§ 3.25 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Attlee)
I beg to move:That the following provisions shall have effect with respect to the Business of this day's Sitting:A Bill to extend the powers which may be exercised by His Majesty under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939,may without notice be presented by a Minister of the Crown and forthwith considered and passed through all its stages on the same day, and the requirements of Standing Orders No. 64 and 68 and of the practice of the House relating to the imposition of charges upon the people shall be deemed to have been complied with in respect of any provisions of the Bill or of any Amendments thereto moved by a Minister of the Crown which authorise expenditure or the imposition of any such charge.Immediately after the Bill to which this Order applies has been read a Second time it shall be considered in Committee of the Whole House."—(King's Recommendation signified.)I have to inform the House that the present situation is so critical that the Government are compelled to seek special powers from the House by a Bill to be passed through all its stages in both Houses of Parliament to-day. The situation is grave. Every hon. Member is fully aware of that; and also of the issues which are at stake. A great battle is now proceeding. Our men at sea, on land and in the air, are fighting with splendid courage, devotion and skill, in company with the freedom-loving people who areour Allies. The result of that battle we cannot know, but it must be clear to all that the next few weeks will be critical. Our ruthless enemy, who is restrained by no considerations of international law, of justice or humanity, is throwing everything into the scale to force a decision. We are resolved that he shall not succeed. The Government are convinced that now is the time when we must mobilise to the full the whole resources of this country. We must throw all our weight into the struggle. Every private interest must give way to the urgent needs of the community. We cannot know what the next few weeks or even days may bring forth, 152 but whatever may come we shall meet it as the British people in the past have met dangers and overcome them.
But it is necessary that the Government should be given complete control over persons and property, not just some persons of some particular class of the community, but of all persons, rich and poor, employer and workman, man or woman, and all property. It is these powers for which I am asking the House this afternoon. I do not ask for them in any spirit of panic; there is no need for panic. I am asking that in this emergency we should be given the requisite powers that may be needed. In order to pass the Bill through all its stages, it is necessary to move this procedure Motion without notice, and I am asking the House to acquiesce in this procedure in view of the great peril in which the nation stands to-day. The Motion is in precisely the same form as that moved on 24th August last year when the original Emergency Powers (Defence) Bill was passed through all its stages. The Bill is available for hon. Members in the Vote Office now.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith (Keighley)
I thank the Lord Privy Seal for his explanation. We are setting a precedent, but this is not the time for a lengthy discussion. It is a time for action and for showing that the House of Commons can be a completely efficient instrument in the conduct of war. I have only to say that we shall give the Bill all facilities.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
These are drastic powers for which the Government are asking, and the justification for them is that the country is in danger. I do not suppose in the history of our country, not even in 1914, 1915 and 1916, has the danger been more real. Nothing will give the country greater confidence than the knowledge that the Government are prepared to take action rapidly, and even against all constitutional practices and traditions. The Government must take responsibility, and I am glad they are prepared to do so. Parliament, of course, must be diligent in examining—the House has a great duty in that respect—the way in which these powers are used. When the occasion arises, Parliament must be vigilant to see that 153 these powers are not unfairly used. [Hon. Members: "Agreed."] The House of Commons has its functions to perform. It does not help the Government if Members do not express their views. These are drastic powers. I reiterate that Members will have the responsibility of examining the use of those powers in practice and protecting individuals; but I am satisfied—
§ Mr. Charles Brown (Mansfield)
On a point of Order. Is not the business before the House a procedure Motion? The Second Reading of the Bill has not been moved.
§ Sir P. Harris
The seriousness of the situation justifies these great powers, but nevertheless, hon. Members still have their responsibilities, and when these powers are put into operation, those responsibilities will be vastly increased. As far as hon. Members on this bench are concerned, we will do everything we can to facilitate the progress of the Bill through all its stages.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxton (Bridgeton)
I do not propose to oppose this Motion on procedure. I agree absolutely that the House ought to be able to function speedily in critical circumstances, but I reserve my right to speak adequately on the Bill, which has just been placed in our hands. At first glance I cannot see what there is in it that adds to the emergency powers already given to the Government, but, as I have said, I reserve my right to speak further on the Bill.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
As regards procedure, I understand that it will be on the same lines as on the last occasion when we discussed such matters. At the moment we are not discussing the Second Reading of the Bill, but I hope the House will understand the importance of one statement that was made by the Lord Privy Seal. I understand the tragic situation of the people of this country, but in connection with this Bill it is essential that the power of the working class should remain unaffected. The hatred of the working class for Nazi-ism is deep-rooted.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I shall want to raise some matters on the Second Reading of the Bill. The enmity of the other side is very recent and shallow and to those of us who are concerned about the welfare of the working classes, it is important that nothing be done to interfere with their liberty of organisation.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the following provisions shall have effect with respect to the Business of this day's Sitting:
A Bill to extend the powers which may be exercised by His Majesty under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, may without notice be presented by a Minister of the Crown and forthwith considered and passed through all its stages on the same day, and the requirements of Standing Orders Nos. 64 and 68 and of the practice of the House relating to the imposition of charges upon the people shall be deemed to have been complied with in respect of any provisions of the Bill or of any Amendments thereto moved by a Minister of the Crown which authorise expenditure or the imposition of any such charge.
Immediately after the Bill to which this Order applies has been read a Second time, it shall be considered in Committee of the Whole House.