§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Donald Somervell)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, which has been amended from time to time, has always had embodied in it the principle that it should run for a period of a year and should then expire unless extended by this House. In one case, in 1940, the extension was by a supplementary Act, but the procedure provided for in the Act is that it may be renewed for a period of 12 months by an Address presented to His Majesty by both Houses of Parliament. There is no power under the existing law to renew by an Address for a shorter period than a year. If we adopt the Address procedure, we must extend for the full period of a year. The present position is that the Emergency Powers Acts, with the Defence Regulations which are left after my predecessor's raid on them the other day when 84 fell by the wayside with general approval, will expire on 24th August. That is the date when the 12 months under the Address which was moved in July last year expires. Everybody would agree that steps must be taken before Parliament dissolves to continue the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts, with the Regulations under them.
The present Bill simply extends the Acts for a period of six months. We must have a Bill to do that, although it is in one sense doing only one-half of what could be done by an Address, but we 423 do not think it right, for reasons which I will state a little more definitely, to ask the House at this stage of our affairs to continue these Acts for the full period of 12 months. The fact that they are extended for only six months means that before that period expires the then Government must come back to the then Parliament on this issue in some form or other.
§ Sir D. Somervell
I am coming to that. I am getting a little nervous about relying upon the right hon. Gentleman's decisions or statements in the past. I thought, when I was producing the Order in Council which was obviously going to get general approval, that I ought to give honour where honour was due. On the last occasion when the Act was renewed, my predecessor gave some pledges to the House which are important in relation not only to the shortening of the extension period from 12 to 6 months, but also to the Government's decision with regard to the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Bill, which has been introduced but not yet discussed in any form. The right hon. Gentleman, in the Debate on14th July last year, emphasised the point that, after the cessation of the war in Europe, the House would be entitled to have an opportunity for a full review of the Emergency Powers issue. He said:When a situation arises in which there is a prima facie case for reviewing this matter the Government will not evade the issue but will come to the House afresh and say, 'Let us have a talk about it.'He said also that it would be the duty of the Governmentto come to Parliament and to consult Parliament and to give the House the fullest opportunity of reviewing the whole position and considering the extent and nature of the Emergency Powers which ought to be continuedafter the cessation of hostilities in Europe.—[OFFICIAL REPORT,14th July, 1944; Vol. 401, c. 2083–4.]
That was completely reasonable, and we entirely accept those declarations in the letter and in the spirit. It is because this Parliament will plainly not have time to give to this issue in all its aspects the attention which it deserves, and which the right hon. Gentleman promised Par- 424 liament it should have, that we feel the course we are adopting is the proper course. Under it the new Parliament will have the fullest opportunity of reviewing the whole position. On the question of the time that remains to us, the House is well aware of the position. We heard the statement on Business to-day. There are some Bills, like the Finance Bill, which are essential. There are a number of Bills on which the House has already done a lot of work which it is the general wish of all parties should reach the Statute book. There are the Supply days, which, in any case, have to be cut down.
Let me, therefore, first address my remarks to the question whether in the position in which we are now it would have been right to ask the House to have this promised review on the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Bill. I submit that the general question could not have the full consideration which it ought to have and which the Government a year ago said it should have. I then come to the point which the right hon. Gentleman raised in a Question on Tuesday, whether anything would be jeopardised by the postponement. In the circumstances when this Bill was introduced, I foreshadowed, and I expect everybody did, that there would be considerable discussions upon it. It may well be that the general principles of the Bill commend themselves to everybody, namely, the principle that we could be certain that when we pass into more normal times as the war emergency, which is still fully with us, fades away that it should be clear that the Government have the necessary powers; and the other principle which the Bill involves, that in this field there should be greater Parliamentary control.
These two principles may well, and I hope will, be fully accepted, but undoubtedly this is a Bill on which I would anticipate considerable discussions, not only on Second Reading, but in Committee. There are, for instance, the precise wording of Clause 1, which deals with additional transitional powers, and the question of the two years' limit and whether it is right to go on for two years irrespective of the Emergency Powers Acts being brought to an end. Anybody with experience of this House will realise that there are many matters which would have to be discussed. There is another 425 matter which I am sure was included in what was stated on behalf of the Government a year ago. That is not only what I may call the form of this Bill and the Committee points which might be raised on it, but a general review by the House of the Emergency Powers at the time when this discussion comes to be held. In this matter there are thus two things which are equally important, but the second, from the point of view of the ordinary citizen, is more important than the first. The first is the extent and form of the powers which can be exercised. Obviously, so long as we are at war with Japan, we must have the widest possible powers, but the question which the citizen is interested in is what use we make of those powers and whether we make an excessive use of them in the circumstances as they exist.
That seems to me to be precisely the matter which the Government intended that the House should have the opportunity of reviewing when the right hon. Gentleman spoke on their behalf. It is impossible in the present state of business to hold that review now. The right hon. Gentleman raised the other day, and I am grateful to him for doing it because it is an important point, and it is right it should be cleared up, the point whether, if we postponed the Supplies and Services Bill, such matters as housing and furniture will be prejudiced in the interval through the Departments concerned not having sufficient powers. That is the legal question, and on questions of law the House will look to my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General rather than to the Home Secretary. I have had a few words with him, not for the first time on this issue in the course of the last five years, just to be sure that he did not let me down when he came to reply. I can assure the House that we have been discussing this matter from different angles for a long time more or less continuously. I can assure the House that there is no foundation for the fear that the postponement of the Supplies and Services Bill will hamper any Government Department in continuing and exercising such controls as are required in connection with housing, furnishing and the various other similar matters to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. Under the Emergency Powers Acts which we are asking the House to extend for a further period there is full provision for all the controls which 426 are essential for these purposes. Not only is the end of hostilities in Europe not the end of the war but, as we have been very forcibly reminded—I was looking for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food—we are still in the position of having a war scarcity of supplies. That position is as acute as it has ever been. Therefore, the necessity for exercising powers for the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community has seldom been more clear than it is at present.
I agree with the idea in the first part of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Bill that a period will come when, from the strictly legal point of view, doubt might be raised as to whether the circumstances justify the use of the existing powers for the purposes which at the moment we have in mind, and that should be provided for. But at this stage it is rather the political than the legal side which in my view is the governing factor which would have led the late Government, if it had continued, to ask the House at this stage to review the whole position and consider a two years' policy. This period to which I have referred, when it may be said that the existing powers are wearing a little thin, and when the Government may say that, apart from their political obligation to put the whole issue before the House, from the legal point of view the line is getting a little near, will undoubtedly be in the life of the new Parliament. This is a very important matter from every point of view—from the constitutional point of view and from the point of view of the transition from war to peace. I believe it would have been quite wrong to have attempted to rush this through without proper discussion, which it could not have. In the view of the Government it is the new Parliament which should deal with the matter.
Before I sit down I would like to say a word on the general question of controls, which is concerned very much in this issue. There have been various statements on the matter. There was in the White Paper on Employment Policy a statement which, I think, puts it very well. It says:The Government have no intention of maintaining war-time restrictions for restriction's sake. But they are resolved that, so long as supplies are abnormally short, the most urgent needs shall be met first. Without some of the existing controls this could not be achieved; 427 prices would rise and the limited supplies would go, not to those whose need was the greatest, but to those able to pay the highest price. The Government are confident that the public will continue to give, for as long as is necessary, the same wholehearted support to the policy of 'fair shares' that it has given in war-time.The first sentence of that statement,The Government have no intention of maintaining war-time restrictions for restriction's sake,was very well exemplified by the action taken by the right hon. Gentleman, with a promptitude which I think must have impressed the House on 9th May, when 84 Defence Regulations went—I am not sure where they go when they die. I agree that it is important that the process of seeing what we can dispense with should be continually kept in mind. We have to keep a very large measure of control, but there are some things—some of them harassing—which can be got rid of, and for my part so far as they come within my control I will do my best to see that that is done. I will give one example. The right hon. Gentleman removed certain restrictions on passages to Northern Ireland a few days ago, and I was able to make a statement in answer to a Question to-day with regard to restrictions on passages to Southern Ireland. The Government are fully alive to the importance of removing restrictions which are unnecessary.
I commend this Bill to the House. I do not say the situation was an easy one, but we believe we have adopted the right principle in asking the House to approve this Bill extending the Emergency Acts for six months and leaving to the new Parliament the important task of having a full discussion and making up its mind in the light of that full discussion what should be done in the future. If in this matter I find myself in controversy with the right hon. Gentleman I shall regret it, but we will do our best on both sides. I assure him that I have regarded the assurance which he gave to the House on this question in July, 1944, as of great importance.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Hackney, South)
On this matter the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not going to have us with him as he did on the previous Motion on the Order Paper. I totally disagree with the Government's decision. I believe 428 the Government's decision is absolutely contrary to the public interest. I believe it is unnecessary; they ought to have carried through the programme which the last Government agreed on the introduction of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers)Bill, and they should have combined that with the understanding there was with the House that when the European war came to an end there would be a review of these exceptional powers. I do not see why that should not have taken place within the time at our disposal. Indeed, the review started when I announced—I think on V-Day plus 1—the abandonment of the regulations to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred. The House had got a big concession in that respect, and a perfectly proper one. Indeed, it was not a concession; I was only too glad to make the announcement. But there it was, and there was the contribution to this problem. I said then with the full authority of the Government, that they would go, and others would be reviewed from time to time, and in order that we could get proper continuity in the exercise of the functions of economic control within an appropriate field, legislation would be introduced in order to enable those regulations to be met in relation to the transition to peace as they had been in relation to the actual conduct of- the war. The Bill was introduced, and I think it was a very good Bill. It had the full authority of the late Government behind it, and certainly it was not produced after inadequate discussion in Ministerial circles. There was plenty of discussion, as one would expect on a subject of this kind. The Bill was introduced with direct Cabinet authority; I see that it waspresented by Mr. Secretary Morrison, supported by Mr. Lyttelton, Sir Andrew Duncan, Mr. Attorney-General and Miss Wilkinson.Therefore, the former Attorney-General is fully committed to this Bill but he has not said a word in support of it this afternoon.
§ Mr. Morrison
But the right hon. and learned Gentleman has some responsibility for this Bill which was before the House and which was still obtainable from the Vote Office. He has said nothing about the merits of the Bill. Would he like to do so?
§ Sir D. Somervell
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not hear me. I did not think it would be in Order to go into details, but I said that the two general principles of this Bill, on the back of which, of course, my name appeared, would command general assent from all quarters. There was, of course, room for discussion of the details.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is evasive. It is easy for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say he supports the two general principles in the Bill, and it is equally easy to come along later and object to nearly every detail in the Bill. His name is on the back of the Bill and he will not say now whether he supports the Bill or not. He will not go any further than say that he accepts the two general principles running through the Bill.
It is obvious what has happened on this Bill. The vested interests have got going. That is perfectly clear. [Laughter.] It docs not matter whether hon. Members laugh or do not laugh. It is obvious. I could laugh about it if it were not so sad from the point of view of the interests of the country. It is perfectly clear that this new Government, losing their enlightened Labour and Liberal elements and those elements which are concerned with the furtherance of public interests, have promptly reverted to true Tory type, and in this respect they are acting not as a public-spirited Government but as a political instrument of vested interests which want to do what they like with the economic welfare of the country. That is what is happening. Hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh about it, but before we have done with them they will laugh on the other side of their faces. This Government have surrendered to the forces of economic anarchy who want to do what they like and never mind about the welfare of Britain and the British people. This is a shameful surrender to the vested interests which control and dictate the policies of the Conservative Party, and, of course, the other elements in the Government have got to swallow it.
Why was this Bill necessary? I am not a lawyer, but nowadays neither is the right hon. and learned Gentleman a lawyer. He is the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and whereas I always listened to him with great respect on legal matters, when he was the 430 Attorney-General, I am not obliged to listen to him on law now. Indeed, as he said, he must listen to the new Attorney-General—whom I would also congratulate on his elevation and thank for the co-operation I had from him, as from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am bound to say I think we have had some risky legal opinion from the right hon. and learned Gentleman this afternoon. I speak with reserve, and I will try to speak with modesty, but I am not at all sure that he is right. The operative provision on scope is to be found, I think, in the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, Section 1 (1) of which provides—Subject to the provisions of this Section, His Majesty may by Order in Council make such Regulation (in this Act referred to as 'Defence Regulations') as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for securing the public safety, the defence of the realm, the maintenance of public order, and the efficient prosecution of any war in which His Majesty may be engaged, and for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community.The scope of that Sub-section must be read in conjunction with the long Title of the Bill, which is an Act to confer on His Majestycertain powers which it is expedient that His Majesty should be enabled to exercise in the present emergency.I would emphasise "in the present emergency." It goes on:and to make further provision for purposes connected with the defence of the realm.I again say that I pretend to be no legal authority, but nobody can have been for nearly five years at the Home Office without being apprehensive of going over the line. One cannot hear lawyers argue the difference between intra vires and ultra vires without feeling the necessity for being careful. The courts of our country are very good institutions, but one does not know whether some day they may jump and decide that something which we thought was intra vires is ultra vires. I submit that there is the gravest doubt, to put it mildly, whether, under Sub-section (1) of Section 1 of that Statute, read in conjunction with the wording of the long Title, we are entitled to use the Defence Regulations in relation to the supply of building materials for post-war houses or to secure furniture in adequate quantities for the general body of the people as against furniture for rich men's offices, and so on. The new 431 Attorney-General will have his work cut out if he is challenged in the courts to prove that they come within the Subsection, read in conjunction with the long Title.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman? Are we to understand that he considers that the "present emergency" came to an end when he left the Home Office?
§ Mr. Morrison
I understood that the hon. Gentleman was a lawyer. If he is, he had better keep to law and not make jokes of that kind. Further argument will be contributed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), who is perfectly competent to argue legal points with anybody, whereas I am not. I admit it.
We come to the point whether it is reasonable to argue that the priorities of control over building materials and prices, and control of timber for furnishing, the dirction of business undertakings to put the manufacturing of this in front of the manufacturing of that, the utility furniture programme, the manufacturing of components and so on, are to do with the prosecution of the war, which is the real essence of the Emergency Powers Act. If it is argued that they arose out of the war, I still think the wording is a bit doubtful. Surely we are in danger. Ministers must consider dangers as well as legal speculations. One of these days a court of law may say: "All this has to do with the transition to peace. It has to do with economic reorganisation and it is not a matter which is related, in the words of the long Title, to 'exceptional powers which His Majesty should exercise in the present emergency.' " I think there is real, grave doubt about it.
The Bill which I introduced postulated the kind of things which have to be considered, and would have extended the scope of the Defence Regulations to a field covering:a sufficiency of those essential to the wellbeing of the community or their equitable distribution; the readjustment of industry and commerce to the requirements of the community in time of peace; the relief of suffering and the restoration and distribution of essential supplies and services in any part of His Majesty's dominions or in foreign countries that are in grave distress as the result of war.There is another point also. The six months extension will leave us for an- 432 other six months with the Statute as it was. Here I hope to have the support of an hon. Member who supports the Government, but who, from the back benches opposite, was a very keen watch-dog over these matters. A point of importance arises and I hope that he will support me, notwithstanding the change that has taken place. One of the criticisms in relation to the Emergency Powers Act was that, under the existing legislation, only the Defence Regulation itself can be challenged by Prayer. That is the case. It was necessarily and properly the case, in the conditions of the European war, that Orders, often exceedingly important Orders almost amounting to Statutes, should be made by various Departments, especially economic Departments, but they are not capable of any Parliamentary challenge at all unless arrangements are made through the usual channels. Some of the directions were important and of a legislative character.
The Bill which I introduced provided that Orders or directions of a legislative character could be challenged in the House by Prayer. So far as I can see, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made no provision for that at all. Let hon. Members opposite face what they are doing. I do not want to cause any mischief, but they are continuing for another six months after the end of the European war, which was mainly in mind when the Emergency Powers Act was passed, a Measure giving to the Government complete and unchecked power, within a doubtful realm of law, to make Orders and directions of a legislative character, without the slightest possibility of Parliamentary check or the tabling of a Prayer, unless they can get the permission of the Whips and of the usual channels to do so. All I can say is that if I had come along with such a proposal I should have expected trouble.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Does not my right hon. Friend appreciate that the present Ministers now in power will not use these provisions against vested interests, whereas he might have done so? Hon. Members opposite are not afraid.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is possibly a worthy explanation of the situation. However, I must put the case to hon. Members of the Conservative Party. My hon. Friend must not destroy my argument as I go 433 along, because I am hoping to get sortie support. My hon. Friend is on a fair point. There is an answer I would make, if I were an hon. Member opposite. It may be that the Home Secretary will say on behalf of the Government: "We have no intention of using these powers to any material extent. We are a Government who do not believe in using these powers to any extent that we can avoid." The answer for hon. Members opposite should be: "We do not want to have these powers, without a proper Parliamentary check." Home Secretaries are here today and gone tomorrow, and it is not a question of whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is worthy or not, but of whether the Government should have these very big and extraordinary powers after the conclusion of the European war.
It is perfectly true that His Majesty is still at war with the Empire of Japan. It may be argued, that being so, that the Government can still do what they like, but I suggest that they cannot, for two reasons. One is illustrated by what I have said about the things which are not really part of the prosecution of the war and secondly, measures necessary in relation to the European plus the Japanese war may not be so necessary to the Japanese war alone. I suggest that the procedure which the Government have adopted in this unworthy little Bill is wrong and ought not to have been adopted. The Parliamentary checks are gone and undoubtedly necessary powers needed for peace purposes in relation to shortages, etc., are not in the Bill adequately. What will the result be? If the Minister of Works or the President of the Board of Trade goes to the Cabinet or to the appropriate Committee of the Cabinet, and seeks new Regulations or new Orders to control building materials and supplies, or furnishings, in order that the men who are coming back, many of whom will get married, may have somewhere to live and furniture to house them when they get here, the Attorney-General may have to advise that the powers will be too severely limited. The net result, which I have no doubt is desired either by the Government or some of its influential supporters, will be a nervousness to use these powers and pressure upon the Government not to use them. That will result in a steady drift into a state of economic anarchy, and when the men come back to find homes and furniture 434 they will not find them, because His Majesty's present advisers have not done the right thing.
What is the defence of the right hon. and learned Gentleman? He says that there was no time and that this legislation could not be rushed. I suppose it is better to rush the Election. If legislation could not be put through it is because the Election is being rushed. Who is objecting to the Bill which was agreed to by the Coalition Government? Who is threatening obstruction and to hold up the Bill? It was not on our side. We were supporting the Bill. Where was the trouble coming from? From the opponents of control, inside and outside Parliament. The Bill would not have taken long. I am not sure that it would take any longer than this one will before we have done with it. It was agreed to within the Government that it was to be put through. It is time that Ministers representing other parties should take responsibility, instead of getting scared at the slightest breath of opposition or criticism.
Therefore it seems to me that the Bill is the wrong way of going about the matter. We are left in a situation of grave legal doubt. I believe that the hand of the Government will be paralysed either because they wish it to be paralysed on grounds of policy, or it may be paralysed on grounds of legal power. It is inevitable. How long are we to go on like this? For six months? The new Parliament will not be declared elected until July. August will be coming upon us. The House can meet, it is true, and there could be business throughout August and September. Perhaps it will and perhaps it will not. If it does, we are going right into that time, with the Government inadequately armed to see that their economic problems are properly tackled. On the other hand Conservative Members, if they agree, are going to leave them without those additional Parliamentary checks which I thought it right to produce in the Bill. It will be well into the Autumn before we see legislation, and what that legislation will be, the Home Secretary has not given us the least idea. He is quite right not to have done so, because he has not the least idea. He will not be there, the Government will not be there, I hope—we will do our best in that respect—but even if it were there, he is not in a posi- 435 tion to say what the Government think ought to be done. It is clear that the Government have got into a somewhat ramshackle state of mind and have no policy, and do not know where they are.
We must agree to the Bill, because, if we do not, the Government will be without any emergency powers in relation to the prosecution of the war against Japan. Therefore, we have to assent to the Bill. Moreover, they would not have other emergency powers which it is necessary to maintain for the time being. We are in a cleft stick. If we vote against the Bill we shall be misunderstood, and it is not nice to be misunderstood, especially with an Election impending. Therefore, I do not advise my hon. Friends to vote against the Bill. But, on behalf, not only of myself, but of my hon. Friends, and, I believe, on behalf of every intelligent public-spirited citizen in the country, I utter my deepest and most sincere protest at the way in which the Government have now deliberately, and with malice aforethought, side-tracked the issue of economic control. We object to their procedure, and condemn it. We shall make it clear in the course of the coming weeks why we do so.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
It is always a pleasure to listen to, the Parliamentary performances of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. Morrison). In the days when some of my hon. Friends and I were asking that Parliament should be allowed to have more control over the delegated legislation, which he produced in such large quantities when he was at the Home Office, we always had a deft and skilful Parliamentary speech in order to show how necessary it was for him to have those powers. Now that he has crossed the Floor, and it is proposed to continue those very extensive powers for a further six months, we have had the same Parliamentary dexterity shown in order to produce an electioneering speech. We have been told that these powers which he exercised, these great and all-embracing powers, which extended into almost every realm of the national and economic activity of the country, will be insufficient to enable the Government to maintain control during the transitional period of the next few months.
436 It must be remembered from the purely legal point of view that we are still at war with Japan, and the effect of this Bill is to continue for a further six months those provisions of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree have served him to very good purpose in order to bring about what I think I have read in speeches he has made out of doors, that general Socialistic control of the economic life of the country which has proved so successful and brought the country through to victory. Why is it that these powers, which were adequate to enable him to render those great services to the country which he rendered, and which were exercised also by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Wandsworth (Mr. E.Bevin), are suddenly going to prove inadequate to enable the Government to control these sinister vested interests which he suddenly finds now amongst those Conservatives who rendered him, on the whole, very loyal support during the last few years? Of course, things change. Nothing pleased me more than the support the right hon. Gentleman suddenly obtained from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), and the cordial support and gratitude he expressed for the unwonted kind words which came from just behind him.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
May I ask the hon. Member to what precisely he is addressing himself? As I understand it, the Bill to which my right lion. Friend referred was a product of the Coalition Government, and if the Election had been postponed for a few weeks, the hon. Member would be making a speech supporting the Bill. Why does he now object to the Bill which he would have supported had the Coalition Government continued?
§ Mr. Molson
The hon. Member has interrupted a little too soon. I shall say a few kind words soon about the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney introduced. At the moment, I was addressing myself to the Bill that happens to be before the House. That Bill continues for six months to come the powers contained in Sub-section (1) of Section 1 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939. The right hon. Gentleman, having read out the first part of it, including the fact that Orders may be made by His Majesty 437for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community.went on to say that that must be understood to be subject to the long Title of the Act which stated that it conferred certain powers whichit is expedient that His Majesty should be enabled to exercise in the present emergency;I then inquired—a pleasantry which the right hon. Gentleman did not take in very good part—whether the emergency had come to an end at the time he left the Home Office. That is certainly not the kind of critical description I shall make of his term of office.
§ Mr. Molson
I am dealing with the words of the Act which this Bill is continuing for a further six months. Surely, it is quite obvious that under this Bill the powers which were exercised during war-time can be exercised for a further six months, and "the present emergency" has not yet come to an end. So long as the war with Japan continues all the powers which have been exercised under this Act, in the past, can still continue to be exercised. That surely can hardly be disputed. Have right hon. and hon. Gentlemen been satisfied with the powers they have exercised during the war in Europe? The same powers will continue to apply under the present Bill for a further six months.
I hope that the Government will, in due course, introduce a Bill similar in principle to the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Bill, and that they will not avail themselves of the power under Clause 1 of this Bill to go on extending the Emergency Powers Act by Resolution for 12 months. We have in the past criticised the extension by Resolution of the powers for 12 months at a time, and it is obvious that under the present Bill it would be possible for the prolongation to be carried on in exactly the same way. I certainly understood the Home Secretary to make it quite plain that the only reason he is proceeding by a Bill which extends the Act of 1939 is simply the shortage of Parliamentary time. Although perhaps he was not entirely explicit, it seemed to me to be absolutely plain that the new Government, if they are returned, have every intention of passing legisla- 438 tion after the General Election in order to put this matter upon a satisfactory basis. It would be a good thing if, from the Treasury Bench, we had an express undertaking that there will be no further extension of these war-time powers indefinitely into the future, but that there will be that opportunity for the House of Commons to take stock of the whole issue, and pass legislation which will enable Orders and Regulations to be made for the transitional period.
I hope that when that Bill is introduced credit will be given to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney for the changed character of the Bill which he has introduced. For so long, many of us here who were concerned for the liberty of the subject were pressing him to agree to greater Parliamentary control over this delegated legislation. Month after month, indeed, year after year, passed by, and at last our appeals softened his heart. It was last Summer that the then Government accepted the Resolution which I moved in favour of setting up a Select Committee to examine all Statutory Rules and Orders. That, apparently, was not the extent of the beneficial effect upon his mind which was effected by Conservative Member of the House of Commons. Here we now have a Bill in which he goes further than he has ever gone before. Not only was the House of Commons to be given an opportunity of approving or disapproving Orders made directly under the Defence Act but the same was to apply to Orders made under the Orders—to grandchildren as well as to children of the Act, so to speak. It is with great satisfaction that we notice that during the time the right hon. Gentleman was at the Home Office those totalitarian and Fascist ideas with which he started, have gradually been eliminated from his mind. I would like therefore to pay him a warm tribute and say that I am so glad that during that long and distinguished period at the Home Office he should have moved in a constitutional direction. There was no Bill which he introduced during all that long time which showed so sound and sympathetic an appreciation of the principles of the Constitution as the Bill for which, unfortunately, there is no longer Parliamentary time.
I hope the Government will give us a clear undertaking that the Bill which they are introducing now is intended as a purely transitional Measure for only six 439 months, and that we shall be given the opportunity of having legislation in the new Parliament which will, in these many important matters, carry out the principles to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney is so new but so zealous an adherent.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
We have had another example of one of those speeches which recently carried the colleagues of the hon. Member to the Front bench. I note from the newspapers today that he has moved up, so that he is next in the file for promotion. We ought to pay him a tribute, and to pay the Conservative Party a tribute, because the restrained and mild rebellions that the hon. Members have been carrying out in the last few years have had a suitable reward in obscure under-secretary ships.
§ Mr. Molson
Was it not rather similar when the hon. Member was asked to reply for the Labour Party executive committee at Blackpool?
§ Mr. Bevan
I hope you will not prevent me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, from extending in advance my felicitations to my hon. Friend for what is about to befall him. I find it extremely difficult to understand the line his argument was taking. He taunted my right hon. Friend with seeming to assume that the emergency had come to an end when he crossed the Floor. But surely he forgot that, before my right hon. Friend crossed the Floor, the Coalition Government had unanimously agreed that the emergency had come to an end sufficiently for a Bill to be introduced clarifying the situation. Therefore, his taunt was quite pointless, as indeed were most of the periods of his speech. The position has been made perfectly clear that a Conservative Govern- 440 ment now impose restraints upon their own actions. They fear, quite properly, that in the next six months there will be pressure brought to bear upon them, if unhappily they are returned to office, to use some of these powers. By leaving the frontiers of the powers in sufficient ambiguity they make it very difficult for Ministers to act, because all their legal advisers will say, "You had better not do this," or "You had better not go so far as that, because if you do you may find yourself in conflict with the courts." The Government are making it as difficult as possible for themselves to take action which is politically distasteful, but which it would be in the public interest to take.
Let me ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary a question. We have been, in the last few days, in private conversation about facilitating in the House during the next few weeks some of the Bills which were in process of being enacted when the Prime Minister had his storm. Has he asked the House for facilities to pass the Bill which was introduced by my right hon. Friend?
§ Sir D. Somervell
I repeat that I do not regard that as an urgent Bill. We have full powers, and it seems quite wrong to give up what ought to be powers for a limited time, and to substitute long-term powers.
§ Mr. Bevan
We have been asking during the last six months for a whole series of Measures to be put through before the election. What was the answer from the Leader of the House on every occasion? "No Parliamentary time." Yet the Home Secretary suggests that a Bill was introduced which was not an emergency Bill at all, and which would have taken Parliamentary time that was needed for urgent Measures. He proves too much. It was assumed by the Government that the legal position had become sufficiently obscure, sufficiently difficult, for a Bill to be passed arming the Government with the necessary economic controls to carry over the transition to peace. But, frivolously, as far as we are concerned, the Government scrapped the Bill which had been introduced, and brought in the present Measure, without asking whether we were prepared to provide facilities for carrying into law the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend in the last Government. It seems to me that the intention behind the present manoeuvre, which will 441 be clear to the whole country, is indicative of what we are to have from this Government. Hon. Members opposite, howled at every day by the yellow Press, advised by the owners of the yellow Press who howl at them, are trying as far as they can to remove all those controls upon which the population of this country depend to protect them from the most merciless and rapacious profiteering. They are trying to do it with all the Parliamentary duplicity of a century of unscrupulous government. But each time they try these tricks they are going to be shown up, so that the British people can see what they are. My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) took to himself a great deal of credit. That is characteristic of the Tory Reform Committee. It always picks up others people's ideas, bowdlerises them, and then claims to be the father. My hon. Friend must be in course of continual eruption.
§ Mr. Bevan
He altered it. I am within the recollection of the House in saying that the first time a suggestion was made that what is now called the Watchdog Committee should be appointed, through which all the suggested Orders and Regulations should pass, it was made from this side of the House. A year later my hon. Friend picked up a suggestion of my own. It is true that we should have had little prospect of carrying it through the House unless it had been taken up by hon. Members opposite, because they had the majority. It took them a considerable time, however; and hon. Members will note that the Tory Reform Committee, and other Members of the party opposite, became interested in the necessity for Parliamentary control over controls only when we were nearing the position of having economic controls in the post-war period.
At no time in the early years of the war did any protest come from that side over these unnecessary controls by the Government. As the war was coming to a successful conclusion, they became more and more interested in seeing that the forms of economic organisation and control which had successfuly carried us through the war, should not be used for the purpose of economic reconstruction after the war. Their interest in Parliamentary democracy increased as the possibility of a rich financial harvest drew nearer 442 and nearer. On the other hand, we on this side of the House were anxious, as my right hon. Friend has said, to preserve full Parliamentary rights over the exercise of these powers. The reason why we are anxious for that is that only by the exercise of full Parliamentary rights can we see that the economic controls are used in the interest of the people as a whole. We should be able easily to afford all the Parliamentary publicity that could be brought to bear, because we know that we can justify the use of those Parliamentary controls in every instance.
If the Bill which was introduced were discussed and proceeded with it would give us an opportunity of finding out what is in the mind of the Government. I presume that if they were moving it they would tell us what forms of economic control they were going to use, what plans they had with regard to the various priorities. They have been absolved from making any such explanations. They get these general umbrella powers. They can take them up and put them down. We have no way of determining what plans they have in mind. We had an instance at Question Time to-day.
I hope that the country will recognise what is happening in the House at present. The Government are deliberately stripping themselves, under the guise of arming themselves, of all those powers that are necessary to protect ordinary men and women from a scarcity market, to protect the returned soldier from the profiteers, who are looking lustfully at the gratuities in his pockets when he comes back, who realise that there is now assembling in this country a profiteers' paradise, with a vast scarcity of goods of all sorts, which people are hungry for, which the ex-Service man has been dreaming about, and, accompanying that scarcity, for almost the only occasion in my lifetime, money in the pockets of the poor people. With the poor people having spending power and scarcity existing, with spending power unloading itself on the market and prices rocketing up, in a few years that spending power can be transferred from the pockets of the poor to the pockets of the rich. That has been behind all manoeuvres of this sort, because hon. Members opposite dare not stand up to their paymasters.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Sir Stafford Cripps (Bristol, East)
This matter has been so thoroughly dealt 443 with by my right hon. and hon. Friends that it is not necessary for me to add many words, but I would like to point out that what we are dealing with are really two separate things. First, we are dealing with exceptional powers that are required to continue the war against Japan. Nobody questions that these powers have to be continued in the Government, and we have given our pledge that we will do everything we can to give the fullest support for that war against Japan. But there is quite another question. That is, the use of special powers during the transitional period, and perhaps even beyond it, not relating to war matters at all, but relating to matters of civilian requirements and matters of peace. The last Government had to face the question—as the emergency powers were running out in August—of what steps they proposed to take in order to deal with these two problems—firstly, the continuance of the war powers, and, secondly, the gaining of the civil powers. That Government came to the conclusion, which is incorporated in the Bill presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. Herbert Morrison) to the House, that it was necessary, indeed, essential, that a proper definition of these civil powers, if I may so call them, should be presented to the House and approved by them. At the same time, of course, it would have been necessary to continue some of the exceptional war powers, but many of them could have been done away with, since the centre of the war had moved to the Far East from Europe.
The primary object of that Bill was to enable the Government to get on with certain very urgent and essential matters of post-war planning—and, when I use the term post-war planning, I mean planning post-European war, because everyone admits now that we are, owing to the termination of the war in Europe, turning a certain amount of our energies towards making good the civilian deficits from which we have suffered as a result of the war. It is also realised that it is extremely urgent that this should be done as rapidly as possible, because on it depend, not only the future of our industries and export trade, but the immediate future of our fighting men when they are demobilised. It was for that purpose—in order to provide the Government with that necessary instrument for 444 the urgent planning for these immediate civilian needs—that it was decided, of course, with the advice of the Law Officers and all the rest of it, that this Bill was necessary. It was not introduced for fun, or because it was a hobby of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney. It was introduced as a decision of the Government, because it was necessary, and it was necessary in order that the country might be able to make proper provision for urgent matters.
Apparently, the necessity has disappeared, the urgency has gone, and the question debated was whether an Address to the King would be sufficient. Of course, as anybody can imagine, that matter must have been brought up, and the question must have been asked, "Will it not be enough to continue, as we have done year by year, the emergency powers for another 12 months? Why have a Bill at all? Why not have an Address? "But the conclusion come to was that it was not enough. Why was that conclusion arrived at? The conclusion was arrived at, in my view, because there were doubts whether, by the continuance of the Emergency Powers Act, addressed primarily to war purposes, the Government would be able to do those things urgently required for the civilian needs of the population. Obviously, there must be some limit to the use of the Defence of the Realm Act.
Let me take what is, perhaps, an absurd case, in order to illustrate it. Suppose this Government had adopted the idea of Prohibition. I am not going to insult them by suggesting they have done so, but supposing they had, and had come along and said, "We will impose Prohibition on the country; it has nothing to do with the war; it is just because we think it would be a good idea," and it the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) happened to be in it, it would have been her inspiration. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he could have used those powers to impose Prohibition on the country? I suggest that no court could conceivably have upheld such an interpretation. Obviously, there is some limit to the powers, and on the question of where exactly that limit lies, I could engage for many days in a very interesting argument in another place with any right hon. Gentleman. But I do not propose to trouble the House with 445 any such legal arguments as that. The Home Secretary, indeed, suggested that there was some limit, because he said the time would come when, from the strictly legal point of view, doubt would arise how far these Regulations could continue. There is a limit. The time will come. When will it come? As regards some of the matters, has not the time come now—things which, professedly, are not necessary for war purposes?
Of course there must be a doubt, and it was just exactly that sort of doubt that induced the Government, with a very heavy programme, as has been pointed out already, of I know not how many Bills before the House, to add this essential Bill to that list. That being so, we naturally ask ourselves, as I think we are entitled to do—Why the change? Why has it suddenly been discovered that these powers that were required for civil planning, and particularly in connection with housing and so on, are no longer required? The answer, I think, is perfectly clear. It is that this Government do not believe in planning. That is the answer. Controls, so-called, are simply part of planning. They relate to the way in which, when a plan has been worked out of priorities as to what the people need most in urgent circumstances, you allocate civil supplies after the war and determine whether you are going to allow luxury supplies to be made at the expense of utility supplies, and matters of that kind. Controls are the means by which you order such a plan. This has been the whole purpose and object of controls throughout the war. It is clear that this gesture by the Government is to convince their own supporters, inside and outside this House, that they are going to carry out what was included as one of the 12 points of the Conservative Party's programme—to do away with controls as rapidly as possible—and they are not proposing to introduce any element of planning whatsoever into our post-war civil life. They are, in fact, repeating precisely what happened at the end of the last war. Just as in those days, "homes fit for heroes" were promised to all the people and no steps taken to implement the promise, so they will be promised again. Now it is being made perfectly clear by the caretaker Government that they do not propose to implement the promise by action.
One other question which one asks is this—Why an extension by Bill for six 446 months? The usual practice has been an Address and extension for 12 months. The right hon. Gentleman said clearly that you could not get an extension by Address except for 12 months, and that, therefore, we had to have a Bill for six months. Why for six months? Is it be cause the Japanese war is going to be over in six months? No. It is because this Government know that their term will be up in July, and this is a device to embarrass their successors and nothing else. There really is no other possible reason because—
§ Sir S. Cripps
I ask the hon. Gentleman to listen to what I am going to say. If there is no danger of another Government superseding this Government within the next 12 months, and if this Government, therefore, have complete control whether they operate or not any of the powers under this Act, there is no reason whatever why it should not be continued for 12 months. It is completely in the control of the Government to use the powers or not as they like. The very procedure of an Address to the King can be adopted for their continuance. The procedure first laid down is enough in itself. Why, then, in these circumstances, adopt an exceptional procedure of bringing a Bill before the House to continue the powers only for six months?
§ Mr. Colegate
I can think of the answer. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, if the extension of all kinds of control is so popular, he will have the delightful task, at the end of six months, of bringing in these controls.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am obliged, because the hon. Member does think that this Government will not last, which is exactly the point that I put.
§ Mr. Colegate
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me to listen to him. I ask him to listen to me. I used the word "if" and it is a very big "if."
§ Sir S. Cripps
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is no good answering an argument with an "if." If not, what happens?
§ Sir S. Cripps
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there are only two possibilities—either the present Government 447 go on, or another Government will take their place. He will surely agree with that?
§ Sir S. Cripps
If the present Government go on, there is no danger at all, because they will control the whole proceedings. The only possible cause for altering the whole method is because they cannot be sure of continuing. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman cannot appreciate that argument, I am not going to trouble the House by repeating it. Let me, in conclusion, say this. So far as we are concerned, we want these powers, to plan for civilian production in this very urgent time of shortages and difficulties, because we believe them to be of cardinal importance, and that everything possible should be done to see, particularly, that the fighting men are provided with those goods that they need when they return to this country on demobilisation. This Bill is failing to provide for those steps which it was agreed by all the Members of the National Government were necessary for that very purpose, and it is, therefore, a notice that this Government, at least, are not going to try to provide homes fit for heroes.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)
To all the great figures in my own profession, various stories attach themselves, as time goes on, and one of these, which has hung about the mantle of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who preceded me, goes somewhat as follows. It is related that he had a very poor case to argue on appeal. Somebody said to him, "But really, how can you deal with that piece of evidence? It is quite fatal to the case which you will have to present." And according to this mythical story, my right hon. and learned Friend said, "There is no difficulty about that. I will read it straight through once; I will repeat it again, with comments on each sentence; I will repeat it again the third time contrasted with the evidence of the other side. And when my learned friend on the other side gets up to reply on it the court will say, 'Really, we have heard enough of that; we cannot go into that point again.' " I really felt, as my right hon. and learned Friend began to labour, for the third 448 time of asking, the same alleged legal difficulty—which has never existed in the minds of any court of law which has had to deal with this point—that he was getting back into the realms of that story.
I do ask both my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), who gave us the first reading of this alleged difficulty, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), to consider the clear and established position, which the courts have said, again and again, to be the position, in dealing with these Emergency Defence powers. They have said that the question of these prerequisites, of whether the Order in Council is necessary or expedient for public safety, the defence of the realm, the maintenance of public order, the efficient prosecution of the war, and the maintaining of supplies and services, is a matter for the Minister of the Crown to decide, and the courts will not interfere. They have confessed themselves unable to interfere because, as the Master of the Rolls so pertinently said, "We are here to administer justice; we are not here to run the affairs of the country. That is for His Majesty's Ministers." It is for the Minister to decide and, when he has decided, the courts will not interfere with that decision. The only ground on which they will interfere—and this has been declared again and again—is if the Order is used in bad faith, and the example which my right hon. and learned Friend gave is a perfectly good and clear example of bad faith. [Interruption.] I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will allow me to develop my case. I noted his words carefully. He said that supposing a Minister desired to introduce Prohibition by Order in Council he might say "I am not doing this for any purpose of the war. I am doing it on the private and individual desires or judgment of my own mind."
§ The Attorney-General
Or the Government. If you can get a confession made by the person who is making the Order that he is not doing it for one of these purposes, that is a confession that he is using his powers in toad faith, and the courts will interfere.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I was using the illustration in order to show that certain matters admittedly lie outside the scope of the 449 Act, and I understand that the learned Attorney-General agrees with me.
§ The Attorney-General
My right hon. and learned Friend cannot ride off on that. I am putting an argument and putting it quite fairly. It has been argued in every case in the courts that the only ground on which the courts will interfere is that of bad faith. I am using my right hon. and learned Friend's example as an example of bad faith, and one which, therefore, comes under a clear and established legal rule. My right hon. and learned Friend cannot say—and this is the whole pith of this triply-repeated argument—that there is a verge of legal difficulty. I was most interested when my right hon. and learned Friend said that this would be a most interesting point for him and—he was good enough to look towards me—myself to spend some days arguing in another place. I would like to remind him—because he has put a certain amount of legal matter into his argument—that the last person who tried to get this point argued in another place could not get it argued, because the other place thought it was so clear it did not deserve further consideration from them. That is the legal difficulty to which these points have been directed, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman was good enough to go on to say that when the appropriate Minister came to the Law Officers, so hazy and difficult would be the question, that he would receive the advice that it was dangerous to proceed. I am not going to say anything further about the value of the advice because, of course, it would come from me, but I do say—and I think the House will accept this—that there would be no doubt whatsoever about the clarity of the advice.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I do not quite understand of what advice the learned Attorney-General is speaking. Supposing a Minister called on him and said, "I cannot use control for any purpose connected with the war at all but for some other purpose altogether outside," he would, I presume, advise him that he could not do it.
§ The Attorney-General
I made the point perfectly clear. If you are going to say that it is outside the prerequisites, then it can be interfered with, because that would, in my view, be bad faith. It would be using the Act for a purpose for which it was not designed. There is no doubt between us at all. But that brings me 450 to the second point, which again, is perfectly clear—that these prerequisites are clearly wide enough to deal with every purpose which has been mentioned in the Debate to-day. My right hon. and learned Friend need not be afraid that I shall not follow his argument. I shall deal with his points and then their value can be assessed.
It would be fair to say that the main points which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney developed and which were developed by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and by my right hon. and learned Friend were connected with housing, furnishing and essential supplies of that kind. The Act says, and the words which we are considering are,for maintaining supplies and services essential for the life of the community.There are two points that would have to be considered. First, Was it an esential supply or service? I think there would be little doubt that everyone would agree that it was. I understood that my right hon. and learned Friend was in some difficulty as to how long these powers could be used; how long you could say, viewing it generally that the powers were being used with propriety within the purview of the Act, and whether the point might come when they were not related to the emergency at all. But what is beyond peradventure is that so long as your shortage has been due to war causes, when you are dealing with the unwinding of matters directly occasioned by the war, and when you are, in point of time, within a period of one month to six months—because that is the period with which we are dealing here—after the close of the war, then I suggest to the House that no one could suggest that these powers were, either in the very broad sense apart from any strict legal sense, with the special position that the Minister has, being used ultra vires in law or beyond the purview of the Act in general opinion. I do not want to confine the remarks I have to make to the House to the legal position, but I did think it was right, having been challenged on that matter, and especially by my right hon. and learned Friend, that I should state, with such clarity and emphasis as I can command, the legal position and the way the courts have interpreted it.
I want to deal with the wider point which has been developed by all the 451 speakers this evening. I do not think that any of us would complain of the airing that they have given to speeches of which, if we do not have the pleasure of hearing them, we shall probably see reported pretty constantly during the next five weeks. It is always pleasant to get a private view or a private hearing of such matters, and it is, incidentally, an advantage that the answers become even more clear. But I think it is important that one should deal with the suggestion tha the Government are, for some reason which has been so dubiously explained, not ready to use those powers. I want to repeat what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said in commending this Bill to the House. The basis on which the Government desire to work is that the policy of fair shares in goods, services and commodities should be continued during this time. Nobody has said, and nobody can with any reason make the suggestion, that the Orders that have been made and that can be made under this Act do not give ample power to provide for these fair shares. I do not know how often my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol has had to consider Defence Regulation 55. I shudder to think how many times I have had to consider it and its various offshoots during the last three years, but that gives the most complete, wide and overwhelming powers for prolonging the regulation of distribution, prices, marketing and everything that one could possibly imagine in the case of the supply of goods. Therefore, if on that double basis these powers are amply sufficient, and the Government intend to use them on the basis of fair shares, I fail to see where the difficulty arises.
I think one must say a word about the-portion of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney. It is that portion the form of which was that of the right hon. Gentleman but the voice was that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams). In a tone shaking with horror, the right hon. Gentleman contemplated six months without subsidiary Orders being laid on the Table of the House. For one moment I was really in doubt whether I was listening to the right hon. Gentleman or somebody else. I will not embarrass him by giving exact quotations from many of his own 452 speeches but let me put before him the various reasons which he has so often given with such persuasion to this House on that point. After all, we are here dealing with a limited period and I quite agree that during that period two of the six safeguards which he and I have emphasised so often on delegated legislation, are not with us. In other words, we have not got the renewal which we have in the ordinary way after a period of 12 months but, during that period, we still have the Prayer for the first Regulation—and I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that a Prayer on the primary Regulation is often based on the number and variety of subsidiary Orders which could be made under it; we still have the Debate on the Address, and the right hon. Gentleman will remember that he and I, on Amendments to the Address, have had to consider these matters; we still have, fortunately, Questions; we still have the Adjournment. In fact, all these matters which the right hon. Gentleman and I have rightly said—because I think we both believe it—have enabled this House to keep control, and enabled Parliament to show that it can control delegated legislation, and have justified to the right hon. Gentleman and to myself the use of delegated legislation under Parliamentary control. These things are still with us, and the only matter with which the right hon. Gentleman is left is the question of the subsidiary Order which, for a period of six months—and as he has pointed out, that period includes two holiday months—cannot be used.
I should like to deal with the point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson). He rightly said that he thought there should be a review of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts procedure. Nobody disagrees with that; in fact my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was at great pains to point out that he was acting under the policy adumbrated toy the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney, namely that there ought to be a review of this procedure at an early date after the end of the European war. The only difference was whether that review could more usefully take place at the moment or in the new Parliament, and I gladly accede to my hon. Friend's request to say that, within the limited time, the provision for such a review will be given. However, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw 453 Vale (Mr. A. Be van) has, apart from dealing with the more general attitude, also raised this point about the question of delay and I think that he supplied the answer to it. He said that if we had had the Bill in the form proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney, the Government would have had to say what were the powers they were going to use, and for what purposes they were going to use the powers.
We have had, as far as I am concerned, a most pleasant Debate on the limited subject before us, but who can imagine the variety of subjects, the different points of view, the many reasonable suggestions from all angles and all quarters of the House which we should have felt bound to bring up had we been discussing that much wider subject of the use to which the powers should be put and the purposes most necessary for their use at the time. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale has provided the strongest argument, I suggest, to the House for the course which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has taken of preserving the status quo, of leaving the Government with these full powers, and postponing the review until the new Parliament is in existence, and can bring to the discussion of this subject the variety of experience and the new strength which the immediate post-election position always gives.
Believe me, it is with the greatest good temper that I join issue with the right hon. Gentleman on this point. But I urge the House that on the first point—the supposed legal difficulty—the most superficial consideration of the cases decided during the war will show that it does not exist. On the second point, no one has suggested or can suggest, that the powers under this Act are not capable of dealing with all the difficulties which have been raised. On the question of time, surely the proper time to consider the problem of review, to consider what exactly is necessary to amend not only our procedure but to amend the pre-requisites on which the procedure can be put into operation, is when the Election has taken place and we are back here after that time. I ask the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Don caster)
I do not apologise to the House for endeavouring to continue the discussion on this footling Measure. I believe it has now been 454 revealed by the Attorney-General that the Government have no intention of facing up to the arguments on fundamental matters that divide us, as presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). I want to ask the Attorney-General why he did not deal with the questions which arise on the arguments used from this side as to why the Government dropped the major Bill upon which the Coalition actually agreed on which there was unanimity, as indicated by the right hon. Member for South Hackney. So far as that argument is concerned, the point which comes out here nakedly is that the Tory Government and the Tory Party have made up their minds that they will not guarantee any economic security for the masses of the people of this country when the men come home. As far as goods and services, furniture and homesteads are concerned, the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) struck a high note a few weeks ago. I would remind him of his speech in which he told us that in the matter of bricks and tiles and building material, cartels and monopolies have pushed up the prices. Cartels and monopolies have at least imposed and fixed costs which bear no real relationship to proper prices, and there is no real reason at all why some of the costs should be there. That was the hon. Member's own argument and there can be no doubt about it that this Measure cannot be separated from that argument which he used weeks ago.
I believe the country has something to learn from the reasons given for introducing this footling little Measure as distinct from the original Bill. If the original Bill had been presented to the House, it could have had a Second Reading, it could have reached the Statute Book inside the next two or three days and what would it have done? It would have guaranteed—at least so far as directing materials are concerned—equating and controlling prices, and controlling commodities, so that those who are to return home and cannot help themselves would, at least, have had a square deal such as the Coalition Government were determined to give it a fortnight ago. However the Tory Party now say, "We continue these little emergency powers, believing that we shall have done enough because there is an Election coming in 455 between." I suggest to the Attorney-General that this Measure does not deal with issues which guarantee some form of control relating to furniture to fit into the homes of the people. It does not guarantee any kind of economic control at all—in fact, the Government can dismiss and forget all about the particular items in the Emergency Powers Act if they do not want to use them.
§ Mr. Molson
Surely that is covered by the words:for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community"?
§ Mr. E. Walkden
Yes, "for maintaining," but, if they care to set them aside, the difference is this. The emergency did exist, but when you are dealing with a longer view, you say you have no intention of putting before the people a policy dealing with economic issues. You say that the emergency continues. But, when we come to fundamental changes like the men coming home, let us see what has been done. We have guaranteed to a soldier that he will have his leave; we have guaranteed to him that he will have roughly £150in his pocket; we have guaranteed to him that he will have a civilian suit—indeed, we have set aside 48,000,000 yards of material to guarantee that. We have guaranteed all that, but the Government have left naked and unashamed all the power for racketeering in all the other things he needs in the hands of big business by determining that the Coalition Bill should be set aside. That is the challenge we make; that is what we believe. I maintain that all the uncertainty of the future is predetermined by the Tory Party, for deliberate reasons. We believe that the Measure agreed to before VE-Day was a good and necessary Measure, and one which should have come before Parliament. We should have planned what the hon. Member for The High Peak was demanding recently, that we would guarantee everything that the men in the Forces needed when they came home, in the same way as we have guaranteed them their leave, clothes and other things.
We should tell the country truthfully why this position has arisen. We should say why the Tory Party have withdrawn one Bill and brought in another. It is because they do not want to put before the country, at the Election, their inten- 456 tions with regard to control, other than to get rid of them as soon as possible. They do no intend to control the goods that are needed for the masses of our people, the furniture, pots and pans and all those things which we had to chase after the last war. They have no intention of controlling bricks and other material with which to make homes because they believe in a "free for all" that free enterprise should have full rein. As soon as they can lay their hands on the money paid out in gratuities it is the intention of the task masters of the Tory Party to see that there is a free for all. Here is a real division between us, and the country must know that this apology which is now being presented is wasting the time of the House. The young lads in the Tory Party have been told to keep quiet, not because there is not something to argue about, but because they have been told that if they do not, we on this side of the House will score off them and the country will thereby find out that this is all a trick.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House [Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.]
§ Bill immediately considered in Committee.
§ [Col. Sir Charles MACANDREW in the Chair]
§ Clauses 1 and 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I would like to draw the attention of the House to the very speedy way in which we have been getting through legislation this week. This Bill is one instance; we had also an amazing experience on Tuesday in connection with the Scottish Education Bill, and I hope that when the new Government come into power, if they are to be the same as the old Government, they will deal with the land and coal questions in the same speedy way.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.