HC Deb 26 June 1934 vol 291 cc1073-6

9.10 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 5, line 5, to leave out from "Parliament," to the end of the Sub-section, and to insert: and no such order shall have effect until it has been approved, by both Houses of Parliament. This is an Amendment to which we attach considerable importance. I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit that by the Second Reading of this Bill his hands have been materially strengthened in negotiations which are to take place with Germany. Many of us dislike the provisions of the Bill. They offend most of the principles to which we are attached and which we believe are of importance to British trade, but we realise that special circumstances have arisen which make it necessary to depart from the pure doctrine of encouraging trade. But the discussion has shown that we realise that the Government and Government Departments are being armed with very considerable powers which might be used to deal with problems far beyond the scope of the particular issue which has been the justification for this peculiar kind of legislation brought forward as an emergency and rushed through after two days discussion. After all, the Government Departments do not know the possible reactions to their policy. The effect on trade interests of hasty Orders made under this Bill may be very injurious to a very large number of business interests.

The great purpose of the House of Commons is to control the Executive. Slow and cumbersome machinery has been built up purposely to control the Executive so that the great public in years gone by, in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, might be sure that their interests were not interfered with by the Executive without having an opportunity through their elected representatives of putting their point of view or ventilating their grievances and being assured that every interest in the country would be properly considered. That is why we go through the old and antiquated procedure of taking the Mace off the Table. That is why Mr. Speaker leaves the Chair and the Chairman of Ways and Means takes charge of our proceedings whenever "financial proposal is before this House. It is in order to be quite sure that before a tax is imposed any interest affected can be expressed, and, through the Committee of this House, properly discussed. If that be the case in order to pass taxation, it is surely equally necessary when, in this interest or that interest, you interfere with the ordinary channels of trade, or a business man's contract, or limit his right to trade with this or that country by the machinery of quotas or by setting up a clearing house as is provided for in Clause 1 of this Bill.

If the Executive, without the knowledge of the House, make an Order on the advice of some Minister, it cannot be altered without moving a Vote of Censure, and hon. Members know the difficulty of such a proceeding. The Minister may say that he did it for the best, although certain trades may have been ruined and contracts already made broken. The House should retain its immemorial right to confirm policy before it is put into operation. That is all I am asking by the Amendment. The Government only desire these powers to deal with a particular case. When that case arises and the right hon. Gentleman can show that British interests have been unfairly treated, this House will treat him in the same way as it did yesterday, the Order will go through, just as the Bill did yesterday, after a comparatively few hours of Debate, and without a Division.

I want to retain the control of the House of Commons. These are times when it is necessary to stand firm in defence of our ancient privileges. It is the fashion for a certain type of politician to say that our procedure is out of date. It may be slow and cumbersome, but, at any rate, it gives the traders of this country the right to make business arrangements without fear of a Government Department coming down and by setting up a clearing house or a system of quotas upsetting their legitimate operations. Economic nationalism and tariff barriers which have been set up all over the world are a serious danger to trade interests, and on the top of all that we are imposing this new risk, because the operation of this Bill can be set up without the House of Commons being able to exercise control. Almost every week manufacturers and business men write to me to say that they have been taken by surprise by some Bill of the Government which spells ruin to them unless it is altered or modified. The only security they have are the representatives in the House of Commons. I want to retain that security, and the only way is to substitute the words of the Amendment for the words in the Bill.

9.20 p.m.


I think it is very unreasonable of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) to come forward with this proposal. He talks about the immemorial rights of the House of Commons. He knows perfectly well that the procedure in the Bill is the same as that under the Import Duties Act; and he also knows perfectly well that Parliament does not sit all the year round, and that if we were to accept the Amendment months and months might elapse before any Order at all could be made. He takes credit to himself for having strengthened our hands by passing the Second Reading without a division, but now he wants to make our task more difficult. The House is to have an opportunity to confirm an Order, it has to be submitted to the approval of the House, and a Resolution has to be passed; surely that is enough for anybody.

9.22 p.m.


I think the right hon. Gentleman is hardly fair to my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). It is admitted that we have only had a limited period in which to discuss this Bill, which gives powers of a very wide character. The right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said that he was inclined to support arguments in favour of a proposal of this nature, and the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) has always been a defender of the rights of this House. This is an Amendment which asks that this House should be given an opportunity to discuss these Orders before they become law, and, as we have not had a full opportunity to discuss the Bill itself, I think that is a reasonable request. I appeal to those hon. Members who consider that there is more in this Amendment than meets the eye, to support it.

9.25 p.m.


As far as the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. D. Mason) is concerned, I would say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not only fair but more than fair in the treatment meted out to the hon. Baronet. Only the other day on the Milk Bill he and I asked for a Clause of the very kind which is in this Bill and said that every time it was not inserted in such Measures there would be protests. Now the Government is good enough to insert the kind of Clause we thought necessary, making the Orders effective only for a certain time unless there is an approving Resolution. The Government has adopted a Clause of the sort we asked for time and time again and we congratulate them. It is very mean of the Liberal party to ride off on something else. The hon. Member has joined me before in pressing this view on the Government. Nothing seems to satisfy him. That is the way with the Liberal party. The result is they do not get anything at all and they do not deserve it.

Amendment negatived.

Clauses 5 (Expenses) and 6 (Interpretation) ordered to stand part of the Bil.