HC Deb 26 June 1941 vol 372 cc1149-53

Amendment made: In page 6, line 17, at the end, insert: (2) Any such order may contain different directions as respects different classes of business."—[Mr. Lyttelton.]

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

I beg to move, in page 6, line 24, to leave out Subsection (3) and to insert: (3) Every order made under this Act shall be laid, as soon as may be, before Parliament, and if cither House within the next twenty-eight days on which that House has sat after the order has been laid before it resolves that the order be annulled, the order shall be of no effect, but without prejudice to the validity of anything done in the meantime there under or to the making of a new order. I mentioned the subject matter of this Amendment on the Second Reading and suggested that, in view of the necessity for speedy action in regard to Orders to be made by the Board of Trade in varying the Schedule, instead of adopting the procedure laid down in the Bill, by which they would have to come to both Houses for an affirmative Resolution, they should rather adopt the other method by which they could issue their Order, which would become valid unless there were a Resolution to annul. That is common in legislation of this kind. Unfortunately, I was not present, but I read the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary with care, and I inferred generally from what he said that he thought the procedure that I suggested was not so much in consonance with Parliamentary control as the procedure laid down in the Bill. I have as much regard to proper control by Parliament as anyone, but I am concerned with speed. The Parliamentary Secretary also seemed to imply that there was some degree of importance which had to be taken into account and that, if the matter were really fundamental and important, this affirmative Resolution was the proper method, while matters of minor moment could go through in the way I suggest of an Order being valid unless annulled. I submit that there is no substance whatever in that implication. I have taken my Amendment from the Factories Acts, where there is provision for the Home Secretary to make Regulations in respect of safety and protection and matters of that kind. If that procedure, giving the Minister power to make Orders subject to subsequent annulment, is good enough to provide for the protection of life and limb of thousands of workpeople, it is certainly good enough to decide Whether or not you will allow certain types of advertising to come into costs.

My motive is the matter of speed and adaptability. I will mention one factor which makes speed necessary. There is a process now going on for the concentration of production, and, in the course of that process, a number of firms will be closed down and their work handed over to what are described as nucleus concerns, and it will be the duty of the nucleus concern to provide out of the trade which remains to it a part of its profits to the concerns which have been closed down. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have power to move quickly. As things stand now, I do not know how far the obligation to provide payment to close down concerns is entitled to be brought in as a factor in justifying the nucleus concern to raise its prices. That question will arise from time to time in different industries and trades, and the President of the Board of Trade has suggested that in regard to that matter alone he ought to be allowed the opportunity of having in his hands powers which he can exercise at once. Otherwise, it would be easy for obstruction, if it desired to raise its head, to make itself effective. In spite of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said I urge that this power should be taken, because I am satisfied, and I think the Committee will be satisfied, that only by this method can we get sufficient adaptability and speed to meet circumstances as they change.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Captain Waterhouse)

I think my hon. Friend has really got the position rather twisted round. There are two points, the first being the difference between this Clause and the other Clauses of the Bill. Under this Clause we are taking powers to alter the words of the principal Statute, while under other Clauses we are taking powers to make Orders. I think he will appreciate that that is a very material difference indeed. The second point he raised concerned expedition if what he called the ugly head of obstruction reared itself. Here I do not think his proposal quite meets the situation. Under it, my right hon. Friend might be kept on tenterhooks, not only for a day or so, but for 40 days, because this Order would lie on the Table for 40 days and, on the 39th day, when he might think he was getting away with it, my hon. Friend or somebody else might come along with a Prayer against it. We want this power for use in urgent cases. I think that, both from the legal point of view and from the point of view of expedition, our way is better, and it is infinitely better from the Parliamentary point of view.

Mr. Hughes

Upon the assurance of my hon. and gallant Friend, that he is satisfied that his is the more expeditious way, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Glenvil Hall

You courteously indicated. Colonel Clifton Brown, that on the Question of the Clause standing part I could raise the matter which I wished to raise earlier. As to the Clause itself, obviously it is a very great improvement upon the provisions in the original Bill. It is obviously an advantage that powers of this kind should reside in the President of the Board of Trade. These costs and charges alter, and if the President of the Board of Trade cannot watch trends of this kind I feel it is impossible for other people to watch them, and I think the power we are now putting into his hands will be well and truly used. The point I wished to raise earlier concerns people who have to call in a furniture remover to take their furniture from one part of the country to another. It is difficult always to say what the charge for such service should be, and I wonder whether the President would be good enough to indicate the kind of machinery he proposes to set up to see that profiteering does not take place in these cases. As he undoubtedly knows, there is a great deal of feeling in regard to this matter, and although I am not going to press this suggestion I think it might be worth while to consider setting up an office under his Ministry to which a man who had received an estimate for the removal of his goods might take that estimate to ascertain whether it was or was not a fair charge It is obviously difficult to fix a flat rate for removals based upon mileage, because some people's effects include, for example, a great deal of china, which has to be specially packed, whereas other people have only a straightforward lot of furniture to be dealt with. We may get ourselves into difficulties unless we have thought out in advance the machinery which will have to be put into operation. Could not we have an office to which estimates could be taken to be "vetted"? It would follow from that that when the Board of Trade had given a decision that decision would have to be binding upon the furniture remover.

Mr. Leslie

When we discussed this matter some time ago I put forward several cases in which there had been attempts at profiteering. One was a particularly glaring case. Certain people wished to remove from Leigh-on-Sea to Muswell Hill, and the estimates for the removal of their furniture ranged up to £23. In the end a Muswell Hill remover did the work for £6, and thought that was a fair charge. I put the whole case before the Ministry of Transport, but they did not take any action. As a consequence of the steps I took in this matter I have been getting letters from all over the country showing that this profiteering is very widespread, and something ought to be done to prevent it, particularly in cases where people are forced to leave certain districts owing to bombing or other circumstances.

Captain Waterhouse

I agree that there is a serious cause of complaint here. The charges for many of these services have been exorbitant. I feel, however, that to set up an office to which estimates could be submitted would be to deal with the situation in a very cumbersome way. Under this Bill we shall be setting up a body of inspectors throughout the country, and there are already local price regulation committees. Surely it is better for the public to complain either to an inspector or to a local committee than to have to go to some central bureau. In any case it would be almost impossible to administer such a bureau in these difficult times. We hope the machinery which I have described will meet all the needs of the case.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clauses 7, 8 and 9, ordered to stand part of the Bill.