HC Deb 26 July 1939 vol 350 cc1599-608

If a resolution is passed by both Houses of Parliament for the repeal of this Act, it shall be lawful for His Majesty in Council by Order to repeal this Act to such extent as may be specified in the Resolution.—[Mr. Benn].

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Benn

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This Clause permits a Motion to be made in either House for the repeal of the Act. In taking the very great powers that he is taking, the Home Secretary has always told us that it is here that his actions may be controlled, and that he is going to make a report, how full we do not know, of cases in which he deports people by his signature under the Act. I am very anxious that the House should have an opportunity, if it so desires, to call the right hon. Gentleman to account and to ask him what he has done under the powers conferred upon him. We may want to know what success he has had, or it may be that we shall want to criticise cases in which we think he has inflicted injustice. The Clause means that any day any Member of Parliament may put down on the Paper a notice of Motion for the repeal of the Act. Unless, of course, he has the support of a majority of the House the Act will not be repealed, but the Motion has this merit that, being made in pursuance of the Statute, under the Standing Order it is exempted business, and therefore he is certain to get an opportunity of presenting to the House the issue of the administration of the Act. I think the Amendment will commend itself to Members in all parts of the House, and I do not imagine that the Government will resist it.

Sir S. Hoare

I am very reluctant to oppose a proposal of this kind, but I do not very much like it. I will not go as far as to say that it is harmful or dangerous, but it is almost a new precedent. I do not much like introducing these new forms of procedure into our Parliamentary practice. As far as I am concerned, I do not mind the conduct of the Secretary of State in the administration of this Measure being called into account at any time, but I should like the views of one or two other hon. Members before adopting a practice that is practically new in our Parliamentary annals.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

I think this is one of the most inhuman proposals one could conceive. There is already plenty of exempted business in this House. One of the curses of Parliamentary life is that one never gets enough sleep, and that there should be more exempted business is a terrible prospect. Seriously, exempted business is one of the banes of Parliamentary life, and I hope the House will reject the proposal.

10.15 p. m

Mr. Bellenger

The Home Secretary has asked us for expressions of opinion. He did not ask. I think, for such an expression of flippant opinion as has just been given by the hon. Member.

Mr. Nicholson

It was serious.

Mr. Bellenger

My right hon. Friend who put forward this proposal did it in all seriousness, and he did it, I should imagine, in response to suggestions made by the Home Secretary himself that he was quite prepared to accept any proposal to make this Measure as workable and as amenable to all opinions in the House as possible. He has told us that he takes full responsibility for this Bill. Many of us do not like some of the provisions embodied in it, although we realise the purpose of it, and therefore when my right hon. Friend, in explaining this new Clause, says it is drawn up expressly for the purpose of calling upon the Home Secretary to give an account of his stewardship, surely that is sufficient to commend it to the Committee. Unless there are much more substantial objections than that of the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson) I think there is no argument against it.

Sir Joseph Lamb

I think that one thing we ought to guard against is redundant legislation, and if the Home Secretary gives a promise that he will make a report every three months it will be quite possible for hon. Members to put down a Motion condemning the Home Secretary for any shortcomings which they felt there had been in the working of the Measure.

10.17 p.m.

Sir R. Acland

The Government, who have been extraordinarily reasonable to us in the last hour or so, have frequently asked us to accept the fact that they are going to administer this Measure as reasonable men, and on the whole I think that they cannot complain that we have refused to accept their assurances. Then, I would ask, cannot they accept our assurances that we, desiring sleep as much as any hon. Member opposite, will also avail ourselves of the opportunities given under this proposed new Clause as reasonable beings, and if nothing is happening except that the Home Secretary is administering this Measure against criminals with all due diligence, make no use of this power? Cannot they accept our assurance that use will only be made of it when there may be very real grounds for doing it when a great number of people are questioning whether the law is being properly administered or not? In such circumstances I should have thought the Government would have welcomed as much as we would welcome an opportunity of having what would be only a brief discussion, perhaps between half-post Eleven and Twelve o'clock at night. I submit to the Home Secretary that he could do himself no harm and a great deal of good by accepting this new Clause and by trusting us as he has asked us to trust him.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered.

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

Sir Percy Harris

On a point of Order. I must protest about that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I quite appreciate that the matter is urgent and I am not objecting to the Report stage being taken, on the understanding that we can put in our Amendments. We have them already drafted ready to hand in. They are not obstructive Amendments but are of a constructive kind, and before the Third Reading is taken I suggest that these Amendments be considered on the Report stage.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)

The hon. Baronet is putting the Chair in a somewhat difficult position because the Amendments could not be considered and selected at such short notice.

Sir R. Acland

We appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that you are in a very difficult position. We realise that we have put in two manuscript Amendments and that we are thus putting the Chair in a difficulty, but the House itself is put in a difficulty by the speed of the procedure. In order to do my best to obviate the difficulties of the Chair I took the precaution of putting in these two Amendments and of taking a copy of them informally to your office so that there would be an opportunity for you to consider whether they were Amendments that should be selected or not.

10.22 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

Further to the point of Order. I have had an opportunity, which I gather that you, Mr. Speaker, have not had, of seeing the two Amendments that are proposed. They deal with points which were fully discussed on the Committee stage, and it seems to me that one of the objections to them was the same as to the Amendments which were put down on the Committee stage. The Amendments really seek a new discussion of matters which were discussed on the Committee stage.

Sir R. Acland

As I submitted in my informal note to you, Sir, the Amendments obviate and get rid of the two principal objections which the Government raised to two Amendments to which all Members on this side of the House attach very great importance. Therefore the Amendment which I would move could not be a re-discussion of matters already discussed. They are drafted so as to make it impossible for the Government to raise again those matters of principle and of objection which they raised on the Committee stage.

10.23 p.m.

Mr. Pritt

Surely this is a matter of general and considerable importance to hon. Members on both sides of the House. I do not think there is any question of obstruction on either side. We have had a very long discussion which has gone through very well, but the Report stage is a vital stage. The Bill has been extensively amended. The actual number of Amendments has been very large. There are outstanding matters which the Government have undertaken to consider, and probably they will have to deal with them in another place rather than here. The proposal now is that the Report stage should be purely nominal and that no one who wants to put down an Amendment on the Report stage can do so. He is merely to be told that he cannot do so. I suggest that that is hardly the right way to preserve the liberties of Members of this House. Even if it is only for the purpose of marking that those rights do exist, and without spending much time upon it to-night, could you not, Mr. Speaker, suspend the sitting for a quarter of an hour, so that any necessary examination of the hon. Baronet's Amendment could be made and we could then have a real Report stage?

Sir P. Harris

Last week I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that I attach a very great importance to having a separate day for the Report stage so that Amendments could be put down. The Prime Minister in his statement to-day said that if necessary he would postpone the Report stage till to-morrow and take it after Eleven O'Clock. We accepted that proposal in principle. We realise, however, the great urgency of the Bill, and for that reason we acquiesce in the Report stage being taken now, but we suggest that in the circumstances we should have a chance to discuss these Amendments on Report, which would not cause unnecessary delay.

10.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Captain Margesson)

As the hon. Baronet will realise, it is not for me to say what is or is not in order on the Report stage. At Question Time to-day the Prime Minister made a statement as to the urgency of the Bill, but said that, if the proceedings were very protracted, it would not be reasonable to ask the House to take the remaining stages of the Bill at a very late hour. I do not think, however, that it can be said that we have reached such a very late hour that we are not in a position to complete our consideration of the Bill to-night. It is a very urgent and important Bill.

Sir P. Harris

The reason for its having gone through so quickly is that we have all been so helpful, and, therefore, I would suggest, if it is in order and if you, Mr. Speaker, have no objection, we might be allowed to discuss these Amendments, which would not take very long.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Baronet was kind enough to send me a copy of the Amendments which it was proposed to put down on Report, and I understand that they were very fully discussed during the Committee stage. We are working in rather urgent circumstances in passing this Bill, and, that being the case, I have no doubt that the House will assist me. I think that as a matter of fact my predecessor in the Chair had already put the Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," and I do not see how we can go back on it. I do not know whether the Home Secretary would be prepared to give an undertaking that the points in question will be considered in another place.

Sir S. Hoare

Certainly, I will give that undertaking at once. Indeed, I gave a similar undertaking to the right hon. Gentleman opposite earlier in the discussion. Perhaps I might be allowed to say, further, that, so far as I was concerned, I was ready to deal with any Amendments that might be called, but that was a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Maxton

Would the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to make the same offer to the hon. Members responsible for these Amendments as he made to the right hon. Gentleman, that is to say, to discuss the matter with them in preparing the Amendments for another place?

Sir S. Hoare

I am not sure whether that is a point of Order or not, but, if I may be allowed to say so, the difference between the two cases seems to me to be that in the case of these two Amendments we had already discussed and had voted against Amendments to a similar effect, whereas in the case raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite there had been no decision, but the Amendments had been withdrawn on the understanding that they would be considered.

10.29 p.m.

Sir R. Acland

We voted against other Amendments and defeated them because the Government gave reasons why the Amendments which we were then discussing were unacceptable to them. These Amendments which I am asking leave to discuss are specially drawn so as to meet and concede the very points which the Government are raising, and I submit that they could be disposed of in a quarter of an hour's, or perhaps half an hour's discussion. In answer to the point on which I think you based your final Ruling against us. may I say that it was my ignorance of the Procedure of the House that placed me at a disadvantage? At the moment when the Deputy-Chairman was calling the Report stage, I was doing what I understood to be the right thing, namely, handing in the Amendments at the Table, instead of moving them in manuscript form.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore

On that point of Order. Your predecessor, Sir, distinctly called the Third Reading, not the Report stage. Therefore, I cannot see that this discussion can have any effect.

Mr. Harvey

Would you have allowed this discussion, Sir, had it not been possible to consider these Amendments? Surely the fact that you have allowed the discussion shows that it is possible.

Mr. Benn

We certainly agree that the Report stage and Third Reading should be taken to-night, but I should be very sorry if advantage were taken of that to establish a precedent for having a Report stage which is no Report stage, and for the hon. Baronet not to be allowed to move his Amendments because of some arrangement which has been made. I heard you say, Sir, that you regard this as an exceptional case, because of some emergency. If no precedent has been created, I would accept the position that there is no infringement of the rights of the House.

Mr. Foot

The second of the Amendments which we proposed to move dealt with a matter which has not been fully discussed: the question of the 20 years. We wanted to draw a distinction between issues which the Home Secretary will have to decide generally under the Bill and the issue of 20 years' residence, which we believe is a matter capable of exact proof. Will the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to consider that, and to consider allowing that question—and that question alone—to be decided by a judge?

Mr. Speaker

We had better get on with the Third Reading. The Question is, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Benn

We have lived through a tragic day. There is something to be said for this House when it is able to consider reasonably the question of the rights of the individual at a time when we are preparing to give the Government these powers. We do not propose to Divide on the Third Reading; we do not wish to prevent the Government having this Bill, but let them not forget that these powers have been given to them at the risk, as we believe, of the infringement of liberties which are very dear to us all

Sir S. Hoare

I should like to join with the right hon. Gentleman in what he said about the proceedings this afternoon. I think the House of Commons has shown up very well. If we compare our proceedings with the kind of action which would have taken place in some parts of the world, when we consider what has taken place this afternoon, we can still say that the Mother of Parliaments is indeed one of the greatest institutions of the world. Credit for that is due not so much to the Government as to the whole House, and I take the opportunity to thank both the Oppositions for the way these proceedings have been conducted. They have had their doubts about the action that the Government are taking, they have expressed them. I have tried to meet them as best I can, but I am afraid that some of those doubts still exist. I will do my best, so long as I am responsible for the administration of this Act, to show that their doubts are unjustified and to see that innocent people are not unjustly treated under the provisions of this Measure. So far as specific points raised by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway are concerned, I did nothing to prevent them having whatever discussions they wished. It is a matter of Order for the Chair, but I will look into the points which they have raised, and will treat them exactly as I promised to treat other points raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I will see if there is any way in which their views can be met. I am not giving any pledge that I can do it, but I will look into it again, and, if possible, will see that steps are taken in another place. With these few words let me once again thank the House for having so carefully expedited the proceedings on this Bill and congratulate Members on all sides upon the way in which they have dealt with it.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. Foot

On behalf of my hon. Friends and myself I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the assurance that he has just given to us. He will appreciate that we in this part of the House are bound to regard with the very greatest suspicion any Bill of this kind proposing to confer emergency powers and setting aside the ordinary safeguards for the rights and liberties of the citizen. We hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use these powers, as he has said, with the greatest care, that he will take every possible step to see that innocent men are not exiled, or prevented from entering this country under the Act, and also that he will discontinue the use of these powers as soon as circumstances allow. Having said that, I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the way and the spirit in which he has met some of the Amendments which have been put forward this afternoon.