HC Deb 06 April 1943 vol 388 cc499-522
Captain Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)

I beg to move, in page 11, line 24, to leave out from "and" to the end of the Sub-section, and to insert: shall not come into force until each House of Parliament has sat on forty days after the order or regulation has been laid before it, and if either House within the next forty days on which it has sat after the order or regulation has been laid before it resolves that the order or regulation he annulled it shall thenceforth be void but without prejudice to the making of a new order or regulation. The reason I move this Amendment is that as the Clause stands it is possible for an Order to be laid on the Table for 40 days during part of which time Parliament is not sitting. I think it is only reasonable that Parliament should have sufficient time in which to consider any Order.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

I hope that the Minister will give very careful consideration to this Amendment, because we are drifting rapidly away from the principles of the Rules (Publication) Act, under which there is an elaborate procedure to ensure that before Rules are made they are open to examination and inspection and to give everybody concerned ample opportunities for making representations. Recently, and more particularly under the Emergency Powers Act, where I admit it is necessary for quick action to be taken, an Order has immediate operation before Parliament has had any opportunity to consider it. There cannot be the same urgency in this case, and therefore I think we ought to shift from the basis that the Order comes into operation as soon as the Minister makes it but can subsequently be annulled by a Prayer in Parliament to the basis that it does not come into operation until 40 days-after it has been laid. In that period there will be an opportunity to submit a Prayer and possibly annul the Order before any action is taken. In other words, the House of Commons—in fact, both Houses of Parliament—ought as far as possible to retain effective control over legislation, except where on grounds of urgency that control ought not to be retained. Therefore, I think there is a very powerful case for this Amendment on democratic grounds, because we are drifting much too rapidly in the direction of Fascism. Much of our legislation to-day is in principle essentially Fascist, and I am horrified to see that the least opposition to Fascism comes from hon. Members of the Labour Party, who do not appreciate the real significance of what is happening.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)

I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend to withdraw his Amendment. I was very careful about this matter, because I knew that I should upset the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) if I introduced any innovation. This Clause is on the lines of a Clause in a Bill which was passed in 1909, when Fascism had not been heard of.

Sir H. Williams

The right hon. Gentleman appears to forget that syndicalism, of which many trade unions in this country were ardent supporters, is historically a part of Fascism.

Mr. Bevin

Syndicalism had not been adumbrated by Tom Mann when the Bill to which I referred was passed in 1909. It was in 1910; so I want to correct the hon. Member's historical knowledge. In drafting this Clause, I have stuck to the procedure concerning wages board Orders which has been on the Statute Book for many years. I have an additional reason why I think the Amendment should be withdrawn, and that is that I do not think the discussion of wages board Orders is appropriate to the House of Commons unless a wages board really outrages an industry in some way. It has already been agreed that I should have the power to refer back on representations, and all that kind of thing. The greatest care has been taken in this matter, and therefore I would ask the Committee to stick to the Clause, which is in strict conformity with all the minimum wage machinery introduced into Parliament over the last 40 years.

Major Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)

I could not hear all that the Minister was saying, particularly the first part, but I am sure it was a very good speech. I did, however, hear the latter part, and it is on that that I propose to focus my remarks. The Minister based his case largely on precedent. Precedent is an extremely valuable study. We move from precedent to precedent but none the less I think we ought to consider each precedent and see what has been the result. Over the last few years, particularly since the war, we have seen Parliament gradually losing control to some extent. We have seen freedom being narrowed down from precedent to precedent. The fact that we have established a precedent in one case is not a good reason, if it has been proved to be a bad precedent, why we should continue it. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment and with my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) about this Amendment, because I feel that Parliament should retain some active control over legislation. The Minister's argument that Parliament is not a suitable place in which to discuss wages boards may be to some extent true, except in the circumstances which he mentioned, but if Parliament is not the place to discuss wages boards, why lay Orders on the Table at all? I think Parliament should keep its control. I think it is wrong to forestall the views of Parliament by saying an Order is to come into force immediately, unless it is an emergency Order such as was mentioned by the hon. Member for South Croydon. I hope the Minister will reconsider this point, not only in relation to this Bill but from the point of view of the whole structure of legislation and the question of Parliamentary control.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.