendered null and void, and the people concerned would not have the protection of that order. I say that is what he might do, not that I anticipate that he will do so. It is quite plain that even in a much less extreme case than that people who have been acting on a revoked order would be put in a very difficult legal position. They might have committed a breach of contract in consequence of the original order made by the Minister of Munitions. If the order is revoked what answer has that person got to an action for breach of contract brought against him by a man with whom he had business relations? The Clause in its present form gives power which I am sure is far in excess of anything my right hon. Friend himself wants, and which, if used to anything approaching its possible extent, will reduce people to absolute bankruptcy without their having any sort of remedy whatever. I submit that in its present form the Clause ought not to pass, and that for the present it would be much better to reject it, so that the, Minister could bring up in another place a more reasonable Clause, and one more in accordance with what I am sure will be the practice the Department wishes to carry out.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I agree that as it appears on the Paper it might be a very sweeping Clause, and I think there is something in the suggestion of my hon. Friend that it might be limited by words making it applicable only to the class of case to which we really want it to apply. It is a Departmental Clause, intended to deal with a difficulty which has actually arisen.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
On paper possibly it does. It is intended to meet a case of this kind. Supposing by mistake an establishment is declared a controlled 919 establishment. In two or three weeks you discover either that the wrong establishment has been selected or that on the whole it is not desirable that that establishment should be a controlled establishment, and by consent it is agreed to take it out of that category. Unless you have a Clause of this kind that establishment for that period will be treated for all purposes as a controlled establishment. It will have to give an account of its profits, render all sorts of returns, and be subject to complications which might involve that particular firm in almost insuperable difficulties. The Clause is inserted, not in the least in the interests of the Ministry of Munitions, but in order to protect such firms. I will consider whether a form of words could be introduced in order to make the Clause applicable only to cases of that kind, where, by an oversight, an establishment has been declared a controlled establishment, or where the order has been revoked within a month or two, so that it should be applicable simply to cases where by common consent the establishment was not intended to be a controlled establishment and where it is discovered that it ought not to be so declared.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOLT
The Clause seemed to me so very sweeping in its character and to give such extraordinary opportunities to a tyrannical and unjust Minister—I am not suggesting that any such words could be applied to the present Minister of Munitions or to any person likely to succeed him—that I felt bound to take exception to it. It is most objectionable to put in an Act of Parliament words authorising conduct which I believe everybody in the House would entirely reprobate. I think it would have been more satisfactory if the Government had accepted my proposal to omit the Clause, and bring in a new one in another place. If they will not do that, I will accept my right hon. Friend's assurance, and I hope that when the Bill comes back from another place we shall find suitable words inserted in the Clause.
§ Mr. KING
Of course, the Minister of Munitions does not do anything wrong at all, but he has under him people to whom he entrusts duties who have not his judgment, tact, and ability, nor his wide and generous heart. Every Member who is ready to lend a patient ear to complainants will have had brought before him many cases of serious injustice done by emergency legislation of one kind or another. I have two or three cases in mind where I have been asked to intercede at the War Office or some other Department in regard to emergency measures which were not intended or expected to operate so unjustly and harshly as they have done. Where there is a mere possibility of injustice it ought, if possible, to be guarded against. All Government Departments ought to attempt so to frame the powers that no injustice or hardship could follow.
§ Question, "That Clause 17 stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I beg to move, "That the Bill be recommitted 'to a Committee of the Whole House in respect of a proposed new Clause dealing with restrictions re change from union to non-union labour."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ [MR. WHITLEY in the Chair.]