HC Deb 18 February 1944 vol 397 cc580-8
The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

It might be for the convenience of the Committee if the first two Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Etherton) were debated together.

Mr. Ralph Etherton (Stretford)

I beg to move, in page 12, line 27, at the end, to insert: (2) Any regulations made under Subsections (1) (a) and (1) (c) of this Section shall be laid before Parliament as soon as may be after the making thereof, and shall cease to have effect on the expiration of forty days from the day on which such regulations are made unless at some time before the expiration of that period they have been approved by Resolution of both Houses of Parliament and. I hope that the Government will think fit to accept the principle of these two Amendments, if not the actual wording of them, in the conciliatory spirit in which they are offered. The object of these Amendments is to safeguard for the House the control over the making of Regulations which affect principles, and to leave the making of Regulations which affect only procedure to the method proposed in the Bill, so that those Regulations shall be subject to the Prayer, or negative, procedure to which we are accustomed, but Regulations which affect principle shall be the subject of an affirmative Resolution. I would like to dispose at once, if I may, of the criticism which was made of an Amendment which we proposed to Regulations on the Disabled Persons (Employment) Bill. It was then suggested that the Amendments in respect of procedure for Regulations which I and my hon. Friends proposed were designed as an attack on the Minister or on his Department. It was suggested then, and it might be suggested to-day, that it was only in respect of Bills brought forward by the Minister of Labour and National Service that we proposed these Amendments. There are Amendments down in similar terms to Clause 101 of the Education Bill, which deals in a similar way with Statutory Rules and Regulations. The other point to which I would like to draw attention, and which we have tried to meet in these proposals, is one which was made on the Disabled Persons (Employment) Bill. It was suggested that it would be just as bad to switch over from the negative procedure of Statutory Rules and Regulations made under the Bill, and to make all subject to the affirmative Resolution of the House, as to leave them all subject to the negative procedure. We have, as I mentioned, tried to meet that point by splitting them up, so that only the principles become the subject of the affirmative Resolution. I hope that, in the circumstances, the Minister will see fit to accept the principle of these Amendments.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)

I hope that we shall not get a Debate on the principle of the negative and the positive Resolutions. I would rather deal with the question of the merits of this Bill. As I said before, if the Government have to submit proposals to this House on the question of the form and method of making Regulations, the matter ought to be dealt with on its merits and on a Motion, and every Minister should not be put in the difficulty of having to deal with it on every set of Regulations. In administering a great Department one has not only to have regard to the Bill before the House at the moment, but to have regard to the general practice of all this type of legislation with which we are dealing. As I said on the Second Reading, I was a little troubled about Clause 16 (1, a). This deals with the power of the Minister to make Regulations defining what is reasonable and practicable. This was not put into the Bill, curious as it may seem, on the Minister's volition, or because he wanted powers to override a decision of the House. In a Bill of this character, one has to listen to many representations from a lot of people outside this House who are affected: people who have to carry out the law, and people who are sympathetic to the men who are coming back from the war, not people who want to put some obstacle in their way or to lower the value of the Measure.

In the past, with the umpire's rulings, one sometimes got in a tangle which had to be straightened out by Regulations afterwards. That happened with the Unemployment Acts and Measures of that kind. We were taking rather a leap in the dark with these Reinstatement Committees and with the umpire, and it was suggested to us that, after some experience, not immediately, it might be found desirable to make Regulations, based upon case-made decisions, for the guidance of the Reinstatement Committees, so as to secure that we got uniformity of treatment, which would not be too rigid. Therefore, we took power. On the other hand, we are going to give rather a wider appeal to the umpire than exists under the other Acts: the right of appeal is not limited to the organised people, but the umpire himself will be able to determine whether appeals should be permitted. Also, in this Bill, the Minister, as such, does not really come into the thing at all. It is a relationship between two distinct parties: one of whom is the applicant for the job, to see whether the job is available; it is for the Committee to say whether it is reasonable and practicable. In view of that situation, I was inclined to withdraw the power to make Regulations at all and rely on the decisions of the umpires themselves on Clause 16 (1).

This is not because I want to avoid a Vote on the question of positive or negative Resolutions. I am simply trying to deal with it because I felt that I am not in the same position as with Regulations under social services when there is a question of whether compensation should be paid. These Regulations involve a rather wider implication as between Citzen A and Citizen B, who will be contestants in a claim, and therefore, I think it would be better, in those circumstances, to rely on the decision of the umpire, and leave it to the umpire rather than that the responsibility should rest upon me to make Regulations to govern, in such circumstances, what was reasonable and practicable. I cannot deal with it on Clause 16 (c), which deals with ordinary things which by this Act are required or authorised to be prescribed. There are the ordinary things necessary to be prescribed, such as the time limit for appealing to the umpire. Clause 16 (b) and 16 (c) really go together, but I recognise that 16 (a) goes wider than would ordinarily be allowed.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

Does the Minister understand that the point we are making about paragraph (c) is that, if there are matters of vital principle which are at stake, we take the view that a positive Resolution should specify it more clearly than he has done of is done under paragraph (c)?

Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)

On the same point, will the Minister also say, if he keeps the power under paragraph (c), will that not, in fact, give him all the power he needs?

Mr. Bevin

No, we are not quite so bad as that. In such matters as the prescribed manner for making applications for reinstatement through the employment exchange under Clause 2 (4), the time limit for applying to the Reinstatement Committee under Clause 9 (1), and the time limit for appealing from the Reinstatement Committee to the umpire under Clause 10 (1)—this is a procedure point—all this is not the kind of thing for which we want a substantive Resolution at all. I was really influenced, in agreeing to this with the parties I met, because, I confess, of linking it a little too closely, as if it was a social service, but, on reflection, seeing that, as I said yesterday on another Clause, it affects the rights as between two citizens going before a court, I felt it was better not to take that power to make Regulations at all under Clause 16 (1, a).

Mr. Etherton

May I ask the Minister whether, in carrying out what he has suggested, he will consider substituting for paragraph (c) the words "any other administrative matter"?

Mr. Bevin

I would consider it, but I cannot remember an Act in which you authorised a Minister to make Regulations to carry out an administrative matter. I do not know any such Act of Parliament.

Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)

The right hon. Gentleman could create a precedent.

Mr. Bevin

God forbid that a Labour Member should ever do that. I will look into it but I do not want to put words into this Bill, which after all is a temporary Bill, which cut across the usual words used in this kind of thing, and I ask hon. Members to keep their vigorous arguments for another case.

Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)

I think it is a pity that the Minister should be so coy about this. I am concerned as to whether, in fact, although the Minister has been extremely reasonable and helpful over the difficulties about Clause 16 (1) (a), he would not, as Clause 16 (1) (c) now stands, be retaining everything he proposes to give up under paragraph (a). The words suggested by my hon. Friend may not be the right ones, but if the Minister's intention is carried out, as I understand it, inevitably there must be some alteration in Clause 16 (1) (c), because, as now drawn, it is so wide that it covers everything. I think the Minister should look into this again.

Mr. Molson

I should like to express my appreciation of the changed tone of the Minister of Labour. In his remarks, he drew a distinction between a matter of principle that was raised on a substantive Motion and a matter of principle raised on a Bill which he himself had introduced. I would say to the Minister with all respect that matters of constitutional principle are of universal validity. We have tried to meet the perfectly legitimate point which he made—that if, before every Regulation was carried into effect, each one must be presented to the House, it would mean an almost intolerable burden thrown upon the Minister, and it was for that reason that my hon. Friends and myself, in this Amendment, sought to draw a clear distinction between those matters of principle which do affect the liberty and rights of the subject and in which the House has got to retain its own control, and those matters purely of procedure where, quite obviously, it would be proper to delegate to the Minister the right to introduce minor Amendments.

I fully respond to the spirit in which he has spoken, and I am sure that it is his intention to meet us on the points of substance that we have raised. I gather that the learned Solicitor-General gave to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby), an assurance that it was not really the intention of the Government to take out Paragraph (c), which, he now admits, it would not be proper for the Committee to leave entirely in the uncontrolled hands of the Minister of Labour.

Mr. Erskine-Hill (Edinburgh, North)

The Committee will be grateful for the way in which the Minister has tried to be reasonable on this question and we ought to look with sympathy on what he has done. I am bound to confess, that originally having some of the fears expressed by some of the other speakers, the continuing in of Paragraph (c) might give all the powers which he wanted on the original plan of keeping in Paragraph (a). I am, therefore, greatly relieved to see that the powers under Paragraph (c) are only such as are "required or authorised by the Act itself." That goes a long way to meet any objections there might be, although I have no doubt he will see whether any other words would make the thing more abundantly clear.

The one point about which I am myself at variance with the right hon. Gentleman was the objection to these things being raised Bill by Bill. I am extremely anxious that the House should have an opportunity at the earliest possible moment to discuss all these questions and try to arrive at a solution which is satisfactory to all concerned. At the same time, until that Debate takes place and an opportunity is given to the House to arrive at a reasonable arrangement, it is essential that as each Bill comes up, the House should remember that it has a responsibility to see that every Bill is only passed when a satisfactory explanation has been given of why the Minister should have such wide powers as he may want, and why we should delegate our authority without seeing to it that the House still retains a certain control. I will conclude by thanking the Minister.

The Solicitor-General

There is really little to say on these matters, and it is only out of respect for the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend that I am addressing the Committee. It is clear—and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill) would I think agree with me—that when you have a Sub-section dealing with matters of procedure and a further Sub-section dealing with any other thing required or authorised to be prescribed, it would be extremely difficult to persuade any court that the words in the second Sub-section were not to be considered with the original words. On the general point, I am sure that my hon. Friends who have spoken and I myself, and all members of the Committee, are in agreement. We want to draw the line carefully, and, in view of the immense problems which await this Committee and this House during the next few months, the last thing that any of us want to do, wherever we may sit in this House, is to introduce, either when a Bill is being discussed or when it is being put into practice, restrictions which would cause unnecessary debate on matters which we are all agreed are really matters of procedure and of detail which the Minister should work out. This short discussion will have done good service if, at any rate, we have eliminated that error from matters of any controversy which we may have. In view of the helpful attitude that everyone has shown, I am not going to take up the further time of the Committee but only want to recognise at once that helpful attitude.

Sir I. Albery

There is one point which I still do not quite understand and I would like to be informed of it, if possible. I have been wondering, when the committees begin to work, what machinery will exist to ensure that there is some measure of co-ordination in the decisions arrived at by the various committees up and down the country. Are they going to be given advice or direction as to how they should act? I cannot help wondering whether we shall not be in the same position as before, except that there will be no regulations at all laid before Parliament.

Mr. Bevin

First of all, the committees will have, as I explained yesterday, rules of procedure when it comes to determining cases. As soon as the umpire has determined cases, his decisions will be communicated to all the committees throughout the country.

Mr. Etherton

In view of what the Minister of Labour and the Solicitor-General have said, and the alteration proposed in this Clause, and particularly the undertaking of the Minister to look again at Sub-section (c) to make the matter abundantly clear if that is necessary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Sir A. Southby

When we have passed the Clause, what will happen with regard to Paragraph (a)? I understand that the Minister is to take it out. Is it proposed to take it out in another place?

Mr. Bevin

I will deal with it on the Report stage.

Mr. Etherton

Before we part with the Clause may I say that I hope that the Minister, between now and a later stage of the Bill, will look again at Sub-section (3), because there are matters there which would merit his further attention. In regard to another Measure, where a similar provision was inserted, the Attorney-General was asked what protection there was, so that people could ascertain what regulations were to be made, and where they were to be published. A rather unsatisfactory reply was given by the Attorney-General and no indication was given of the processes whereby persons could safeguard themselves by knowing when an order had been made. I hope that in these circumstances, between now and a later stage of the Bill, the Minister will consider whether some more appropriate provision than that in Sub-section (3) cannot be made. Further, instead of continuing to insert in Bills, this very unsatisfactory common form of Clause amending the Rules Publication Act, I would suggest that the time has arrived when we should amend the Rules Publication Act itself in this regard.

The Solicitor-General

I am very anxious to meet any point of substance which my hon. Friend has to make with regard to this, but I would ask him to consider the provisions of other Sections of the Rules Publication Act before he presses this point. As I understand it, the real effect of Section 1, and all that the Section really does, is to provide for the giving of notice that it is proposed to make some rules, and for enabling public bodies to make suggestions as to the rules before they are made. The Section confers no rights, on the public, and it is perfectly consistent that the rule is being made in a form entirely different from that originally proposed. If my hon. Friend looks at the Rules Publication Act, he will see that it provides for the rules to be printed and sold, and notice to be given of them. If my hon. Friend will indicate to me, at any time convenient to him, what real advantage he thinks there is from that special provision in Section 1, I shall be most happy to consider it, with regard to any matter, or, indeed, generally on its merits. But I cannot myself see any real advantage to be gained by its being kept.

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