HC Deb 18 March 1937 vol 321 cc2423-43
The Deputy-Chairman

I understand that the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) and the other hon. Members who have put down Amendments to this Clause do not desire to move them.

Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

12.19 a.m.

Mr. W. Roberts

The point which we wished to raise by the Amendments on the Paper can, perhaps, be considered better on the Clause as a whole. The Clause empowers the Government to extend or amend the Act in any way they think desirable. Some of us feel that, in view of the vagueness which surrounds the Measure and the uncertainty as to whether it does or does not carry out the terms of the White Paper and the agreement, and also as to what the developments from it may be, it would be much better, in the event of considerable alterations being required in the Act to carry out the agreement, if the Government were to come back to the House and get power from the House to amend the Act when necessary and not be empowered to do so by Order at their own will without giving any opportunity either for the discussion of how this scheme has worked in practice or without offering an opportunity of criticism of a new agreement. I should like to see the Government take that course, because they have been singularly unresponsive to questions on this subject. They are uncertain how the scheme will work in practice and I think we are fully justified in asking that before it is altered and wider powers are given, we should be consulted again. There is one particular point in one of the Amendments which we put on the Order Paper to which I should like to draw the attention of the House, and that is the penalties which they may enforce under this Bill. They have power under Clause 3 (1) vary the penalties which may be enforced in the case of contravention of the Bill, and there is apparently absolutely no limit to the penalty which they may impose. The Bill as it stands at present, says: and any such Order may contain provisions for the imposition by summary process or otherwise of penalties in respect of breaches of the Order. There is absolutely no definition as to what those penalties may be. I suppose, under that, they can impose by Order any penalties they care to impose. For these reasons we feel that this Section is unnecessary and thoroughly undesirable. The Bill, as it is, opens the door to wide enough breaches in international law without giving the Government an opportunity of widening it even further without consultation. I do not know whether I should be in order in referring to another matter on this Section, but it is so wide that I feel that perhaps anything which is in the White Paper may be referred to. This is a matter which I should have raised on the previous Clause, had I beet, fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair. In paragraph 29 of this White Paper it is laid down that it may he necessary for those countries on the borders of Spain to guard the ends of the territorial waters. The words used are: In order to avoid the risk of ships escaping observation by entering Spanish territorial waters directly from the territorial waters of one of the adjacent countries, the Governments of the adjacent countries will themselves exercise observation over ships passing through those waters. I would like to ask, what can that possibly mean in view of the reply which we received just now that ships may be followed into territorial waters?

The Deputy-Chairman

Is the hon. Member suggesting that that could be done by Order in Council?

Mr. Roberts

Yes. I understand that any alteration as regards this can be made by Order in Council under this Clause and that is why I am raising it. I should like to ask what this Clause can possibly mean? As I understand it, a ship can be pursued into territorial waters. We have just been informed about that. If that is so, why is there any necessity to have paragraph 29 of the White Paper? Why is it necessary to agree that the adjacent countries shall specially guard the ends of those territorial waters?

The Deputy-Chairman

Is the hon. Member suggesting that the Clause says that His Majesty, by Order in Council, can give orders to those adjacent countries to do anything, because otherwise he is out of order?

Mr. Roberts

This is a question of what orders the masters of British ships are to accept from foreign warships.

The Deputy-Chairman

That is certainly not affected by this Clause.

Mr. Stephen

I would like to point out that the Committee have been told by the Government that under Clause 2 they have permission to impose orders in connection with other Governments.

The Deputy-Chairman

It is conceivable that His Majesty's Government may impose orders on British ships, but what the hon. Member was asking was what control other countries had over their territorial waters, and that is obviously outside the Clause.

Mr. Roberts

May I suggest that a British ship in Spanish territorial waters, or passing into Spanish territorial waters, may be interfered with by the warships of those countries which are continguous to Spanish waters, and what I was asking was whether it was proper for the captain of a British ship to submit to such orders, and whether this is one of the things which may be required by order under the Clause we are discussing? The Clause is so vague and so widely drawn that it does appear that any of the proposals in the White Paper which have not been implemented by the Bill so far may in future be raised under this Clause. Therefore, I should like to ask, if I am in order, what steps may be taken under this Clause to implement provisions in the White Paper.

12.29 a.m.

Mr. Kingsley Griffith

I should like to emphasise one point raised by my hon. Friend, and that is the extraordinary penal provisions if this Clause. I should like the Solicitor-General to tell us whether there is any precedent, or at any rate, any recent precedent, for giving His Majesty the power to make orders for the imposition by summary process or otherwise of penalties which are absolutely unlimited. There may be a very important class of offences to be dealt with, but surely the subject should know, and should know from this House by legislation, of the risks and dangers he is running on his unlawful occasions.

Under this he might be shot at dawn. There might be something with boiling oil in it under the provisions of Sub-section 1 (3) and this can be done by the power of the executive without any check. I have no desire to interfere in any way with the proper object of the Bill, but I do hope we may have some assertions from the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite or anybody else who replies, that before now and the Report stage the very wide provisions here given will be considered with a view to some possible limitation. There was one put down in the Amendment; and I do not press for that one in particular, but there should be more amendment to prevent the absolutely unlimited encroachment by the executive upon the liberty and, indeed, it might be upon the life of the subject. It is a matter of some seriousness.

12.31 a.m.

Mr. Bevan

Several hon. Members on this side of the House as well as myself have tried with very little success to impress upon hon. Members opposite the extreme difficulty under which the Committee labours in having to consider a Bill or so original a character as this. The Parliamentary Secretary has pointed out that it was the purpose of the Bill to implement the White Paper. That is in itself a very original situation. I think hon. Members who are not able to sympathise with us on the last Clause will realise the difficulties that are being raised by the position in this clause, because if the language of the White Paper is included as a part of the Bill, then one would be able to see what are the limitations of the power conferred by this clause. The Bill says: His Majesty may make such Orders in Council as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of giving effect to any arrangements made in pursuance of the provisions of the observation agreement. The words of the observation agreement are not part of the Bill. They are a part of the White Paper. In fact, we are doing a quite original thing. We are not conferring upon the Government power—the hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I may be wrong in my interpretation. If I am I will immediately give way. The observation agreement is the agreement made with 27 other Powers, and it is that agreement which is explained in the White Paper. Am I right or wrong?

Dr. Burgin

The hon. Member constantly refers to the White Paper as though it were something different from the observation agreement. There is no White Paper in the ordinary sense at all. The White Paper in this case is the instrument. It is the whole of the Observation agreement and nothing but the agreement.

Mr. Bevan

The hon. Gentleman, in his reply, has confirmed my position, so that we may speak of the observation agreement and the White Paper as one and the same document. Therefore, the words in this clause "the provisions of the observation agreement" means the agreement as set out in the White Paper which is not in the Bill. The first point to be made is that we are not conferring upon the Government in this matter powers to make Orders with respect to a Bill. We have had that before. That has been very reluctantly conceded by the House, but nevertheless has been conceded on more than one occasion. In this respect we are conferring powers on the Government not to make Orders in respect of the provisions of the Bill before the House of Commons, the provisions of which we know, the limitations of which we are aware, and the conditions with which we are familiar. No. Beyond that, we are dealing not only with the provisions of the Bill itself, but with respect to the provisions of an agreement not before the House, and not in fact part of the legislation of this House.

I submit that these are most original provisions. I respectfully submit that the learned Solicitor-General cannot provide this evening a single precedent for a provision of this kind. Let me make the point quite clear. It is obvious that it would be possible to find precedents for Orders in Council, or rather for powers to make Orders in Council, in pursuance of the provisions of a Bill. That has been done with regard to an unlimited number of measures. But here you are giving to the Government power to make Orders in Council for an agreement which is not contained in the Bill and which may in fact be changed without the consent of this House. The hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head, but if he looks at the language of the clause he will see that it is so widely drawn that even that generous interpretation may be sustained, because it says "may in pursuance of the provisions" The International Committee may take any view as to what it is necessary to do in order to give effect to the provisions of the agreement. So it is possible for them to vary even the provisions of the White Paper as they are before us at the present time.

Even if the language of the Bill does not sustain that wider interpretation I am sure that hon. Members opposite, if they will give me their attention, will agree that it is an extraordinary power to give to the executive to make Orders in Council—the hon. Member may smile, but I am sure all his colleagues do not take the same frivolous view of the issue before the House. If other members who have sat in the House many years before him had taken the same frivolous view of their parliamentary obligations, neither he nor we would be here at the present time. The hon. Member surely is not doing himself justice in this matter, because here we are handing over to the executive, power actually to carry legislation without consulting the House at all. The right hon. Gentleman used to be the champion of parliamentary liberty but now of course he has become the legal hack of the Government.

The next thing goes much further. It goes on to impose on some of the citizens of Great Britain the position of being made offenders against a law to an entirely unknown extent. As my hon. and learned Friend has pointed out, it is possible for the Government to imprison persons, and indeed it might be possible to execute a person under this clause. There is certainly a limitation. The limitation is contained in subsection (3) of the clause, and it says that the Order shall cease to have effect 28 days after it is made, unless Parliament has previously approved of it. It goes on, in the common form of clauses of this kind, to say that no account shall be taken of any days when Parliament is not sitting.

In other words, it may be possible for citizens of Great Britain to be imprisoned for four months before Parliament had any opportunity of considering the matter at all. If the Order in Council is made at the end of July, and Parliament is adjourned for the summer recess, it is possible for a citizen to be imprisoned for three or four months without any opportunity of Parliamentary redress. I know it is extremely difficult at this time of night, and with my limited legal gifts, to make this situation convincing for other Members in all parts of the Committee. They are, indeed, in this matter carrying powers which may be very useful for us. I always believe that the Tories have far less respect for the constitution than the hon. Members who sit on this side of the House. I am against this because it is very obviously conferring powers over the subject without any protection to the public.

Mr. Petherick

The hon. Member says this is a very good precedent.

Mr. Bevan

Once you have told me, or my hon. and learned friend here (Sir S. Cripps), that you do not desire any constitutional protection, we shall remember that in the days when you may ask for constitutional protection. You are telling us that any citizen of Great Britain can be imprisoned by a decision of the Executive and that for four months he can suffer the penalties imposed without redress—without recourse to the courts. This gives power to the Executive to imprison any person without even reference to the courts. It says, "by summary process or otherwise." What does "otherwise" mean? It means that officers of the Government can seize a citizen and put him in prison without even getting a conviction against him in the courts. I am told that it may mean by indictment, but it does not say so. I, therefore, submit that the Committee should not part with this provision without getting a better explanation from the Government.

On the Second Reading of this Bill the Parliamentary Secretary was asked whether it was necessary that these powers should be given in order that this international agreement might be carried out. A case might be made that swift action has to be taken in order to implement an agreement of this kind; that circumstances may vary from time to time; that the international situation may change, and that it may be necessary to have powers to be exercised to carry out an international agreement. That, obviously, involves the power on the part of the Government to take very serious action indeed. Under these powers they may involve this country in an international incident which might easily lead to war. That is not beyond any possibility of doubt, because the Government say that effectively to blockade the coasts against munitions of war it may be necessary drastically to increase the penalties and make more strict the curtain to be drawn around Spain. These powers may create a situation in which this country might be drawn into an international imbroglio.

I say that it is not necessary to give these powers. Parliament may be con- vened, or Parliament may be sitting at the time. There is no urgency about this, because the Government say that the provisions of this Bill are not to be exercised unless the other 27 nations to the agreement agree. If that be so, and this particular Bill it not to be implemented until they all agree, then any alteration of the Bill would be in the same position. The proposal to alter the Bill would be known weeks before the alteration could be implemented by international agreement. The one reason advanced for this unprecedented departure from Parliamentary practice is the urgency of the international situation; the fact that it may be necessary for the Government to act immediately. That is the only reason we have had. I believe it will be the only reason we shall have from the Front Bench. If it be true that the agreement cannot be operated until every Parliament of the 27 nations has carried a Bill to implement the agreement, and that any alteration of the agreement will not be put into effect until 27 Parliaments have implemented it, where is the urgency? Unless we have from the Front Bench far more cogent reasons thin we have had so far, there is no justification for ever allowing the Government unprecedented powers.

12.48 a.m.

Sir S. Cripps

It is very easy at a quarter to one in the morning to treat with extreme lightness a clause such as this. I venture to think that if a similar clause had been allowed to be inserted in other Bills which have passed through this House, the state of the law in this country would be very different from what it is. I remember on one occasion in the last Parliament I pointed out that one clause, not as strong as this, which gave power to the Executive, would form a very valuable precedent for future legislation by other Parliaments. When that clause came back from another place it had been entirely altered and very much improved, so far as this House was concerned. This clause is quite unprecedented in more than one way. The most important way is that it gives a Minister power by Order to amend this Bill and enter into other engagements relating to merchant shipping. That is a power no Minister has ever yet had, so far as I am aware.

The Parliamentary Secretary, when he moved the Second Reading, drew the attention of the House to this section because of its extremely novel nature. It could only be something of the most extreme kind which could possibly justify putting in the hands of a Minister the power, without consultation with this House, to make an amendment in any of the laws relating to merchant shipping. This is essentially a matter which requires discussion. The merchant shipping laws are laws which are of great importance to the industry of this country, to the seamen and to the shipowners, to the masters and to others. There is no limitation whatsoever as to the matters which may be dealf with in the amending or supplemental provisions which may be introduced with regard to this matter. It is to be observed that the power of making Orders is not, as a matter of fact, limited to powers dealing with the shipping side of the observation agreement. It, in fact, covers the whole of the observation agreement—land and sea. The only excuse put forward for this Bill, or which could be adduced for the giving of these extremely exceptional powers, was the excuse which is made by all Departments of the State—that it is much more convenient if you want to act rapidly not to have to consult the House of Commons. I admit that. Of course, it is much more convenient. It would be much more convenient for the Cabinet if it never had to come here at all. It would be able to get on with its business, no doubt, very much more rapidly, but perhaps not so efficiently as far as public opinion in the country is concerned.

Is there really this extreme urgency? I could understand it if the Minister were asking for powers to make some small alterations as regards the detailed matters arising under the existing agreement, but I suggest that there is no justification whatsoever for asking for powers to make an Order dealing with a new agreement altogether, because when that new agreement is made it must be brought before this House in some form or another in order that the House may say whether it approves taking some fresh step in this perfectly novel procedure. What that step may be it is absolutely impossible to forecast, and even if it did entail, as it might, calling the House together in the middle of a recess, this is, in my submission, a matter of sufficient importance for us to say that that step should be taken, rather than to create a precedent by which we are enabling Ministers to deal with legislation without any check on them.

This check of the positive passing of the Order 28 days afterwards is perfectly illusory. Any Government which has made that Order has got to insist on it being passed through this House. They could not conceivably come before the House and say, "We made the Order and we were fools to make it, and now we ask you not to pass it". They are bound to put the Whips on to see that it is passed through. No Amendment of any sort or kind can be made in the procedure. Therefore it becomes merely automatic registration, once it is enforced. Of course, if this Order has to be passed by this House before it comes into force, that is an entirely different proposition. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill that there is no necessity for this haste, and that a Bill can well be brought before the House if a new agreement is entered into with these various countries. It is going to take weeks, or, at any rate, a period of time to negotiate it. The other maritime Powers have got to introduce similar legislation. It cannot be rushed through when it has to do with 27 countries, and we do not want it rushed through in this country, whatever the provisions are. This Bill can only be of value and importance if it be contemplated that some unilateral action might be taken by this country without reference to action by other countries at the same time or within a similar period of time. Therefore, I ask the Government to withdraw the first Subsection of this Clause, and not to give more powers to the Minister than are essential for putting right details which arise out of the existing agreement which is in operation, or which is being brought into operation by this Bill.

12.55 a.m.

The Solicitor-General

Nobody who belongs to the profession to which my hon. and learned Friend and I belong could possibly resist making a speech of the kind which he has just made when confronted with a Clause of this character. From the professional point of view, and from the point of view of the attitude of mind of the lawyer, or one who seeks to be a lawyer, it is admittedly a very difficult Clause to defend. I confess, however, that the only lawyer I might have expected to be a little kinder to the Clause is the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, because it seemed to me that the principle underlying this Clause—of speed and decision, of action and of avoiding all the disconcerting machinery of a democratic assembly which was hampering legislation—all these were motives that were very dear to the hon. and learned Gentleman's mind. I must have thoroughly misunderstood his philosophy if I have misinterpreted him.

Be that so or not, I recognise, of course, and it would be disingenuous not to, that these are very unusual powers. But they are not unique, as he seemed to think. They are unique in one respect—as regards the penalties; I can say that at once. I know of no precedent for a Clause of this kind leaving the penalties entirely open, but it is certainly not unique as regards the other powers which it authorises the executive Government to use. A not dissimilar Section appears in the Government of India Act, permitting amendment by Order in Council of the enactment itself. But, as my hon. Friend told the House, we are dealing in this Bill with a situation that is entirely without precedent. We on this side of the House are constantly having urged on us the need for an international approach to all kinds of problems. If you are going to do that, you must make some breaches in the ordinary domestic legislative methods of this country. You cannot have your cake and eat it. If you are going to implement by domestic legislation what may be a loose, to some extent a woolly, and to some extent an ill-expressed agreement between 27 other nations, you have got to have some kind of provision that will enable you to expand and contract your domestic legislation in order that you may cover the area.

Instances have been given in this Debate to-night. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), for example, gave some instances which certainly made me pause and think a little, of the ways in which the supervision of the naval authorities might be evaded. Suppose this Bill permits evasions of that kind. Suppose the working of the Bill is defective. It is just for that kind of reason that we are taking these exceptional powers so as by Order in Council to make the Act an effective means of carrying into operation the agreement to which we have set our hands. With regard to the penalties, I agree that on paper, of course, it would enable us to make an Order in Council whereby peoples heads can be chopped off, instead of their being fined £100. In theory that is perfectly possible, but in practice there is the need to get an affirmative resolution from both Houses of Parliament. Apart from that, the Government in these days, when gusts of popular opinion are very strong could not pass new penal provisions of that kind—

Mr. K. Griffith

If that is true, why not put your limit in the Bill?

The Solicitor-General

We have put limits in the Bill. There has been a complaint made about it by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). He said, why impose a penalty of only £100 in respect of an offence which is greater than an offence which you have classified as a misdemeanour in the earlier part of the section? I feel very sensitive to that criticism. If the penalties do not prove to be adequate, if there is evasion, we can lay an Order in Council on the Table of the House, and move in both Houses an affirmative Resolution with the object of getting those penalties increased. It has also been pointed out that we have not put in 'the Bill matters that were included in the agreement. It may be that in regard to some of the other matters which are in the agreement it will be necessary to implement those matters by legislation. This Bill is limited as a Merchant Shipping Bill, and is limited to matters connected with the sea. There might be other matters in the agreement to which in order to give effect to the spirit of the agreement it will be necessary to give legislative force so far as British nationals are concerned. If it were necessary in order to fulfil the spirit of the agreement so to do, the Government would not hesitate to place an Order in Council upon the Table and ask the House by affirmative Resolution to give His Majesty power to carry it out in the spirit as well as the letter of the agreement.

For those reasons, and in view of the explicit assurance that was given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade yesterday, and his explicit assurance of the limits within which it was intended to operate, I think I have done something to satisfy those who share with me a feeling of some hesitation whenever they see a Clause like this in a Bill. I would only add this. The whole question of Ministers' powers was, as every hon. Member knows, investigated at length by the Donoughmore Committee. One of the matters they had to consider was the so-called Henry VIII clause, and it was notable that the Donoughmore Committee did not say that the clause was never permissible. They emphasised that its use must be extremely rare. This is one of the exceptional cases in the view of the Government that can be met only by a Clause of this kind.

1.5 a.m.

Sir Percy Harris

I had not intended to intervene, but the hon. and learned Gentleman has convinced me by his speech that this is a most undesirable Clause. He admits that he does not like it, and as far as I can make out, he had nothing to do with the framing of it, and, as it was a Government Clause, he must discharge his duty as Solicitor-General. He made out no case for drafting a Clause of this kind. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the Donoughmore Committee. I am very sorry that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) is not here, as I know he was very anxious about this Clause. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that these Henry VIII powers were a most objectionable feature in legislation, and should be avoided. He did not give a single argument in support of his case as to why it is necessary to have legislation of this kind. This is exceptional legislation, and it should not be beyond the wit of skilled draftsmen to draft a clause showing clearly its purpose and the penalty for a breach of the law. He did not give any explanation why the penalty was not included in this Clause, although it was included in another Clause. I do not think we ought to part from this Clause in its present form, and make a precedent of this objectionable character. I hope he will give us some assurance that on the Report stage a better Clause may be drafted to fulfill the purpose.

1.7 a.m.

Mr Garro Jones

I am sure that this Clause is very distasteful to every hon. Gentleman. Were it not for the fact that I, personally, regard this Bill in general as a fairly honest attempt to deal with a very difficult situation, I should be anxious to do everything within the power of a Member to prevent it from going through. I do not think the Government have been successful in their attempt to deal with the situation, but I believe they have made an honest attempt to deal with it. The part of the Clause to which I object most strongly and seriously is the last line of Subsection one, and I really think it is amazing that a Minister can stand at that Box and admit that the last line on Sub-section (1) gives him power by Order in Council to alter or amend the Merchant Shipping Act.

I would like to raise a point of Order with you, Sir Dennis, on this question, and to ask you if the fact is that the Minister is taking power to amend any provision in regard to the Merchant Shipping Act. I can argue and give reasons why the Minister should not amend certain provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act. I can conceive I should be strictly in order on this proposal, which gives power to amend any provision of the Merchant Shipping Act.

Dr. Burgin

Would the hon. Gentleman let me point out to him one fact? He is taking exception, if I understand him rightly, to the powers in line 39 and 40 dealing with possible amendments in the Merchant Shipping Act. He will, of course, not have failed to observe that that power is limited by the words of the clause. Such Orders in Council as appear to His Majesty to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of giving effect to any arrangements made in pursuance of the provisions of the observation agreement relating to merchant shipping or to any further agreement amending or supplementing those provisions. Having had something to do with the drafting of the Sub-section I want Members of the Committee to understand that what we have got to do is to keep pace With Amendments to the observation agreement. These may touch merchant shipping on a number of points which it is difficult to specify, and we have to provide that we can amend not only this but the Carriage of Munitions to Spain Act or other parts of the Merchant Shipping Acts.

Mr. Garro Jones

That confirms what I have said. It is in the power of the Minister to make any Amendment he likes to any portion of the Merchant Shipping Acts. It has only to satisfy him. He is the judge in his own court. That being so, it would open up considerable difficulties for the Chair if we were to argue in favour of exempting from the power which the Minister claims certain provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts which we claim are valuable. I think it really is a type of Clause to which the House of Commons, sitting as the House or as a Committee, ought to unite to object, because I am convinced that whatever reasons of convenience may be argued in favour of this Clause, the reasons of principle against this type of Clause far outweigh them. I hope that no Minister will come to this House with such a Clause again. So far as my little efforts go, I should never allow such a Clause to go through in general legislation without opposing to it the full force of opposition, and indeed obstruction, that I can bring to bear.

1.13 a.m.

Mr. Gallacher

I must admit that I am getting very tired of trying to persuade Members on the other side to take the sensible and democratic course. It is the Board of Trade to which these powers are being given. We have had an exhibition this evening, in the discussion that has taken place of the hopeless incompetence and duplicity of the Board of Trade. The President of the Board of Trade, while all the arguments are flying around, has been sitting there like a deflated Buddha with his eyes to heaven. The Parliamentary Secretary has been whispering to the Solicitor-General and the Solicitor-General has been whispering to the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Then two of them slipped out, and the consequence of the consultation is that when one of them gets to the Box we get something that is almost human in its character. Yet the House of Commons is asked, and I cannot understand it, to hand over to this bunch of Tussaudian exhibits the power and authority of the House of Commons. I want to appeal to Members to oppose any such course. There is no justification for it, and it cannot serve any purpose.

I do not want to repeat the unanswerable arguments put forward by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), but I do appeal to the Committee not to hand over such powers which can be used for a very dangerous purpose. We have seen to-night that the Board of Trade and those associated with it have no understanding of the problems connected with territorial waters or the fate of British ships. How we can contemplate for one moment putting British seamen and British captains under the menace which could be put over them by the Orders-in-Council passed by such incompetence as has been guiding the discussions to-night. I do not think any man who has any regard for British seamen or their welfare can contemplate. The arguments put up the other night that some of the hon. Members are less concerned for the Empire or British interests seem to be turning up again on this Question. Since I come to this House, whether any question of the rights of Parliament or the rights of Britain were in question, the noble Lord has always got up and put everybody right on the powers, privileges and rights of the House of Commons. I am certain that if, at any time, there had been any suggestion of an indignity or insult to a Britisher he would have been up and torn a passion to tatters, but now he sits there calm and sphinx-like while British seamen and British interests are being betrayed.

1.19 a.m.

Sir S. Cripps

I want to correct an observation which the Parliamentary-Secretary made in reply to an hon. Member as regards the amending of Sub-section (1). He suggested that there was some limitation as to the matters of amendment in the Merchant Shipping Act. There is not anything at all. There is a limitation upon the reasons for producing an Order in Council, that is to say, an Order must appear to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of giving effect to either the old or some new arrangement. Once that has been decided, the last sentence in that Order in Council enables any amendment of this Measure, any enactment relating to merchant shipping, and therefore the position is unlimited. If the words "any other necessary enactment" or some such words as that had been included there would have been some limitation, but these wide words mean that you can insert in that Order, once there is justification for making it, any amendment of the law.

There is one other matter to which I would draw the attention of hon. Members opposite in order that they may see the extent of the powers given in this Clause. Suppose we had been fortunate enough to persuade the Committee to accept some Amendments on this Bill which would then become part of the Act of Parliament, the Government could the next day, by Order in Council, wipe out the whole of the amendments made by this House. It seems a very convenient thing for the Executive to be able to do, but not exactly desirable.

1.22 a.m.

Mr. Garro-Jones

May I make an appeal to the Minister in charge of this Bill to see whether he cannot adopt the suggestion made my hon. and learned Friend, namely, by putting in some such words as "some necessary enactment" in line 14 to make is clear that the last line is governed by the opening sentence of clause 3. He has told us that the words are so governed, but doubt has been expressed by hon. Members who are highly competent to express an opinion, and I really think he might go a little further to meet us in that direction. It certainly is not clear that the words are governed by the opening words of the Clause, and if, indeed they are governed, no harm can be done by making it quite explicit in the last line. I hope the hon. and learned Solicitor-General will make some amendment.

1.24 a.m.

The Solicitor-General

I think that, as a matter of construction, the meaning is plain, because the order that His Majesty may make is an order that is necessary or expedient for certain purposes.

Mr. Bevan

As it appears to him.

The Solicitor-General

So that His Majesty is to be satisfied that it is necessary or expedient. It is only such an Order that may comply with the provisions for amending an enactment relating to merchant shipping, so that the Order which is substantially so amended is one which His Majesty considers to be necessary or expedient to carry the Act into operation. I think the governing words "necessary or expedient" remain for what they are worth. I do not pretend they they have an enormous value. It is clear, on consideration of a Clause of this kind, that for what they are worth they carry that meaning right through the Clause, and apply to the last words that the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones) has mentioned. I would only add that, of course, we are all sensitive of the very patriotic arguments of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and the appeal which he made for consideration of merchant seamen. But actually, in reference to merchant shipping, it must not be lost sight of that this is a Merchant Shipping Act, and, strange as it may seem, we are often apt to forget that it is called a Merchant Shipping Act and that the principal Act of 1936—the Carriage of Munitions to Spain Act—is also a Merchant Shipping Act, so that the power to amend any other provisions relating to merchant shipping covers the previous Act as well as the better-known

Division No. 120.] AYES. [1.27 a.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Emery, J. F. Peake, O.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Emmott, C. E. G. C. Penny, Sir G.
Albery, Sir Irving Everard, W. L. Petherick, M.
Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.) Fremantle, Sir F. E. Radford, E. A.
Apsley, Lord Furness, S. N. Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.
Aske, Sir R. W. Fyfe, D. P. M. Ramsbotham, H.
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Ganzoni, Sir J. Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Grant-Ferris, R. Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Blair, Sir R. Gridley, Sir A, B. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Bossom, A. C. Grimston, R. V. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Boulton, W. W. Hannah, I. C. Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Hannon, Sir P. J. H. Ropner, Colonel L.
Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W. Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P. Rowlands, G.
Brawn, Col. D. C. (Hexham) Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Runciman, Rt. Hon. W.
Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.) Holmes, J. S. Samuel, M. R. A.
Bull, B. B. Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J. Simmonds, O. E.
Burghley, Lord Horsbrugh, Florence Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A
Burgin, Dr. E. L. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Somerset, T.
Butler, R. A. Hulbert, N. J. Spens, W. P.
Campbell, Sir E. T. Jones, L. (Swansea W.) Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Cartland, J. R. H. Lamb, Sir J. Q. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Castlereagh, Viscount Law, R. K. (Hull, S. W.) Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Leckie, J. A. Tate, Mavis C.
Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Lennox-Boyd, A. T, L. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Channon, H. McCorquodale, M. S. Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinslead) MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross) Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan
Courtauld, Major J. S. Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Cranborne, Viscount McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Croom-Johnson, R. P. McKie, J, H. Warrender, Sir V.
Cross, R. H. Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J. Waterhouse, Captain C.
Cruddas, Col. B. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Wickham, Lt.-Col, E. T. R.
Culverwell, C. T. Maxwell, Hon. S. A Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil) Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)
De Chair, S. S. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Doland, G. F. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Womersley, Sir W. J.
Donner, P. W. Morris-Jones, Sir Henry Wragg, H.
Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury) Neven-Spenoe, Major B. H. H. Wright, Squadron-Leader J. A. C.
Dugdale, Major T. L. O'Connor, Sir Terence J.
Duggan, H. J. Orr-Ewing, I. L. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Duncan, J. A. L. Palmer, G. E. H. Commander Southby and Lieutenant-
Elliston, Capt. G. S. Patrick, C. M. Colonel Llewellin.

Act which does not come into this controversy.

Mr. Bevan

What would be the difference if the Government, instead of presenting this Bill to the House at all, simply presented Clause 3 as the Bill?

The Solicitor-General

I think the difference would be that we would not have got our Bill.

Mr. Bevan

The answer is that as Clause 3 gives to the Government power to amend this Bill, and actually to carry legislation by order to amend the Merchant Shipping Act, then, as a matter of fact, the Government need only have come to the House of Commons and asked for permission to make Orders in Council which would, indeed, be conferring upon the Government exactly the powers for which they are asking. The Bill is simply very bad sugar-coating on a very rotten pill.

Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 122; Noes 44.

Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Pritt, D. N.
Benson, G. Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Ridley, G.
Bevan, A. Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Buchanan, G. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Simpson, F. B.
Cooks, F. S. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Smith, E. (Stoke)
Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Stephen, C.
Daggar, G. Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Kelly, W. T. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Daviet, S. O. (Merthyr) Lunn, W. Tinker, J. J.
Dobbia, W. Macdonald, G. (Ince) Westwood, J.
Dunn, E. (Rather Valley) Mathers, G. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Ede, J. C. Noel-Baker, P. J. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Paling, W.
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Gatlacher, W. Potts, J. Sir Percy Harris and Sir Hugh Seely.
Garro Jones, G. M. Price, M. P.