HC Deb 08 March 1940 vol 358 cc744-71

Before any regulation is made by the Assistance Board under the Second Schedule to this Act the Minister shall cause the regulation to be laid in draft before both Houses of Parliament, and such regulation shall not be made unless both Houses by resolution approve the draft, either without modification or addition or with modification or addition to which both Houses agree, but upon such approval being given the Minister may make the regulation in the form in which it has been approved, and the regulation on being so made shall be of full force and effect.—[Mr. Foot.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Foot (Dundee)

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

In moving this new Clause, we again return to the procedure proposed under the Bill which is one of the most important parts of it. Under the Bill, as it is drafted, it will not, strictly speaking, be necessary for the Board to introduce any regulations at all, and by the terms of the Schedule all the Board need do is to take the regulations already made under the Unemployment Act and to make adaptations by means of rules which will lie on the Table of the House and will not need the assent of either House before coming into force. This matter has been raised during the discussions on the Committee stage, and we have been given to understand by the Minister that if any major changes are proposed, the Board intends to make regulations. These need not come before Parliament, and the Minister himself cannot make regulations at any stage. It rests only with the Board, and all that the Minister has the right to do is to make amendments to the Board's original regulations. Supposing that happens and regulations are brought before the House, precisely the same thing will happen as on both occasions when we had the unemployment regulations coming before the House. On each occasion, after three days of debate, when a great deal of criticism was fired at the various details of the regulations, the House found itself in the ridiculous position of being unable to give effect to its criticisms by altering a single line or word; and that procedure is proposed again now.

It was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) that very often hon. Members are put into a difficulty, and particularly hon. Members opposite who on some rare occasions wish to display some degree of independence. They may have a very strong objection to one feature of a regulation and yet cannot express it in the Division Lobby except by voting against the regulation as a whole. Of course, it is a very convenient device for those hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are content to act as mere Lobby fodder throughout their Parliamentary careers, because if they are asked why they allowed a certain proportion of disability pensions to be taken into account for the purposes of a means test, they are able to reply that they were unable to vote on this particular matter when the regulation came before the House. It provides them with a very convenient defence. But, from the point of view of the House of Commons it puts hon. Members in a real difficulty. We are not even able to discuss one by one the various matters raised in the regulations, and we all know how easy it is for a Minister, wanting to avoid a difficult point when winding up after a long roving discussion, simply to get up and ignore or pass lightly over the points he has any difficulty in answering and to concentrate on those which are easy.

We have frequently raised objections when it is proposed to give to a Board or Government Department power to make regulations but I want to make one distinction as clear as I can. We have no particular objection when regulations are proposed merely to fill up gaps and provide for minor details of legislation, but we have a very strong objection indeed, and we have maintained it on every possible occasion, when regulations are made in fact a substitute for legislation. It means weakening and to a large extent destroying the control of this House. This new Clause is, of course, entirely in keeping with the Amendments we have put down on other stages of the Bill. I think we may claim that all the Amendments we have put down, dealing with the position of the Board and the procedure to be adopted when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, have been devoted to the one purpose of strengthening, increasing, and making more effective the control and supervision of this House. On the other hand the attempts of those in charge of the Bill have been the exact opposite. All the time they have been resisting our Amendments on these matters, and endeavouring to weaken and cut down the control of this House and to give as much power as they can to the Unemployment Assistance Board.

Sir Archibald Sinclair (Caithness and Sutherland)

I beg to second the Motion.

11.51 a.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)

On reading the hon. Member's proposed new Clause, I could see that he had apparently fallen into an error, and on hearing his explanation I am quite clear that he has. His new Clause actually goes so far as to say: Before any regulation is made by the Assistance Board…the Minister shall cause the regulation to be laid in draft before both Houses of Parliament… It means that it cannot apply to any of the main regulations at all, because the main regulations are not made by the Assistance Board but by the Minister. Section 52 of the Unemployment Act, 1934, states quite clearly: The Board…may prepare and submit to the Minister draft regulations…and the Minister shall consider any draft regulations so submitted to him and shall make draft regulations… Provided where the Minister makes any draft regulations otherwise than in the form of the draft submitted to him he shall, before making the draft regulations, inform the Board… It is clear that the draft regulations are made by the Minister and further that any regulations made by the Minister shall be laid before Parliament as soon as may be. And so it is clear that the procedure and the clause suggested by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) do not apply to the main regulations at all, and I can hardly see that that is his idea in putting down the new Clause. But let us be clear about what the hon. Member is suggesting. He suggests that the procedure be adopted which can only be applicable, if at all, to the main group of regulations. If we are all agreed on that, I do not think it is necessary to carry this part of the argument very much further, because I cannot conceive that the House would desire that this elaborate machinery should be applied to the subordinate aspects of the procedure and should not be applied to the main technique of the Bill. Therefore, I am sure the House would not wish to accept the new Clause.

Mr. Foot

I agree that the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to make the point that the Clause is badly worded, but there could be some Amendment. Even if there is a slight inaccuracy of wording the Minister knows the purpose for which the Clause is directed.

Mr. Elliot

I only wish to dismiss that point in the first instance—we are both agreed that the Clause would not carry out what the hon. Member desires. I am willing to argue on the point which the hon. Member desires to attain in the Clause, but I wish it to be clear in the first place that as it is worded the Clause does not cover his point and that it would only apply to rules and not regulations. I was reading it in an attempt to see whether it could in any way be applicable to the Amendment which the hon. Member has down later in which he wants to substitute "regulations" for "rules," and which would make it possible for such a procedure to apply where otherwise it would not.

I will come to the second point, whether the regulations should be so drafted as to be capable of modification and Amendment during their passage through the House. I suggest that of all the things which should be subject to such a procedure this is the least appropriate, because what the hon. Member suggests is that the regulations should be subject to modification, not by one House of Parliament, but by both Houses of Parliament. That is to say, the House of Lords should be at complete liberty to re-write the means test according to their good will, and that the House of Commons should be allowed to re-write it at their good will, and there would be no means of resolving the deadlock that might arise. On that ground alone it would be undesirable to adopt this procedure and it is not possible for the Government to recommend the House to accept the new Clause.

11.58 a.m.

Mr. Lawson

The right hon. Gentleman has exposed a technical error in the first part of the Clause, but he has not really touched the core of the matter. Legally it is true that the Minister makes regulations and is responsible for them, but is there anybody who knows anything about the subject who does not agree that regulations are in fact made by the Board? Before he gets through this matter the Minister will learn that the regulations are the Board's regulations and that however he handles them, unless he gets the power to amend them in this House, he will land into great trouble as a result of the operation of this Bill. Anyone who has experience in these matters knows that a Minister as wise as the right hon. Gentleman and who cares as much for the people with whom they are dealing as he does will land himself into trouble if he attempts to alter the regulations. In the previous Debate on this question the House tried to help the Minister. There were many Memberson this side who clearly saw many of the difficulties that would come up as the result of the regulations, but the House had no power to amend them. That is the core of this matter.

Anyone can see what will take place under these regulations. The right hon. Gentleman said on Second Reading that it is in his mind to base them on the standard of the best local authority. I hope that is so, but I do not believe it will be so in fact. The right hon. Gentleman will do what the last Minister did in dealing with the Unemployment Assistance Board Regulations; he will try to strike a happy medium, and it will not be very happy when it operates. The right hon. Gentleman would render himself a service if he accepted the purpose of this new Clause and took some power over the Board in order not only to safeguard himself, but to safeguard the people who will be affected by the regulations. The right hon. Gentleman during the proceedings on this Bill appears to have given something here and there, but in fact he has given nothing. When he has come up against something vital he has said, "I will consider it." What he really means is, "I will ask the Unemployment Assistance Board if they will let me do it." The right hon. Gentleman is too acute in his mental powers to be under any misapprehension on this matter.

The Assistance Board are a government outside the Government. That is the root of the matter. They make the regulations. The right hon. Gentleman has power to mould them, and he is responsible for them to the House, but he will in fact be subject to the experience of the Board, and the regulations will be theirs. It will be well for him if he will take the House into his confidence in dealing with these matters and take power to amend the regulations, if necessary, in the light of the experience of the average Member. If he does not, there will be a storm. In order to save that, he will be wise to accept the new Clause, so that the House will not only have power to help him but be able to regain the grip of administration and legislation—because the regulations are really legislation—which the House ought to have, instead of leaving the Minister and the House as the mere pawns of a dictatorial authority over which the House will have no control so long as it has no power to amend the regulations.

12.5 p.m.

Mr. Kingsley Griffith (Middlesbrough, West)

The fact that the Minister, in his short speech on this important subject, concentrated almost entirely upon verbal matters leads me to believe that he is not quite easy in his mind about it. I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) is perfectly ready to do anything which will clear up any purely verbal defects in the Clause, and the point made by the Minister would be met by leaving out "Assistance Board" and substituting "Minister." If the Minister desires an Amendment to that effect my hon. Friend would be ready to accept it. It is true in actual fact that it is the Assistance Board which initiates the regulations and that the Minister adopts them and presents them to this House with any alterations which he thinks desirable. Undoubtedly he is right, according to the wording of the Act, in saying that the regulations should be described as being made by the Minister and not by the Board, but that can very easily be put right.

As for his other objection, if he wants to make a distinction between the two Houses of Parliament and do something which would lessen further the powers of another place, in that way carrying on the work of the Parliament Act, I shall be glad to welcome him as a successor to Mr. Asquith, as he was in the old days. The reason we have not been so venturesome is that we thought we might be held to be trying to bring in a new and constitutional issue. Under the Bill the other House has power to reject the regulations, and we did not wish to introduce an innovation by giving to the House of Commons a particular power which was not given to the other House. Again, if the Minister places the slightest importance on this point we should be very glad to meet him in any way.

The real fact of the matter is that if the Minister had desired to accept the substance of this proposed new Clause there would have been no difficulty about doing it. He could have said to us, "I accept your Clause in principle, but I do not think its wording is exactly right, and in the other place we can improve it." But, of course, the Minister is afraid to give to this House the powers which are proposed and in that attitude I think he is very short-sighted. As the hon. Mem-for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said, it is in the interests of the Minister himself that he should have the opportunity of being advised by this House on these matters. This House is competent to advise the Minister on a matter like this. Hon. Members are accustomed to deal with the difficulties of old-age pensioners, just as they are accustomed to deal with the unemployed and their difficulties, and with that experience, drawn from all parts of the country, we should be able to avoid errors such as have been made in the past and will undoubtedly arise in the future if this machinery is allowed to rest on this entirely bureaucratic basis.

It is because we want to democratise this procedure that we are proposing to introduce the only machinery which will really give control to the House. The power to reject regulations has been proved to be illusory. Regulations would have to be almost inconceivably bad before they aroused such a revolt on the benches opposite that the Minister felt they had to be withdrawn. Without being inconceivably bad line by line regulations may yet contain some one or two provisions, occupying but little printed space, whose effect upon old age pensioners may be incalculable, and this House will lose all its importance and all its dignity if it is not able to deal with detailed matters which affect the lives of the poor. Therefore, we have put forward this new Clause believing it would do what, in substance, those who come under the provisions of the Bill would desire, and what anybody in this House would desire who has a real regard for its ancient privileges, its importance, and its dignity.

12.10 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Macdonald (Ince)

The Minister dealt some hefty and devastating blows at the wording of the proposed new Clause. In reading it I myself felt that the wording of it was risky, and I was rather surprised because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) is unusually fairly accurate in these matters. At the same time I do not think the Minister dealt in any way with the substance of the Clause and it is the substance of it with which I am concerned. We are asking that the great body of citizens whose interests are involved in this Bill shall be left to the care of the House of Commons. If this Clause is not accepted they will be handed over to the Unemployment Assistance Board lock, stock and barrel. It is no use the Minister pretending that he has some powers to deal with the matter. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), whose knowledge of the Unemployment Assistance Board Regulations is second to none, has shown clearly that in resisting this Clause the Minister will be placing himself in a very uncomfortable position in the days to come.

If this Clause were agreed to, the regulations would be presented to the House, and what would happen would be this: We should say that the bulk of them are not bad but that there are one or two which ought to be amended or excluded. Does the Minister suggest that this House is not competent to deal with the regulations in that way? Does he think too much Parliamentary time would be wasted? I do not think it is fair to this House to suggest that we could not amend the regulations in the way we thought fit. If the regulations were entirely acceptable does the Minister think we should waste time by having a Debate on them? Surely he knows the Opposition sufficiently well to know that we should not. All that we ask is that should there be among the regulations some to which we take objection we should have the opportunity of making a Parliamentary effort to secure their amendment or rejection.

The Minister pointed out that the Clause says that the regulations have to be approved by Parliament and not the House of Commons alone. I do not think the other place does understand these problems as we do, but, at the same time, I was surprised to hear such an objection put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. I thought he was being a bit smart, knowing that the moment the other place is mentioned we on this side at once jump up and object to their dealing with the workers' interests. I am sure that he did not think the other place ought to be excluded, but he ought to consider whether this House, representing the working classes, should not be given an opportunity, not only of approving the regulations in bulk, but of excluding some one or two regulations to which they take objection.

12.14 p.m.

Colonel Burton (Sudbury)

I hope that the Minister will reconsider his attitude towards this Clause. I do not altogether agree with the Clause as it is drafted, but I hoped that he would agree to the principle of it, and that it could be redrafted in another place in a way which would avoid some of the verbal difficulties to which he took objection. The Minister has said that he can bring individual cases to this House. If I were to ask Questions across the Floor of the House about all the individual cases which are brought to me we should have an Order Paper to which, I am certain, the committee on waste would object. During the last three weeks literally hundreds of people have written to me on the question of old age pensions and really some of the cases are too heart-rending to be dealt with here. To say that those cases shall be administered by a Board which has already shown itself in many respects to be absolutely out of sympathy with the people, and that we shall have no jurisdiction over its action is to delegate to the Board a power which should rest only in the hands of the House of Commons. During the earlier proceedings on this Bill the Minister moved an Amendment to Clause 9 to the effect that the administration of supplementary pensions should be conducted in such a manner as might best promote the welfare of the pensioner. Who is to decide whether that is being done or not? The Board is to say whether or not the administration is being conducted in the best interest of the pensioners and all the words which you put into this Bill, and all these sanctimonious arguments, will not give any assistance to the people once they are handed over to the Board. I ask my right hon. Friend to have regard to the human side of the matter and to see that if the consensus of opinion in the House is not in favour of regulations, we shall retain the right to amend them.

12.16 p.m.

Mr. T. Smith (Normanton)

I am not concerned with the wording of the proposed new Clause but with its main purpose, and I want to remind the House of what has taken place with regard to regulations during the past four or five years. I remember when, either the first or second set of regulations, in connection with the Unemployment Assistance Board, came before the House. We were placed in a ludicrous position because one word in those regulations was misspelt. The printer or somebody else, had inserted the letter "n" instead of "t." We then had from one of the Law Officers—I believe the Attorney-General of that time—the view that the House could pass the regulations as they were worded and that we could then go to the High Court for an interpretation of them. When that argument had been laughed out of court, we were in such a position that the Prime Minister of the time—Mr. Baldwin, as he then was—had to announce from that Box, that, as the House had no power to amend the regulations, even to the extent of changing one letter, he had no alternative but to withdraw them, and to adjourn the House, in order that they might be reprinted and discussed on the following day. What a position in which to place a democratic assembly.

I do not wish the House to be placed in such a position again. After that incident I was astonished at the number of people who wrote letters asking what had happened to the House of Commons when they had not even the power to substitute "t" for "n" in regulations made under an Act of Parliament. I know that at that time the Chief Whip of the Tory Party and somebody else, had strong words to say about those regulations but that is not the point. The point is that if there had been power to move Amendments to those regulations, it would have been a simple matter to make the necessary alteration. I hope that the Minister, with all his experience, will not put the House into a similar position in the near future. In the regulations dealing with these supplementary pensions, various points are bound to arise. It may be found desirable that certain words should be deleted or that certain words should be inserted. Are we then to be told that we must either accept the regulations or reject them but that we cannot amend them? To me, that is a ludicrous situation and I hope that before the Bill reaches the Statute Book, either the Minister or the Attorney-General will see that the House is allowed more latitude to deal with the regulations.

12.19 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

As one who has on other occasions co-operated with the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Clause, I find myself in disagreement with him this morning for reasons which I think I shall be able to sustain. If we make it possible, in this case, to amend regulations, then, clearly that should be done in all cases in which regulations are made under Acts of Parliament. We are not discussing merely the regulations which are to be made under this Measure. We are dealing with a very important practice and principle.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

The Clause refers to regulations to be made "under this Act."

Sir H. Williams

That does not matter. If we do what is proposed by the Clause, we shall be establishing a most important precedent. The question at issue is whether regulations made under Acts of Parliament, should be susceptible to amendment, or whether the proper procedure, if some part of such regulations are objected to, is to withdraw them altogether and re-introduce them in another form. I know that that course involves inconvenience, but if hon. Members go to the Vote Office now and obtain a list of the Rules and Orders at present lying on the Table of the House they will realise what the position is. I ask them to examine those documents and to contemplate what would be the position of a Government if an Opposition, for purposes of obstruction, sought to amend all those regulations. Why, they could bring the business of the House of Commons to a stop. That regulations ought to be laid before the House and that we ought to have the right to challenge them, will not be denied, but consider what is the normal procedure with regard to most regulations. They are drawn up as a result of consultation with all sorts of people, and if the Minister is wise they are submitted to those who are likely to be actively concerned with them when they are enforced. Regulations differ from legislation in that they deal with the details of practical administration.

Mr. Foot

I have been following the hon. Member's argument with great interest. He says that regulations deal with the details of practical administration. When regulations are solely for that purpose, we do not suggest that there should be power to amend them on the Floor of the House. But I do not think the hon. Member was in his place when I spoke or he would realise that my main argument was that, in a great many cases, regulations are not used merely to fill up a few details but have become a substitute for legislation. Parliament passes Acts which simply say that a Minister may make regulations dealing with some matter which may be of great importance, and in such cases, where procedure by regulation is substituted for procedure by Statute, this House is losing a great deal of its authority.

Sir H. Williams

Regulations are intended to provide for the fact that, legislation having been passed and the detailed circumstances having changed, it becomes necessary to amend your practical working scheme. If the hon. Member's argument is followed out we come back to the point that most of the things to which he thinks objection is likely to be taken in the regulations, should be in the Statute itself. But everyone knows the difficulty of securing time for legislation of an amending character and it is an enormous advantage to have the power to make regulations, provided there is a measure of control. The fact that regulations have to be laid on the Table of the House and that in some cases an affirmative Resolution is required, while in other cases objection can be taken by means of a Prayer, gives ultimate control.

I would ask hon. Members opposite to remember the application of the same principle in another respect. Some 15 years ago they tabled a Resolution to the effect that no international engagement should be entered into unless formally approved by the House. But when they themselves came into office they found how stupid that proposal was. They found that in the course of a year perhaps a thousand international obligations were entered into and that the business of the House of Commons could not be conducted at all, if all these had to be submitted for the formal approval of the House. I do ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to consider how the machinery of Parliament is to work, if you load it in such a way that the ordinary business of the House of Commons will be stopped through lack of time. It is not undemocratic to hand over to Ministers, with their Civil servants and their power of consultation with those who will be affected, the power to apply certain legislation in detail, provided that there is ultimate control in this House and that the regu- lations cannot come into operation without the approval of the House. But if you introduce the power to amend regulations, the business of the House of Commons will be paralysed.

12.24 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)

The fact that the Minister has been supported by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) is an indication of what is behind the opposition to the proposed new Clause. The hon. Member for South Croydon put forward the case that because regulations had been dealt with in a certain way in the past, there was no reason for any departure from practice or for any more control or opportunities of discussion in relation to future regulations. But we have objected. The hon Gentleman who has brought forward this Clause and my hon. Friends on this side have objected constantly to this method of legislation by regulations, just as the hon. Gentleman himself would object to regulations which would restrict his right of freedom being imposed by the Government on any business in which he is interested. We have heard him on that point many times in the House. I would like to put an important point to the Minister for his consideration. I agree with hon. Members who have said that while dealing with some of the technical difficulties of the wording of the Clause, the Minister might at least have indicated what he is prepared to do in order to meet the opposition point of view. The hon. Member for South Croydon said that the regulations were composed after discussions and meetings with all sorts of people. (An hon. Member: "Except the old age pensioners"). I would like to know whether the old age pensioners are to be consulted or whether any of those associations which have fought for them in the past will be fully and freely consulted. I think not.

There is a further point. Despite the fact that it has been said by the hon. Lady and the right hon. Gentleman that this removes the burden from the local authorities, I think they would agree that a certain amount of responsibility still rests on the shoulders of public assistance authorities. That must be so. If these regulations are placed here in such a manner that we cannot discuss them except on the hard and fast principle of "accept or reject," you will be denying to those people and to those public assist- ance authorities who will still be involved in a certain amount of expenditure under this Bill the right to make proper representations to hon. Members of this House. If the Board are convinced, no matter what regulations they may submit, that the House of Commons will have the greatest difficulty in discussing them and practically no opportunity of amending them, does the Minister think that will result in more care being exercised by the Board in making regulations which they think will be in accord with the general desire of the House? Of course it will not. Any organisation which knows that the regulations will not be fully discussed and knows of the restrictions placed on hon. Members will be carefree with regard to making those regulations. We shall not have placed before us regulations based on what those people believe will be the general desire of the Members of the House. I think the Minister is creating very great difficulties, not only for the Opposition, but for himself and for hon. Members opposite.

The old age pensioners' movement in the country is not satisfied, and the movement will still carry on its fight politically. Representatives on the opposite side will still have to meet that case. When the old age pensioners make their representations with a voting strength behind them hon. Members opposite will find they have been considerably handicapped and hoodwinked by the Minister's insistence that, when regulations appear before the elected representatives in this House, representing the needs of the old aged people and the public assistance authorities, they shall not have full scope to represent those particular sections. They will find they have been hoodwinked and that a very dangerous precedent has been set up for themselves and for the Opposition.

12.31 p.m.

Mr. J. Griffiths

The Minister of Health has been very lucky in having a Law Officer by his side, because it has enabled him to have legal advice. This Motion raises a most important matter. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) has said that all kinds of people will be consulted by the Board. Is that true? No one is more interested than the old age pensioners, and when we were told that everyone who is interested will be consulted—

Sir H. Williams

The hon. Gentleman should not suppose that anything I have said is necessarily endorsed by the Minister. If the Minister commits himself to the precise category of the people whom he will consult, he will be very ill advised.

Mr. Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman forgets the experience that we on this side have had of this Board. We have also had experience of Ministers who have accepted regulations from the Board. That is why I intervened this morning. We are entitled to examine the history of the Unemployment Assistance Board. The Unemployment Assistance Board issued its first regulations under the Unemployment Act of 1934. Those regulations were placed on the Table of the House. They were discussed and approved by an affirmative Resolution. That means one afternoon's Debate of a general character, and then a vote is taken. There is no opportunity for discussing the details of any regulations put forward. What is the result? Those first regulations were approved—if I may have: the Minister's attention—

Mr. Elliot

I was consulting with one of my learned Friends.

Mr. Griffiths

The regulations were then put into operation. What happened? There was an outcry all over the country. From the very first day those regulations were applied their severity and harshness and the way in which they treated the unemployed people created a revolt all over the country. I was not a Member of the House at the time. I was then President of the South Wales Miners' Federation, and in South Wales as in other parts of the country there were large numbers of people affected by the regulations. We had in South Wales a state of affairs such as I have never witnessed at any other time. I know perhaps we are temperamental, but we have suffered from terrible unemployment and distress for years. In that part of the country, perhaps because of an influence which I regard as a very fine influence, family ties of the household mean so much, and when those regulations came there was a revolt. We decided at a conference to send a deputation to interview the then Minister of Labour. As President of the Federation, I was asked to lead that deputation, and to present, with others, the case against those regulations.

Accompanied by the then Leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), and by the chairman and secretary of the Trades Union Congress, we met the then Minister of Labour, who is now Secretary for War, and put before him the case against those regulations. We cited dozens of cases to show how the regulations would apply. The right hon. Gentleman is not here, but I am not misrepresenting him. He said, in reply, "It is the first time I have seen these regulations living. I have seen them in print; we have talked about them, and discussed them; but now I see them as they apply to human beings." He admitted, quite frankly, as the Minister that he had not realised what they meant. It was not only the Minister who said things of that sort from the other side. I remember two hon. Members opposite saying that they had never understood what those regulations meant, and that if they had, they would not have voted for them. That was the same Board and the same procedure.

Because of that experience, we say that it is essential that the House of Commons should have these regulations before it, and have the right to amend them. Why should the House of Commons have less power than anybody else in the country? The Minister says that he is taking the burden from the public assistance committees, and relieving them of a great deal of expenditure. At present, every elected member of a public assistance committee has the right to assist in determining the scale of relief paid to old age pensioners. This House will have less rights than those committees. If the public assistance officer presents to his committee a draft regulation relating to scales or conditions of relief for old age pensioners, the rights of the members of the committee are not confined to approving or rejecting the scales put before them—they can modify or amend them. But here the Board can make regulations, the Minister can approve them, they are brought before the House, and we are permitted at the end of the evening only to go into the Lobby to vote for or against them. In regard to the other regulations, after that has been done hon. Members came here and said, "We could not understand what we were voting for; if we had understood, we should not have voted for the regulations." I was amazed to hear it said on the other side, "Fancy the House of Lords drawing up regulations." I say, fancy the Unemployment Assistance Board doing it.

It is essential that we should have the right, as a House of Commons, to examine these regulations, clause by clause, and item by item. We are dealing with the rights of these old people who have done their best for this nation. We are their representatives. They come to us for advice. If hon. Members opposite do not mind my saying so—I do not say it offensively—they come to us much more than they come to hon. Members opposite, because they used to come to us before we were Members of this House. They call us by our Christian names, they have worked in the same pits with us, they have shared our lives. They will ask us about this or that regulation, and we shall have to say that it is nothing to do with us, that we have less power in this House of Commons than is possessed by an ordinary county council. An hon. Member opposite has tried to frighten us by saying that if this Clause is accepted, it will create precedents. Is not that what the House of Commons is for? Is not every new Measure a precedent? If we are not to create any more precedents, let us pack up and go home.

The hon. Member suggests that if we agree to this, the House of Commons will be overburdened. But the House of Commons should not begrudge time for this matter. How often have the other regulations come before the House? Only twice in four years. Yet one would imagine that it was suggested that we should be discussing these regulations every week. That is absurd. If the Minister does not grant us this right, he will not be in a position—I do not say this with any intention to give offence—to understand fully any regulation. He cannot understand these regulations without having the advantage of listening to Members of this House, with their wide experience, discussing each clause, throwing a search light on it, amending and modifying it. I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to reject this on a technical quibble, but to look at the principle which is embodied in the Clause. That principle is the right of the House of Commons to deal with the regulations, as we deal with this Bill, the right to decide what shall be in each of the regulations issued in future.

12.42 p.m.

Mr. Elliot

I readily respond to the appeal made by the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) that we should also have regard to the principles of the proposal, as well as to the actual proposal itself. I think it is only courteous to the hon. Member who put down the proposal that we should examine it in that way. But I do not think the House of Commons can depart from the main issue concerned; that is, the very difficult question of how far an assembly like this should consider the details of proposals which are put before it. Every year this House engrosses to itself more power, and every year it has wider issues to deal with. At the present moment, it has greater and wider issues to deal with than ever it has had before. It has just, in this very Bill, engrossed to itself the great power, which it did not previously possess, of the supplementation of old age pensions, making the supplementary pensions a national charge. If the House of Commons is not able to delegate any of its duties, the danger of its choking in the flood of its own business will bring democratic procedure into greater disrepute than anything else that could happen. I suggest that the House of Commons must beware of acting as a body which fears to delegate its work. It is an accusation which is made against Government Departments, it is a common accusation against men of great genius and driving power, that they have all the qualities, but they cannot delegate. We know that ultimately such a man will break down, and that the administrative work he is responsible for will fail. There is a danger of this assembly failing in the same way if it takes on duties such as this clause suggests.

Mr. E. J. Williams (Ogmore)

Is not the answer to that case: give the old age pensioner a flat rate, to which he will be entitled as a matter of right, so that it will not need to be discussed by Parliament at all?

Mr. Elliot

The hon. Member does not seem to realise that the House has decided upon that matter, and that—and this is indeed my answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sudbury (Colonel Burton)—whatever he says about entrusting the administration to the Board, it has already been decided that the administration shall be entrusted to the Board. I come back to the point that has been raised of whether the regulations ought to be amended or not. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) and the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) said that whether we consider the affirmative Resolution or the negative Resolution, the affirmative Resolution being a stronger power than the negative Resolution, each is an illusory power. Surely the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough has forgotten the remark able pressure which was put upon the Government by his hon. Friend the Member for Dundee with regard to regulations when, on 31st October, 1939, he moved that an Address be presented praying that an Order in Council amending certain Defence Regulations under the Emergency Powers Act should be annulled.

Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)

It nearly brought down the Government.

Mr. Elliot

Surely therefore he cannot say that it is illusory, and if the hon. Baronet says that it nearly brought down the Government, that is exactly the point. The House of Commons on that occasion showed its power of exercising control over the regulations, not by going through them as suggested line by line, and clause by clause, but by going through them as a whole and making its criticisms as a whole, and saying, "Withdraw these regulations and give us new regulations, which will be more satisfactory to the House as a whole." Then the procedure was seen in its full power. The Minister bowed to the will of the House of Commons. Any Minister must bow to the will of the House of Commons.

Mr. E. J. Williams

We brought in a new Minister.

Mr. Elliot

No, the Home Secretary had the responsibility for it, and it was the Home Secretary who bowed to the will of the House of Commons. These regulations were introduced and the power of the House of Commons was manifested, and never more strikingly than on that occasion, and the regulations were amended in a proper and satisfactory way, as they should be, namely, by withdrawing them as a whole and redrafting them after consideration of the Debate that had taken place and by the bringing forward of new regulations which were subsequently approved by the House of Commons. That is what would happen again if the House desired it. I realise that my knowledge of these subjects may be less than that of the House as a whole, and even less than that of hon. Members sitting opposite or of hon. Members sitting on this side of the House. When these regulations come forward, as they will almost certainly have to come forward, they will be brought forward sufficiently long before supplementation comes into force to enable examination to be made of them in this House, always subject, of course, to the overriding condition of the possible development of affairs, since we are at war. I give the undertaking most gladly that, subject to any unforeseen circumstances, the regulations, which I think will be necessary and the Board themselves think will be necessary, will be laid before this House in time for it to consider them before they come into effect and affect the lives of the old people.

Mr. Neil Maclean (Glasgow, Govan)

Is it not the fact that in any case the regulations must be laid before the House for a definite number of days?

Mr. Elliot

Not in this case. The question is whether they are to be approved by an affirmative resolution of the House or not. I was merely giving an undertaking that regulations, as far I can see, will be necessary, and that, apart from unforeseen circumstances, they will be laid in time for them to be considered before they come into effect and possibly affect the lives of the old people. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I will give the very greatest attention to arguments advanced by hon. Members from all sides of the House in that connection.

Mr. Foot

I do not quite follow the statement that the Minister has made. He says that the regulations will be laid in time for the House to consider them before they come into effect. The Minister has got that provision in the Bill, as they cannot come into operation until the House has approved them anyhow.

Mr. Elliot

I do not think that the hon. Member seems to have displayed his usual astuteness this morning. He knows that there are regulations which can be applied by amending rules. There are regulations in existence which can be applied by amending rules. The hon. Member, who has great parliamentary acumen, asked whether I could give an undertaking that regulations will be brought forward and laid. I can give him the assurance, that, as far as I and the Board can see, such regulations would need to be brought forward and laid, and would not come into effect until approved by an affirmative resolution of this House. I will do my utmost to see that the House gets an opportunity for a review of the regulations before supplementary pensions come into force, which is fundamentally what it desires. That is the first point, and I hope that I have met hon. Members opposite and indeed hon. Friends on this side of the House.

Mr. E. J. Williams

Is it not the case that regulations pertaining to the aged people will come to the House from the Board through the right hon. Gentleman, and that for the unemployed they will come through the Minister of Labour? We are anxious to know precisely how the regulations will come from the Board. Are there to be two channels or two Ministries through which the regulations are to come?

Mr. Elliot

I am certainly willing to give the hon. Member that assurance. He will find in the Bill that regulations dealing with old age pensioners are to be submitted to the House on the responsibility of the two Ministers of the Health Departments—the Minister of Health, and the Secretary of State for Scotland. They will be submitted by us, and it is on our responsibility that the House will be asked to approve them. It is we who have to listen to the criticisms of the House, and, if necessary, withdraw the regulations and see that new regulations are laid. I think that that ought to go a long way, although I admit not the whole of the way, to meeting the case that has been made by hon. Members opposite, and indeed by hon. Friends on this side of the House as well.

I say again, that, on the main question, if these regulations were subject to examination or amendment, in this House, line by line and Clause by Clause, there would be a grievous danger, first of all, in this particular regard, that the House would be choked with the work which it was heaping upon itself, and secondly, a precedent would be established which would be of great disadvantage to this House in dealing with other procedure of the same kind. I hope that I have dealt with the further point that the control possessed by Parliament under the affirmative resolution procedure is illusory by proving the very powerful effect that the hon. Member for Dundee had upon certain regulations as recently as31st October of last year.

Mr. Foot

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to refer to that matter again. It was possible to get the whole of the regulations withdrawn because they bristled with objections in every Clause. I hope that the new regulations will not be like that, but, even in that case, it was found impossible for any Amendment to be made except by the complete withdrawal of the regulations and the framing of entirely new regulations, and we were able to get them withdrawn because there were a great many objections. If there had been but a single objection, though it might have been substantial, to those regulations it might have been a very different matter.

Mr. Elliot

At any rate, I think I have dealt with the point that this protection is illusory, because the hon. Member will agree that the protection is a very real protection. He said that those regulations were only withdrawn because they bristled with difficulties. I hope very much that, as the Minister responsible, I would wish to safeguard myself from the inevitable storm which would break upon my head if even one substantial objection was shown to the regulations and I allowed it to go because I was too stubborn or lazy to take account of the arguments used, and refused to withdraw the regulations and bring forward new ones. In such a case my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I would be guided by experience. It is realised that this is a very important matter touching many people, and that, if it is not satisfactorily settled, it will lead to a great many difficulties both inside and outside Parliament.

Mr. Lawson

In that case would the right hon. Gentleman give a guarantee not to make unnecessary use of the Whips? The right hon. Gentleman has made some things clear, but he has given nothing to the House on this matter at all. He has not dealt with the real core of the position. That is the power to amend the regulations. I warn him that there is going to be trouble about this.

Mr. Elliot

I should hope very much that I shall avoid unreasonable use of the Whips because the Whips, though they can solve a difficulty in the House, cannot solve a difficulty in the country. On more than one occasion I have made concessions in this Bill. I made one recent alteration in the Second Schedule. [Interruption.] The question was whether an unreasonable use would be made of the Whips. Undoubtedly, by use of the Government majority, we could have denied concessions on many points on which we have given them, and I do not think we have shown ourselves impervious to argument. I come back to the main point. If the administration of the Act is bad, it is in the country that it will be found to be bad and that difficulties will arise. Therefore, mere Parliamentary dodging will not get us out of our difficulties. I am more conscious of that than, I think, any Member of the House. Therefore, I will do my utmost to see that these things are properly done.

12.57 p.m.

Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)

I think the Minister's reply is very disappointing. The House should be given some power of amending the regulations. He made the concession that the regulations would be laid, but he is as well aware as anyone that every time regulations have come before the House the House has felt itself tied intolerably by the fact that it had no power of amendment. I wonder whether he will not consider putting in a modification in another place, so that the House will have some opportunity of giving its experience to the Minister in a way in which it is not permitted to do by the regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) had the idea that a Select Committee should be set up to deal with regulations such as these, which would have an opportunity of considering them and making recommendations which would come forward along with the draft regulations. I wonder whether the Minister would not consider some such proposal as that. I think it is worth while examining the suggestion, because on all sides there is a realization that the present procedure is unsatisfactory. I think the Minister himself, when he referred to the fact that the emergency regulations had had to be changed, showed that there was a necessity for something more, because there were consultations with all parties in the House with respect to the Amendments. Surely, with regard to this matter there should be the possibility of some previous consideration of the views of the parties in the House with regard to the draft regulations so that there would be some opportunity of more than simply saying "Yes" or "No" and of coming to a decision on the points of principle involved. I hope the Minister will think the matter over. After all, this regulation business is becoming intolerable in many respects. He is given an opportunity here of making an improvement on present procedure which might help to make the working of democracy much more efficient in the future.

1.1 p.m.

Mr. David Adams (Consett)

The Minister's second speech was an extremely disappointing affair. He left us precisely as he began. The main argument that he has advanced for persisting in depriving the House of its rights is that we are an overloaded Assembly and are afraid to delegate our authority to other people. Why should we delegate our authority to any outsider? We are concerning ourselves with that which dominates and controls the lives and activities of our constituents, and it is we who are responsible for them and we ought not to delegate it to any other authority. As to the House being an overloaded assembly, that comes singularly strangely after the Prime Minister's announcement that we are to sit for three days a week after Easter. The charge of being overloaded has, of course, no substance whatever in it. As I understand the position, it is that the Executive can claim full rights of government, but that the Houses of Parliament ought to have an uncontrolled right to deal with legislation. In the attitude which the Government have taken, it is quite clear that the Executive, of which he is the mouthpiece in this matter, is encroaching on the rights and privileges of the House of Commons in denying us our legislative authority, and, that being so, it is clearly the duty of the House of Commons to mark such steps as these and, if possible, to put down any further departure of that character, In my judgment the successive encroachments upon the authority of the House that we have seen since this and the previous National Government came into power have dulled our sensibility, or Members on the other side, together with those below the Gangway and ourselves, would be viligent in defending the rights of the Commons.

The Minister advises us that the regulations are to be made by himself. He is a Member of the House, and therefore a servant of the House, and these regulations ought to be submitted for our approval and for examination of his handiwork in detail. We do know that, in practice, the regulations are not made by the Minister, and what possible argu-

ment can be exercised against the House exercising its rights, which it does in all legislation? If that right is denied to the House of Commons, it is clearly a breach of the privileges of Parliament. That may sound a strong statement to make on a matter of this kind, but I view this with the utmost seriousness. We are to be put in the position of accepting the regulations as a whole, or rejecting them as a whole. There may be certain items in the regulations which we would desire to see amended but which are not of such importance as to persuade the House to withdraw them in favour of new regulations, and, for that reason, we ought to insist upon exercising our control over this fundamental matter, which will affect such large numbers of the most dependent sections of the community.

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

The House divided: Ayes, 100; Noes, 136.

Division No. 50.] AYES. [1.7 p.m.
Adams, D. (Consett) Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Pearson, A.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F W.
Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford) Groves, T. E. Quibell, D. J. K.
Adamson, W. M. Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Ridley, G.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Hall, J. H. (Whiteohapel) Ritson, J.
Ammon, C. G. Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley) Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Hardie, Agnes Silkin, L.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Harvey, T. E. Silverman, S. S.
Banfield, J. W. Hayday, A. Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Barnes, A. J. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Beaumont, H. (Batley) Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Smith, E. (Stoke)
Broad, F. A. Hicks, E. G. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Brown, C. (Mansfield) Hills, A. (Pontefract) Sorensen, R. W.
Burke, W. A. Hollins, J. H. (Silvertown) Stephen, C.
Burton, Col. H. W. Isaacs, G. A. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Chater, D. Jagger, J. Thorne, W.
Cluse, W. S. Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Tinker, J. J.
Cocks. F. S. Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Tomlinson, G.
Collindridge, F. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Viant, S. P.
Cove, W. G. Kirby, B. V. Walkden, A. G.
Daggar, G. Lathan, G. Walkins, F. C.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Lawson, J. J. Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Leslie, J. R. Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Davies, S. O, (Merthyr) Lunn, W. Wilkinson, Ellen
Dobbie, W. Macdonald, G. (Ince) Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) McEntee, V. La T. Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Ede, J. C. Maclean, N. Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Mathers, G. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Edwards, N. (Caerphilly) Milner, Major J. Woodburn, A.
Foot, D. M. Montague, F. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Frankel, D. Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)
Gardner, B. W. Naylor, T. E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Paling, W. Sir Percy Harris and Mr. Wilfrid Roberts.
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Parker, J.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Parkinson, J. A.
Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.) Blair, Sir R. Campbell, Sir E. T.
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh) Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. Cary, R. A.
Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Sc'h Univ's) Bossom, A. C. Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)
Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover) Braithwaite, Major A. N. (Buckrose) Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Brass, Sir W. Channon, H.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)
Beechman, N. A. Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.) Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.)
Bennett, Sir E. N. Brown, Brig.-Gen, H. C. (Newbury) Chorlton, A. E. L.
Bernays, R. H. Butcher, H. W. Clarry, Sir Reginald
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) Levy, T. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.
Colville, Rt. Hon. John Liddall, W. S. Smiles, Lieut. Colonel Sir W. D.
Cooks, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Little, Sir E. Graham. Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. Little, Dr. J. (Down) Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Crooke, Sir J. Smedley Lloyd, G. W. Smithers, Sir W.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Loftus, P. C. Somerset, T.
Cross, R. H. Lyons, A. M. Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil) M'Connell, Sir J. Somerville, Sir A. A. (Windsor)
Denville, Alfred MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross) Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.
Drewe, C. McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W' m'l'd)
Dunglass, Lord McKie, J. H. Stewart, J. Henderson(Fife, E.)
Eckersley, P. T. Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest Storey, S
Eden, Rt. Hon. A. Manningham-Buller, Sir M. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Tate, Mavis C.
Ellis, Sir G. Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.) Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Morgan, R. H. (Worcester, Stourbridge) Thomas, J. P. L.
Everard, Sir William Lindsay Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.) Titchfield, Marquess of
Fildes, Sir H. Munro, P. Touche, G. C.
Fox, Sir G. W. G. Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H. Tree, A. R. L. F.
Fremantle, Sir F. E. O'Connor, Sir Terence J. Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan
Gledhill, G. Orr-Ewing, I. L. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Goldie, N. B. Pym, L. R. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Grimston, R. V. Raikes, H. V. A. M. Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.
Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H. Ramsay, Captain A. H. M. Warrender, Sir V.
Hammersley, S. S. Ramsbotham, Rt. Hon. H. Wells, Sir Sydney
Harland, H. P. Reid, W. Allan (Derby) Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Robertson, D. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Hely-Hutchinson, M. R. Rowlands, G. Wise, A. R.
Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S. Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Horsbrugh, Florence Russell, Sir Alexander Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.
Howitt, Dr. A. B. Salt, E. W. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Hume, Sir G. H Samuel, M. R. A.
Joel, D. J. B. Sandeman, Sir N. S. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Sanderson, Sir F. B. Mr. Buchan-Hepburn and Mr. Boulton.
Kerr, Sir John Graham (Sco'sh Univs.) Schuster, Sir G. E.
King-Hall, Commander W. S. R. Selley, H. R.