HC Deb 24 August 1939 vol 351 cc102-9

9.4 p.m.

Mr. Mander

I beg to move, in page 9, line 8, to leave out "one year," and to insert: two months or the duration of any war in which His Majesty may become engaged during the said two months. We think that this is a more precise and satisfactory definition than that given in the Bill. Also, we move it for another reason. While perfectly willing to allow the Bill to go through, in the circum stances, with very little discussion, we feel that there should be given to Parliament during the next few months some opportunity for a full discussion, when the Bill may be considered Clause by Clause and line by line. At a time when Parliament is willing to make the extraordinary concession of letting a Measure of this kind go through in a few hours, it would be only reasonable to give it an opportunity, at leisure as it were, in the subsequent two months, of considering the Bill in the ordinary way. I appeal to the Home Secretary—and I know that he wants to be governed by the consent of this House and to take the House of Commons with him as far as he can—to consider whether it really would not be reasonable and enable Parliament to carry out its functions properly if he were to limit the period to two months during which the Bill could be thoroughly examined in Committee of the House, and then to fix whatever period was necessary.

9.6 p.m.

Sir S. Hoare

I am afraid that I cannot accept this Amendment. I do not wish to be unreasonable or to appear to be pessimistic, but it seems to me that two months is much too short a period to put into the Bill. I would also point out that the House has the necessary safeguard that, supposing the emergency comes to an end sooner than many people think, the operation of the Bill can be brought to an end at any time by Order-in-Council. I cannot imagine the House of Commons allowing any Government to continue in operation a Bill of this kind after the emergency actually ends. I should have thought, therefore, that it was much wiser to leave the Bill as it is now, namely, with its temporary character emphasized by the period of 12 months. There is the power by Order-in-Council to bring it to an end as soon as the emergency comes to an end, and if it goes on beyond the 12 months, then it needs a resolution of both Houses of Parliament for its continuance. Let the Committee also remember that it is not only the provisions of the Bill that will come to an end but the provisions of the regulations as well, and that being so I should have thought that the Committee would be making a grave error if they reduced the period to as short a time as two months.

9.8 p.m.

Mr. W. Roberts

I regret that the Home Secretary cannot meet us on this point. We are not asking that the period of one year should be changed to two months if there is a war. The wording suggested will provide that these powers in this Bill shall continue during the period of a war. All that we are asking is that, if there is not a war, the matter should come up in two months for a full review. What the Home Secretary has just said does not meet that point in any way whatever. We have been living in troubled times and have had previous crises, and the Government have not thought it necessary to bring in this Bill, though no doubt they have had it in their pigeon-hole for some time. If there is still an atmosphere of crisis, is it not highly desirable that the Bill should be debated when there is not a crisis? If there is not a war, surely it is highly desirable that this Bill should be discussed. If the Home Secretary really wished to meet the very sincere doubts which many of us feel with regard to this Bill and its procedure, he might have given us this concession. We note that the Bill gives the Government unlimited powers. The purpose of Parliament will be very much restricted. Perhaps in the event of war that is necessary and desirable, but if there is not a war I can see no reason why the opportunity should not be given to the House of discussing the procedure which the Government will adopt in the event of a war.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. G. Griffiths

I am rather surprised that the Home Secretary has been so hard with regard to this Amendment. I do not want to detain the Committee because I know that Members want to get this thing through, but, if hon. Members will look at Clause 11, they will see that it says: This Act should be continued in force for a further period of one years from the time at which it would otherwise expire.

The Deputy-Chairman

There is a further Amendment dealing with the actual lines which the hon. Member has just quoted, which I am going to call, but the Amendment now before the Committee deals with one year in line 8.

Mr. Griffiths

I thought that those were the words I was reading.

The Deputy - Chairman

The hon. Gentleman was reading the words in line 14. They are two different points.

Amendment negatived.

9.11 p.m.

Mr. E. Harvey

I beg to move, in page 9, line 14, to leave out "of," and to insert "not exceeding."

The Amendment will have the effect that the Act will be continued in force for a period not exceeding one year instead of for a period of one year. The purpose of the Amendment is to give the Government power, if they so desire, not to prolong this Bill for a year, but for a shorter period. The Home Secretary has already informed the Committee that he loathes and dislikes this Bill, and he will not wish to have its powers longer than is absolutely necessary. It might very well be that he would see that it was necessary during a period of emergency to prolong the existence of these powers for three or six months, but, as the Bill is framed, he would have to ask for the prolongation of a year. Clearly it would be for the advantage of the country and the Government that the Government should have power to ask for a prolongation of these powers for a shorter period than a year if they thought it necessary. It would make for less uncertainty in the country and would meet with general satisfaction. They would still have power to move the prolongation of the Act for a year if they thought it necessary, but they could also prolong it for a shorter period.

9.14 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

I am afraid that my right hon. Friend cannot accept this Amendment. The Amendment deals with the situation that will occur only after the issue of an Address by both Houses of Parliament. As the House and the country both have an opportunity of seeing the working of these regulations, no doubt the whole of the operation of the regulation will have been canvassed in the course of the Debate, and it is in these circumstances that it is thought that some fixity of period should be included in the further period for which the extension is asked. The hon. Gentleman is asking that on that occasion, the matter having come before both Houses of Parliament, they should be asked to extend it for a wholly indefinite period.

Mr. Harvey

No, a period not exceeding one year.

The Solicitor-General

That is a wholly indefinite period. I can see no very good reason why, when Parliament are going to ask the country to submit itself to regulations of this drastic kind, there should not be a definite period to which Parliament can give way. Why one month, two months or three months? Why give an exact limit in the matter of days or weeks for an Act of this kind? Always there is the over-riding power to put an end to the whole matter by Order-in-Council. I would remind hon. Members that in two other Measures dealing with possible emergencies we have already adopted exactly the same period that we are asking for here. In the Military Training Act and in the Reserve Forces Act we have done exactly the same as we have done in this Clause, namely, made it possible to come to Parliament and ask for a period which is definite but which can be terminated by Order-in-Council the moment the emergency is over. With that explanation I hope the hon. Member will not think it necessary to press the Amendment.

9.16 p.m.

Mr. G. Griffiths

I should like an explanation of this matter. The Bill says: This Act should be continued in force for a further period of one year from the time at which it would otherwise expire. The Home Secretary has told us that he does not like this Bill but that we must have it because of emergency. If the time expires at a certain date, why does the right hon. Gentleman want the Act to continue for 12 months further? I am very suspicious, because I am satisfied that if anything happened in my industry this Act would be used. Why does the right hon. Gentleman want the Act to continue for a further 12 months when its usefulness on the Statute Book has gone? Not only the Home Secretary but the Prime Minister does not like the Bill. They say to us: "We do not like it, but let it be for 12 months although the period of its usefulness has expired." [Hon. Members: "No"] Why are hon. Members saying "No"? The matter is clear. Now that the military service regulations are being applied in the police courts you can drive a carriage and pair through them. Some of us on these benches spoke about certain of those regulations, and Ministers, the legal men, said: "No. That is not so." Now that those regulations are being put to the test you can drive a carriage and pair through them. All the brains are not represented on the benches opposite. There are a few brains in other parts of the House, even on these benches. I ask the Home Secretary to agree that when the usefulness of this Emergency Act it will be an Act before 12 o'clock to-night—has gone, he should clear it off altogether. I am very suspicious about Clause 1, because that Clause gives the Home Secretary the power of detention. I had a case of that power in 1926.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member must recollect that we are discussing an Amendment.

Mr. Griffiths

I am afraid that if the Act continues for one year after its usefulness has gone some of our chaps in a trade dispute will be taken hold of during that year, and I am desirous that they shall not be taken hold of in a trade dispute. I know what it means from the standpoint of a trade dispute. They tried to put their hands on me, but I escaped, somehow. If this Act continues I am afraid that some of our chaps will be sent to the King's temperance hotel during the 12 months.

9.20 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

I appreciate the suspicion with which the hon. Member looks upon lawyers, but I hope he will accept it from me that I am trying to help him when I say that I think his speech must have been made under a misapprehension. What this Clause provides is that this Bill, and with it the regulations made under it, shall come to an end at the end of 12 months, but by a proviso in Sub-section (2) it can come to an end earlier than 12 months, namely, at the end of any date on which an Order in Council is passed bringing it to an end. What arouses the hon. Member's suspicion is that when the 12 months are up and the Act is just about to die, the regulations made under it are about to die, it may be that we shall be still in the emergency, possibly even more so. In those circumstances it is open to both Houses of Parliament to pass resolutions requiring that the Act should be continued for a further year. It will be on that occasion that the hon. Member will have an opportunity— I hope that the opportunity may not have to come— to repeat the speech he has made to-night. To-night, the speech was quite inappropriate.

9.22 p.m.

Mr. Naylor

I cannot understand why it should be necessary to introduce any period. Surely, when the Humble Address is being discussed, that is the best time to determine how much longer the provisions of the Act shall continue. Why confine yourselves and bind yourselves to a period of one year, which may not be necessary? If the war continues it may be necessary to extend it beyond one year. I think it would be far better if the Committee could persuade the right hon. Gentleman to omit the period of one year and leave the period entirely open.

9.23 p.m.

Sir S. Hoare

I do not think that is the general view of hon. Members. I have had a good deal of discussion on this point with representative Members of the House and they have put to me the exact opposite, that if this is a temporary Measure we ought to mark its temporary character by putting in a time limit. That is why I acceded to their view and put in a time limit. I hope that with that explanation we may proceed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

9.25 p.m.

Mr. Garro Jones

I do not desire to say anything which would diminish the effectiveness of the powers which the Government properly seek to have, but I should like an assurance on a point which I hoped would have been discussed on the Committee stage but which has not been mentioned at all. The Bill empowers the Government not only to make defence regulations by Order in Council but to delegate the power of making orders and rules to other persons who are not specified in the Bill. This power is in Clause 1, Sub-section (3). I can understand that it may be necessary to provide for a certain amount of delegation to such persons as district administrators and Government Departments, but if there is to be an unlimited delegation of these powers we shall find a great many regulations made which may cause a certain amount of unnecessary irritation. I hope the Solicitor-General will be able to give us an assurance that there will be some limit to those to whom are to be delegated the power of making orders and rules and regulations under the Bill. We are not only empowering His Majesty to make regulations but we are also empowering him to delegate the power of making orders and rules to every kind of official who he may think should have this power. Therefore, without wishing to impede the progress of the Bill I hope we may have an assurance on that point.

9.28 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

I do not think the hon. Member was in the House when the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) raised a somewhat similar point. If he was he would have heard the assurance I gave that we recognised that this power to delegate the power to make rules is one which needs the most careful super vision, and that there is a special responsibility on the Minister who so delegates this power. I gave an assurance on be half of my right hon. Friend that he is fully sensible of that responsibility and that he intends to see that any delegation which takes place is given under the greatest possible precautions.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to. Bill read the Third time, and passed.

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