§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The House may perhaps wonder why the Secretary of State for the Home Department should deal with a Bill which affects the economic life of the nation, when he is more usually concerned with matters relating to law and order. The reason is that at the outbreak of war it was necessary that the Executive should be armed with drastic, powers to interfere with the liberties of the citizen in the interest of the defence of the Realm. It was natural that the Home Secretary should have introduced the Bill required for that purpose, and now that we come to the winding-up stage, it is still appropriate that the Home Secretary, who is, the principal Minister concerned with the maintenance of civic liberties, should introduce the legislation necessary to secure that only so much of the war-time invasions of our liberties as are necessary for our national well-being are continued in force during the transition period from war to peace. I want to make it quite clear at the outset that the Government intend to retain only those war-time powers which are desirable in the public interest. Just before the last Parliament was dissolved there was before the House a Bill similar to this. I will deal in a few minutes with the circumstances which led to its being prepared and to its being dropped, but in justifying the action that the then Government, the caretaker government took, my predecessor in office said in this connection: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."—[Official Report, 31st May, 1945; Vol. 411, col. 427.]I want now, to give the House some idea of the progress that has been made in the reduction of these war-time regulations. On 8th May—V.E. Day—there 112 were in existence 342 Defence (General) Regulations and 345 other Regulations, making a total of 687, and it will be within the recollection of those Members now present who were Members of the last House that on the next day my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council came down to the House and announced the withdrawal of 84 of the general Regulations and 95 others, making a total of 179. One further Defence Regulation was revoked on 28th May, the day on which the Coalition Government went out of office and the "Caretaker" Government came in. There has been no further revocation since, until 28th September when at a Privy Council held at Holyrood House an Order in Council was made abolishing 39 further general Regulations and 11 other Regulations. Since 9th May one new Defence Regulation and two others have been made, so that the present position is: after the revocations on 28th September there remain 219 general Regulations and 241 others, a total of 460, making a total reduction of 227–113 general Regulations and 114 others—all of which have been revoked either at the instance of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council or myself, and not one due to any activities on the part of the Caretaker Government. So that as far as this matter is concerned I think my right hon. Friend the Lord President and myself can claim that we are genuinely endeavouring to live up to the promises that my right hon. Friend made during the war-time when he alluded to the need for dispensing with such of these Regulations as were no longer desirable.
There are, I think, two distinct cases for this Bill. There is the political and legal case and there is the economic case. I want to deal first with the political and legal case which is concerned with certain war-time powers affecting our industrial, financial and commercial activities, which powers must be retained during the transition period if we are to avoid falling into chaos. The Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, was passed through all its stages in both Houses on 24th August, 1939, the day on which the House was recalled suddenly from its vacation to deal with the international situation that had arisen, and by 10.19 p.m. that night the Measure had been passed. This Act enabled the Government to make Regulations for securing firstly the public 113 safety, secondly the defence of the Realm, thirdly the maintenance of public order, fourthly the efficient prosecution of any war in which His Majesty might be engaged, and fifthly maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community. It will be observed that all those purposes were closely associated with the war on which we were then embarking, and in the very grimmest days of 1940 a further Emergency Powers Act enabled the Government to make Regulations requiring persons to place themselves, their services and their property at the disposal of His Majesty for the purposes of the Act of 1939.
These very wide powers were granted by Parliament when the country was in dire peril from external aggression. The purposes for which various powers for the economic control were granted in 1939 are not those for which they will be required in the transitional and reconstruction period which we are now entering, and we accept the view that express Parliamentary powers must be secured for the continued exercise of economic powers for other than purely war purposes. This was recognised by the Coalition Government when it introduced a Bill which was ordered to be printed on 10th May, 1945, the day after the first revocation of a substantial number of the war-time Orders. I have a copy of that Bill with me and it is interesting to observe the names of the Members who sponsored the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council introduced it, and he was supported by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) who I think was then Minister of Production, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan), who was then Minister of Supply, the then Attorney-General who was my immediate predecessor as Home Secretary, and my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Education. It will be observed that this Bill was at that time sponsored by three Members belonging to the Party now sitting opposite and by two Members supporting the present Government.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)
Before the right hon. Gentleman continues, I think it is only fair to inform the House that the Bill 114 was not the same as the Bill the Second Reading of which he is now moving.
§ Mr. Ede
I shall deal with that point in a few minutes. The main construction of the Bill was the same. There are only two important differences with which I propose to deal. After all, development ought to take place over as long a period as five months, and I hope I shall be able to show that the present development is a logical and necessary development from the very good start that was made.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
Would the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that the Bill to which he has just referred was in war-time, whereas the Bill to which we are asked to give a Second Reading was introduced in peace?
§ Mr. Ede
I have already made it clear, I hope, that we recognise that we shall have to produce some justification in time of comparative peace, at least beyond that which we should have to advance in times when the country was at war. It was very strange that, while the war was still on, three of the sponsors of that Bill, three of the godparents, tried to do the unfortunate infant in, for as soon as the Caretaker Government was formed, the Bill was dropped. Hon. and right hon. Members who were here at the end of May will recall a somewhat lively Debate that we had on the occasion of the dropping of the Bill. I am glad to see that the right hon. Member for Aldershot, a godparent of the original Bill, is here to-day to witness the physical and spiritual development which has taken place in his godchild, now that we have rescued it from the untimely grave that he and his Friends had prepared for it, and are to-day presenting it, as a more robust youth, for confirmation.
There is undoubtedly a feeling that the Bill in its present form goes a great deal beyond what the original Bill did. As a matter of fact, there are only two important changes. The first is the introduction of the present Clause 2 and the second is the lengthening of the period of the Bill's duration from two years to five.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
There is another important difference. It will apply to services whether essential to the life of the nation or not.
§ Mr. Ede
I sat down because he rose. I endeavoured to be courteous to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I do not think he should make that a grievance. By all means let us have good party fights but let us be quite certain that we get into trouble about something that is really essential. [An Hon. Member: "Do not get rattled."] I assure the hon. Member who said that that I am a long way from getting rattled. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman really wants information I am always quite willing to give it.
The Government have had to consider the position that was created by the last Government when they dropped the Bill and limited the further duration of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts to a period of six months from 24th August last. Those Acts will now expire on 24th February next. We have decided that we will not ask the House to continue them beyond that date. On 24th February those Acts will come to an end. We propose to move an Amendment on the Committee stage of this Bill to extend Clause 1 to cover demobilisation and resettlement, and the disposal of surplus material, matters which could have been dealt with by continuation of the original Emergency Powers Acts, but with which we clearly must now have powers to deal. This appears to be the appropriate Bill to deal with them. Thirdly, we propose to introduce as soon as possible an Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Bill, designed to keep alive for a limited period after February next such residue of those powers as will still be necessary in the transitional period but which would otherwise lapse on 24th February next. We must therefore have this Bill to replace our powers which would have been continued in certain circumstances, under a continuation of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts. We drop those Acts and for those purposes we are substituting this Measure.
116 Now I come to the economic case for the Bill. I would have hoped that there might have been general agreement that the Government must retain and use, during the transitional period, a number of economic powers granted to their predecessors during the war. This was pointed out in the White Paper on Employment Policy, Command Paper 6527, in paragraph 17, in which the Coalition Government said:It cannot be expected that the public, after years of war-time restrictions, will find these proposals altogether palatable; and 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; 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.That was the declaration to which members of all parties in the House at that time gave their assent and that remains the policy of His Majesty's Government on this matter. In Chapter II of that White Paper, issued with the consent of all parties in the Coalition, reference was made to the danger of an inflationary boom bringing with it social injustice and economic dislocation. In dealing with the danger that, in the transitional period, the production of unessential goods might interfere with the production of essentials, the White Paper pointed out, in paragraph 19:It is not yet possible to forecast the length of the transition period during which the prevailing tendency will be for demand to outrun supply. The need to maintain large armed forces may prolong this period considerably.That, we hope, is no longer a serious consideration, with the ending of the Japanese war. That part of the paragraph clearly envisaged the period between the ending of the European and of the Japanese war, but the paragraph continues:Although the most pressing shortages may disappear and the most vexatious controls be relaxed, our main problem for a considerable time to come may be, not to avert mass unemployment, but to secure with a limited labour force an adequate production of the goods needed to improve our standard of living and to increase our exports. The immediate difficulties for our external trade 117 will be serious. We may be struggling to restore our exports while we are still at war with Japan and liable to provide help for the liberated territories.While, again, the first of those problems does not confront us now, I imagine that most of us find that the second is at least as large as, and probably even larger than, we expected it to be. The paragraph ended:We shall, therefore, be compelled during this period to regulate imports and to manage our exchange resources with great care.That is the economic case, in its general terms. Now I desire, as I am sure the House would wish me to do, to particularise with regard to the economic controls that we desire to continue. I will take a few examples of State intervention in the economic sphere which we regard as essential, which depend, until 24th February, on the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts, and which thereafter will have to come within the ambit of the Bill. First of all there are clothing, footwear and textiles. There is no hope that supplies can be increased rapidly enough to dispense with rationing for some time. To assure fair sharing, rationing must continue. This is based on the Emergency Powers which lapse on 24th February. Therefore we must get some powers to deal with that aspect of our problem. Conditions can be improved up to the point where restrictions will finally be removed, and, as supplies increase, rations will be augmented by reducing the points values of goods coming in larger quantities into the market. The ration will be augmented by reducing the points values of particular goods, by taking certain items off the ration and increasing the number of coupons. Exactly the same considerations apply to furniture and fuel.
Secondly, the demands on the building industry, I think it will be generally conceded, exceed the supply many times over. While this state of affairs exists, there is a clanger that prices of building materials will rocket into the economic stratosphere and that essential work on building houses, schools, factories and hospitals will be neglected in favour of luxury work undertaken by those with long purses. We must, in dealing with the housing question, which I am quite sure every Member of the House regards as the first of our domestic problems, be armed with the powers necessary to con- 118 trol the supply of the building materials which will be required. It will be necessary to maintain strict regulation of building work, under some re-enactment of Defence Regulation 56A, and of the prices of building materials and components under Defence Regulation 55. The housing problem of this Government, and in fact the housing problem of any Government that tackled the situation, could not be carried through without the use of those powers which, apart from the Bill, would lapse on 24th February next.
Thirdly, while world shortages exist and the present exchange position remains, we shall be compelled to maintain agricultural production at the very highest possible level. This can be done only by the continued use of about a dozen Defence Regulations which come within the provisions of the Bill. The House would probably like me to give some indication of the Regulations we have in mind. They are: 61 (1) (agricultural land not to be used for other purposes without the Minister's permission); 62 (power to direct with respect to the use of agricultural land and to evict bad tenants; 62A (power of local authority to cultivate land and to let land for allotments); 62B (suspension of restrictions on keeping pigs, hens and rabbits)—and anyone connected with local government knows that, if that particular Defence Regulation went, we might have some over-efficient sanitary inspectors who would make the keeping of those very valuable adjuncts to the food supply of the nation extremely difficult; 62c (facilities for drainage work); 63 (destruction of game and pests); 64 (destruction of birds injurious to fisheries); and 65A (suspension of prohibition on the sale of freshwater fish during the close season).
Fourthly, and most important of all, because of world shortages and our exchange position, inflation must be avoided. In any circumstances severe inflation causes gross social injustice, but it would be particularly reprehensible at the present time when successive Governments have encouraged great and widespread investment in Government securities. The immediate removal of economic controls would make an inflationary movement immediate and certain. We have, therefore, taken special powers in the Bill to provide for more effective and comprehensive price control. It was laid down by my predecessor in 119 office, in Debates in the last Parliament, that any continuation of this power under any such Bill as this must involve a greater measure of Parliamentary control. We have accepted that principle in framing this Measure. We propose that Parliament shall have a greater measure of control over the use of the powers granted than has been given under the Emergency Powers Act.
First, except for a limited period in respect of price control, the Bill confers no power to make fresh Regulations for the purpose of the transition period, but only a power to make any of the existing Defence Regulations contained in Parts III and IV of the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939, and of certain other Defence Regulations specified in the First Schedule, applicable to the new purposes of the reconstruction period and to make amendments in any Defence Regulations so made applicable. There will be in this category no new Defence Regulations except those dealing with price control. The existing Regulations which will be continued will have to be justified to the House. Second, the Bill is only an enabling Measure. It expressly provides a further stage after the Bill is passed when the Government, by Order in Council, will decide which Regulation should be used for transitional purposes. These Orders in Council bringing the Defence Regulations into the scope of this Bill will have to be laid before both Houses and will be subject to annulment by Resolution of either House. Third, the Bill also provides for the extension of existing Parliamentary control over subordinate legislation made under Defence Regulations. Not only are the Orders in Council bringing in Defence Regulations under the Bill to be the subject of negative Resolution procedure, but similar control is extended to cover Orders and other subordinate instruments of a legislative character made under Defence Regulations, both under the Emergency Powers Act and under the present Bill. That is a procedure which has not been required before.
Now we come to one of the contentious parts of the Bill, the duration of the Measure. The original Bill was for two years. I have had the privilege of being able to study what I imagine is some of the secret history with regard to this Bill, for on that famous day, 11th Sep- 120 tember, to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has already alluded, there appeared in connection with this Bill in the "Evening Standard" an article by David Farrer, who is, I am credibly informed, private secretary to Lord Beaverbrook. That, I should have thought, was a full-time job in itself without his taking on the writing of articles in his Lordship's papers. This day also happens to be my birthday, and I was, therefore, somewhat gratified with the attention I received in his Lordship's paper at the hands of this gentleman who, I am informed, is his private secretary.Now the Socialists have come to power, and almost their first action has been to give Mr. Morrison's baby artificial respiration at the hands of Mr. Chuter Ede. But the revived child is an altogether lustier infant with far greater potentialities for mischief.After all, that is only the nature of infants. As they grow they have greater potentialities for mischief. The only thing that matters is whether the people exercising parental control over them know how to manage them or not. We have no doubt that while this infant is lustier—and I have no doubt that its godparents sitting opposite must feel gratified that it has developed so early—we intend to see that all the safeguards I have just mentioned are carefully applied to all its activities so that its power for mischief shall be made non-effective and its power for good shall be considerably improved.
We contend that it would be wrong of the House to make the country think that by the end of two years we shall have ceased to need the powers in this Bill to deal with the inflationary tendencies of the market and the shortages of supplies and materials that will be at our command. It is far too short a time, and one of the reasons why we sit on this side and hon. Gentlemen sit opposite is that the country takes the same view. I did not deliver a single speech in my constituency in which I did not advocate the powers in this Bill being revived. My constituency is an area which suffered most cruelly from the inflation and subsequent depression that followed the last war, and it has a keen realisation of the fact that this time, if we are to see the country through its difficulties, we have to take a much more realistic view of the aftermath of war. Food, materials and essential supplies will still be short. In some spheres we shall still be engaged in getting 121 a war distorted economy into its peace-time shape. We feel that by putting a period of five years into the Bill we are giving the country an assurance that we realise the difficulties with which they will be faced, and that we are determined that while shortages last and economic difficulties confront us the utmost efforts will be made by the Government to ensure that fair dealing as between one citizen and another shall still be secured by the State.
The House might perhaps desire that I should briefly run through the Clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 enables any of the Regulations in Parts III and IV of the General Regulations and any of the special Defence Regulations mentioned in the First Schedule to be kept in being during the transition period and utilised to control and regulate supplies and services for the purposes, first, of securing fair prices and a sufficiency of those essential to the well-being of the community or their equitable distribution; second, of facilitating the re-adjustment of industry and commerce to the requirements of the community in time of peace; and, third, of assisting the relief of suffering and the restoration of 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.
On the Committee stage I propose to move a drafting Amendment in the first of the purposes I have recited to make it clear that the policy of securing a sufficiency of supplies and services essential to the well-being of the community can be applied whether or not in any individual case it is associated with price control. There are a number of supplies and services in which the distribution of the element in scarce supply is dealt with independently of price control. There are certain special Defence Regulations mentioned in the First Schedule, but I do not think I need enumerate them. If any point arises on them they will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Lord President when he replies.
The sudden ending of the Japanese war and the fact that the Emergency Powers Defence Act goes out in February mean that a certain amount of work in connection with demobilisation, reinstatement and the disposal of Government surpluses, which otherwise might have been effected under the Emergency Powers Defence Act 122 if it had been extended for a year instead of six months, will have to be carried out under this Bill. We propose making a further Amendment to make this clear among the purposes set out in Clause 1. In that way we feel that we shall be justified in allowing the Emergency Powers Act to lapse.
Clause 2 enables these Defence Regulations to be made under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act for controlling prices of goods or charges to be made for services. This is the other important innovation in the Bill as compared with the Bill introduced by the Coalition Government. The Goods and Services (Price Control) Act enabled maximum prices and charges to be fixed only for manufacturers or for types of traders as a class. This involves enforcing uniformity in the type of products as in the utility schemes, or resorting to control by means of cost-plus and standstills, to which there are many objections. What is now required, as the range and variety of production increases with the transfer of industry to peace-time production, is power to differentiate price control according to type and quality by fixing maximum prices for particular products and particular businesses.
I want to say a word about restrictive practices. I know that this is a subject in which the righthon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot takes some interest, because I recall attending as an observer meetings at which I heard him express his views. Here again we adhere to the statement that was made in paragraph 54 of the Coalition Government's White Paper, that combines and agreements, both national and international, by which manufacturers have sought to control prices and output, to divide markets and to fix conditions of sale,do not necessarily operate against the public interest; but the power to do so is there.It has not been found possible to include a Bill on the subject of restrictive practices in the legislation of the present Session. Therefore, the Government include these powers in this Bill and intend to use them, particularly their powers of price control, to prevent anti-social practices such as charging excess prices, whether for materials or finished goods. Fresh Regulations for the purposes of this Clause can only be made while the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act remains in 123 force, that is to say, between the passing of this Bill and 24th February next; but any Regulations which have been made before the Act expires can be retained in force under the provisions of this Bill.
Clause 3 contains the necessary power to revoke or vary any regulation which has been dealt with under Clause 1. Clause 4 provides for extending Parliamentary control by negative resolution. Clause 5 makes it clear that the machinery provisions in the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts will apply to the Defence Regulations brought under the Bill even after the expiry of those Acts, and that the Bill can be extended to the Colonies. Clause 6 extends the powers of the Ministry of Supply under the Ministry of Supply Act, 1939, to acquire, produce or dispose of "articles required for the public service." Those powers are at present limited to articles required by Government Departments or "for the needs of the community in the event of war," and the Clause extends them to supplies which the Minister considers it necessary to procure or control for the purposes which are set out in Clause 1. Clause 8 provides for the expiry of the Act after five years, unless its operation is continued after an Address has been presented by each House of Parliament praying for its continuance for a further year.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Is it not a fact that, by fixing the life of this Bill at five years, with the possibility of continuing it afterwards, the Government is admitting to the whole nation that it will be unable to end the shortages within less than five years, and is this not a confession of failure which will cast great gloom upon the whole country?
§ Mr. Ede
I hope not; I have not yet noticed that the nation has been holding an inquest upon us, and although it may do so in due course I am quite sure we shall prove a rather livelier corpse than the one which was examined last Friday. I do not think it proves anything of the sort. What it does prove is that we do not intend to allow the country in the years that lie immediately ahead to have a short hectic boom such as followed the last war and the subsequent deplorable generation of depression which stultified the lives of our youth and of the working classes in our great industrial areas. We are determined that on this occasion the 124 people are to be saved from the disasters that overtook them through the rapid lifting of control after the last war.
It will be noticed that this Bill applies throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, that is to say, to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I have been in communication with the Government of Northern Ireland and I desire to make a brief statement which, I think, will correctly set out the relationship between this Government and that of Northern Ireland on the issues raised by this Bill. The Bill applies to Northern Ireland, and I should explain that while certain of the purposes covered by Clause 1, Sub-section (1) may relate to matters falling within the legislative powers of Northern Ireland, those purposes cannot easily be dissociated from other purposes which relate to matters reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Bill accordingly applies to Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom, and so far as the proposed power of control may affect services within the powers of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, it is only put forward as an emergency measure arising out of the exceptional conditions in the transition from war to peace, and in the exercise of such power there will be full consultation with the Northern Ireland authorities.
I commend this Bill to the House and I desire to give hon. Members, in no matter what part of the House they may sit, this assurance, that as the powers can and should be dispensed with, they will be given up. We have no desire for control for control's sake any more than has any other Member of the House. There are, however, certain powers which must be retained and used constructively to guide the national economy through the difficult transition from war to peace. The present Bill provides the framework within which the Powers will be operated, subject to the closest scrutiny by Parliament. I think it will be generally agreed that among the issues that were raised during the General Election this issue of a planned economy was one of those which did in fact divide the two major parties in the country. We have received from the country an undoubted mandate, after full consideration, to arrange that for the period of the existence of this Parliament the economy of the country shall be planned. We are determined to carry out that mandate and to show to the 125 world that it is possible for this great nation, having reached a tremendous height in the sphere of military achievement, to reach the same height in dealing with the difficult problems that confront us in the transition from war to peace. We on this side of the House believe that in order to achieve that we must have the powers that this Bill gives us, and we confidently ask the House to allow us to secure the speedy passage of this Measure.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)
I am sure it would be the wish of the House that I should congratulate the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down on his first speech as the Minister in charge of an important Bill, and that Bill the first important Measure put before the House by the new Government. I must say, however, that I regard the Home Secretary this afternoon as a rather dangerous man. His sincerity is so apparent, his courtesy is so spontaneous, his illustrations are so illuminating and his evasions are so ingenuous, that I feel we are likely to be lulled and cozened into an unnatural state of complacency when we are looking at a Measure which carries us so far as the one in front of the House this afternoon. Of course the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly correct in saying, in a very nice and humorous way, that in the main the provisions of this Bill—and I must emphasise the words "in the main"—were agreed by the Coalition Government Ministers. The Bill differs, however, in rather more than one or two respects from the original Measure, and those respects, and the very wide scope of the Bill, require discussion and explanation.
But the Measure was in the main agreed, because I think it is undeniable—and the Home Secretary himself has largely used the dialectical method of knocking upon open doors—it is undeniable that when goods or services are so scarce that they cannot meet the reasonable needs of the nation they should be controlled or rationed if you prefer the word, by the Government, for by this means alone can a scramble be avoided. We all know that if there is a scramble, prices rise and inflation may begin. The consequences to the private individual, the housewife for example, of such a rise are too obvious to need explanation. It means, as the Home Secretary said, that those with the least money, 126 or those who desire to save, go short or go without. The consequences to industry are also serious, although less so than to the individual. They are serious because it may mean that those industries or companies which bid up the prices of scarce materials are not those whose production at this particular moment we wish to stimulate in advance of all others. They are, however, less serious in the realm of industry than in the sphere of the private individual because in the main those industries which can afford to bid up for scarce materials are those which see such an enlarged demand for their product that they feel they can afford it, and are also such that the scarce materials represent a very small part of the manufacturing cost or selling price of the finished product. In those matters a sort of survival of the fittest takes place and it is easy to exaggerate the evil in the industrial field. However, I agree that our economic position is so critical, and in no direction more critical than in regard to our ability to pay for essential imports, our general economy is so artificial—using the word in the simplest sense—that few if any would deny to the Government their right to curtail our liberties very considerably for a limited time.
I must, however, remark, as the Home Secretary has made some play with this point, that Socialist doctrine condemns on every occasion any attempt by individuals to mitigate some of the evil effects of competition, and there are some evil effects. One of the evils to be combated is competition for materials or services. But however that may be, the general thesis is, in my opinion, unassailable, provided that this totalitarian curtailment of liberty, provided that this stifling of competition, provided that the expunging altogether of the theory that variations in price lead to a distribution which synchronises and coincides with the needs of the public—provided that all these things are recognised as evils—necessary evils I agree in the immediate future; and we must beware that a transitory and to some extent abnormal necessity and scarcity are not made the excuse, by a sort of side wind, for building up a permanent policy and regarding that policy as a nationally healthy and desirable evolution.
Suffice it to say that we on this side of the House are in the main in agreement with this Bill. We are to some extent 127 reassured by its very Title—it is called "Supplies and Services Transitional Powers Bill"—and the words "Transitional Powers," if they mean anything, at least mean that the powers are not going to be permanent. It seems obvious that the House will be given an opportunity, when our present discontents are lessened, of discussing in a clearer economic atmosphere the vices which this curtailment of personal liberty and these great impediments to trade will bring with them. Accordingly we shall not seek to divide the House on the Second Reading.
I must now turn to the three main respects in which this Bill differs from that which was agreed by the Coalition Ministers, or, on the other hand, in which its provisions seem to us to be so wide as to require special comment. The three differences are, broadly, the circumstances, the scope, and the duration of the Bill. First of all, in regard to its circumstances, which the Home Secretary very wisely rather glossed over. When this Measure was discussed in the Coalition Government we were still at war with Japan, and, if my memory serves, for the purposes of planning the length of the Japanese war was estimated as about eighteen months to two years after the end of the German war. I think that point is an important one for the House to remember, for two reasons. It partly shows the fallibility of national forecasts and national planning, but it also means that the life of the Bill was intended to be broadly the same as the estimated end of the Japanese war, or perhaps, if I am not strictly accurate, not more than six months after the end of the Japanese war. At the risk of getting a little out of sequence in dealing with the Bill, I would point out that this estimated end of the Japanese war has a broad significance when we look at Clause 6, in which the Minister of Supply is empowered to produce or dispose of articles required for the public service wherever he considers it necessary or expedient to do so. This gives, for a period of five years and with no relation to war needs, unlimited power of State trading to the Minister of Supply, power to set up industries with the taxpayers' money in order to compete with the people who pay the taxes. The Clause, which was desirable during the continuance of actual war, appears to me to be wholly in- 128 applicable to the circumstances of peace, and the Government will have to make a very strong case to justify the Clause in its present form. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will deal with that point in greater detail when he replies to the Debate. I turn to the second point, the scope of the Bill. The Government inherited a Bill. The Home Secretary referred to a baby, and said it was a lusty baby.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The right hon. Gentleman endorsed it. I hope he has not a Borstal institution in view for it. The Government inherited a Bill from the Coalition Government and that Bill contained Clause 1, which was quite precise about the objects for which these powers were sought and for which they were to be used. To compress the Clause, they were to secure a sufficiency at fair prices, to facilitate the readjustment of industry and commerce, and the relief of suffering at home and abroad. I think the House will recall how comprehensive are the powers which can be taken under Defence Regulations under the aegis of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act. Under it, for example, the Executive may authorise "the taking possession or control, on behalf of His Majesty, of any property or undertaking; the acquisition, on behalf of His Majesty, of any property other than land; and authorise the entering and search of any premises and provide for amending any enactment, for suspending the operation of any enactment, and for applying any enactment with or without modification."
Moreover, under the Act of 1940 persons were required to place themselves, or might be required to place themselves, their property and services at the disposal of His Majesty. Those are extraordinary powers taken for purposes of war.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The right hon. Gentleman misheard me. I am well aware that Clause 1 is exactly the same. My remarks have relation to Clause 2. Those extraordinary powers were taken for purposes of war. I am discussing what are the powers which Clause 1 now gives. We are asked to leave those powers at the 129 disposal of the Government during a period of peace. It is at this moment that we begin to realise why this is a Home Office Bill. Simply because the Home Secretary spends so large a part of his time dealing with police, prisons and penitentiaries, and my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council has had so long and successful an experience in this type of administration, they really must not think that those are the sovereign remedies for all ills, and particularly for industrial ills. The Coalition Government recognised that for a very short period after the end of the Japanese war, these comprehensive powers might be necessary, and consequently the present Government inherited Clause 1.
But they were determined to go a bit better than the best, and obviously they would not like it to be thought that they had slavishly followed the policy of their predecessors; so they brought in Clause 2, which widens to an almost limitless extent the scope of the Defence Regulations. And what an extraordinary term "Defence Regulation" is when we are at peace and when the defences which this House ought to be thinking about are chiefly the defence of the personal liberty of the subject and defence against incursions by the Executive into the rights of discussion and control by the House. In Clause 2 very wide powers have been taken, and I am still not quite clear, even after the explanations of the Home Secretary, what is the object of these limitless powers. It appears to me that Clause 2, discarding the jargon of Parliamentary Bills, which is a substitute for the King's English, seems to say, in common parlance, "Clause 1 is really only pulling your leg"; because in this Clause 2 the Government seek powers—and here I come to the Bill—whether or not such Regulations are necessary or expedient for the purposes specified in the said Sub-Section (1).This singularly unfortunate Clause is the first one which the present Government offer to an astonished House. They ingenuously say, in spite of all that the Home Secretary has done to try to remove this impression, "We here wish to take power to control for control's sake." If hon. Members will examine the Clause they will see that I have not exaggerated in any way in so describing it. Turning back to Clause 1, may I remind the House—and this is an industrial point— 130 what happened, and what can happen now, under Regulation No. 55, which I believe is still in force. It gives the Government powers to regulate or prohibitthe production, treatment, keeping, storage, movement, transport, distribution, disposal, acquisition, use or consumption of articles of any description";and as if this were not comprehensive enough, the authorities may also providefor any incidental and supplementary matters for which the competent authority thinks it expedient for the purpose of the order to provide.Those words hardly look to me like a drive to expand our trade. On the subject of these very wide powers, it is necessary to do more than generalise. I want to do more than state how restrictive they are. I want to give some practical examples of how these powers will work out when applied to our peace-time trade and industry, and to contrast how widely different they are when they are applied in peace-time from their effect in wartime. In my opinion, based on a wide experience of this matter, it is quite impossible for a central government authority in peace-time to allocate materials upon any other system than rough and ready guessing, and these rough-and-ready guesses are very apt to defeat the objects which prompt them.
In war time the allocation of raw material to most producers is not on the basis of rough-and-ready guesses, for the reason that the Government itself is the buyer of an immense range of products and services. When the Government allocates such and such a tonnage of steel for the manufacture of 25-pounders, it is not a guess because the Government is the buyer of 25-pounders, knows how many it wants and what the date of delivery should be. The Government can allocate cotton for the manufacture of Service dress, but it can only guess at what allocation is appropriate for ladies' cotton dresses for export, and it has to guess even at the expansion of the home demand. In short, the nature, scope and timing of demand in peace time is no longer capable of those nice calculations which right hon. Gentlemen and I were making a short time ago during the war.
At this time we all recognise that an expansion of our export trade is one of the first national objectives, but our ability to export depends upon a number 131 of things. One of them is the price at which we can offer to sell abroad. That price must be competitive, and as a general rule prices for export are not competitive unless the home market is, so to speak, behind the export and absorbs a large part of the manufacturing costs and overhead expenses. Therefore, the apparently beautiful and snow-like simplicity of trying to increase exports by the Government saying, "You shall not have materials for this production for the home market, but only for export, "is smudged and blurred and utterly destroyed by this simple fact, because without allocations for the home trade market prices for the export trade will not be competitive.
I want to tell the House also how these things will work out in peace time as seen from a little less idealistic angle. For example, the Government say to exporters, "You must show us evidence of your intention to export the finished product before we will allot to you raw material which we are denying to others.'' Is that sensible? It seems to me to be quite sensible; but, unfortunately, the foreign customer who is going to import goods says something very much of the same kind. He says, "Show me the actual goods. I have not seen them for six years. Have they kept up with the times? Give me assurances of the moment when you are going to produce them, and then I will give you an indication, though not a firm one, of how much I will take and what prices I can give. "This is no fanciful illustration. If hon. Members want confirmation they can get it in the export trade. How many times in the experience of exporters does it happen that raw materials cannot be obtained unless evidence of export is given, and how often is it that the export cannot be made unless evidence that the raw materials are forthcoming can be given to the buyer? Some people call this particular situation a dilemma, others call it a vicious circle, and others call it a bottleneck; but, believe me, exporters are accustomed to use rather more forcible phrases about it. At the best, and even supposing that the Government reached the right decision or the right guess, they must inevitably take an unconscionable time in doing so. They cannot guess lightly or frivolously, they must weigh the evidence, collate the documents, scrutinise the evidence of the witnesses, 132 marshal the whole business and open a drumfire of minutes and memoranda; otherwise it incurs, and generally rightly incurs, a charge of wasting precious materials or being unfair to one applicant as against another.
Time and tide wait for no man, not even His Majesty's Government, and we know the immense time that these things take. Unfortunately, this instance is greatly over-simplified and presupposes that the exporter has only to deal with one Government Department, but it is rarely so. Even to make an export it is necessary to obtain a building permit from the Ministry of Works, and the Ministry of Works wants to know whether the Ministry of Supply is going to grant the raw material before it grants a building permit. Then an engineer has to be sent abroad to clinch the deal and must have a priority passage from the Ministry of War Transport, and spend a little more foreign currency than he is allowed and must have permission from the Treasury. The Treasury wishes to know whether the Ministry of War Transport is going to give priority transport, and the Ministry of Works, if it has to give a building permit, will want to know if the Ministry of Supply has given a permit for the raw material to be issued. All this is graced by the dignified name of "National Planning."
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
There is also the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, which makes the list longer.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I admit that this Ministry greatly extends the system of control. I do not want to exaggerate, but these are commonplaces known to every exporter. I think that hon. Members who do not know the deep seriousness of my nature may think that I am trying to make a joke but I am not at all. But these things, in my experience, happen to exporters every day. It is called "National Planning." To me it sounds like the old nursery story of "The house that Jack built." Perhaps I should not use such a phrase but should say "the house that Jack did not build," because we know that, as he is a private individual, the Ministry of Health will not allow him to build a house at all.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
May I inquire of the right hon. Gentleman 133 whether all these reasons he is giving are reasons why he is supporting the Second Reading of the Bill?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not followed the argument. The argument is, that for a very short time we must accept these evils but I am trying to show that they are evils. Therefore, it is an argument which supports my contention that, instead of building them into a Measure to last five years, they should be built into a Measure which lasts for one or two years. There is another important aspect of the matter on which I must touch—these Regulations. Part IV of the Defence Regulations runs to 120 closely-printed pages and requires an army of officials to frame them, to follow them up and to enforce them. Every trading and manufacturing concern in this country doing a substantial business, has to keep a highly-paid staff to watch the Government Regulations, and has to be in constant consultation with lawyers, greatly to the benefit of the legal profession, to follow whether they are keeping within the law, and to keep up with the flow of Regulations which pour from the Government machine. All these things mean costs, and all these costs undermine to some extent our ability to regain our export trade.
My final point on the scope of the Bill—and the Home Secretary has not dealt with this—concerns Clause 5. In this Clause the new temporary powers for the acquisition of land which has been affected by Government use or damaged by the Government are extended from two years after the end of the war to a minimum period of seven years in all. This may be an oversight, but if it is not, it extends for a period of seven years, the uncertainty under which both the owner of the property and the industrialist now labour. The Requisitioned Land and War Works Act was passed this very year by the Coalition Government and the Act has a life of two years. The decision of the present Government is to prolong this to seven years apparently and once again to face the fact, as they will have done, and will probably do in other matters, that they cannot hope to solve these problems as quickly as their predecessors. It is no good the Home Secretary denying this charge. Here we have it again—two years in the original Bill, and now seven 134 years. Moreover, if my memory serves me, a member of the Labour Party at the time of the passing of the Bill, suggested extending the war period.
I turn to the third of my three points—and in many ways the others lead up to this—which is the duration of the Measure. I have dealt with the altered circumstances and the wide and limitless powers which are sought. Now I come to the last. It has been extended to five years. I see no justification—and the Home Secretary made the most frightful defence of the five years I have ever heard—for it. I should have thought, now that the Japanese war is over, we should have looked to a curtailment of the original two years. The original Measure was only expected to be in force about six months at the very most after the end of the Japanese war. Surely, the statesmanlike thing to do would be to take one or two years, and come back to the House for further powers if the Government could satisfy the House that the circumstances demanded a prolongation of this most unfortunate and unpopular Act.
I must also remark, with due deference to the Home Secretary, how infelicitous it is for the Government to point out that there can be no return to liberty or plenty for five years, because that happens to be just the maximum life of this Government. Will not a handle be given to the cynical to say that the Socialist Government do not see a return to liberty and plenty until they have been defeated? On seeing the five years' period myself I was tempted to say, "Was Herbert also among the prophets?" We think that this Bill is not necessary, that the powers it takes are a dangerous restriction of the liberty of the subject and a cluttering impediment to business in normal times, and we consider the period of five years is far too long and shows a defeatist attitude on the part of the Government. We would not like it to be said that the only successful part of the building programme of the Government lay in their ability to build prisons and penitentiaries for industry, and we urge very strongly that these prisons and penitentiaries should be of a temporary and not of a permanent character.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Holman (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I hope that the House will bear with me in this, my first attempt to 135 address it. In my constituency of South-West Bethnal Green, there is to-day a consciousness of the immense value of controls and rationing as they operated throughout the war period. In this particular constituency, that period is viewed as one in which the people have been more prosperous in terms of real things, than they have ever been during this century. The average inhabitant has been better fed and clothed, but, I regret to say, owing to enemy action, he has not been so well housed. The legislation which this Bill proposes to prolong would not have been so good from their point of view, if the conditions had been similar to those of the period 1914–18. That was the second most prosperous period that that constituency has had, but it was greatly inferior to the period of 1940–45, owing to the fact that wages crept upwards following intense inflation. During the remainder of the period of restricted supplies, the functioning of the same controls, or the same type of controls, the regulation of prices, and rationing must go on.
Perhaps I may say a few words about a particular control under which I operated as a merchant during the last six years, as being an example of a satisfac-factory control and one that has fulfilled, and is to-day fulfilling, the functions for which it was set up—functions which I trust this Bill will enable to be carried on for such a period as may be necessary and one which, in the opinion of those best able to judge in the trade, will be long. I refer to the Paper Control under the Ministry of Supply. That control had an extremely difficult job to perform owing to the fact that paper in one form or another is vitally necessary to the country. I do not know how this House would proceed for a day without the use of paper. It has been termed one of the vital essentials of civilisation.
I speak with some knowledge of this business during the first and second world wars, although in the first world war I was absent from business for some three and a half years in France, but I kept in touch. During the first world war, when there was little or no control, the price of one particular commodity in this business rose from £14 a ton to £250 a ton and dropped to about £100 a ton immediately after the war, and then rose again to £175 a ton during the three years that 136 succeeded it and thereafter, during the next three years, dropped back to £28. That post-war process took between five and six years—nearly three years of intense inflation and then about three years of intense deflation, and that is what we are asking shall not be allowed to happen to-day. I deserted the Party that occupied these Benches in 1922 for this very reason, because it was a train without a driver, a steamer without a pilot, a motor car in which the occupants were in the back seat and the engines were running full out and going nobody knows where.
That was the position of this country after the last war. I venture to say, if I may still use this particular control as an illustration, that the more successful we are in reopening and redeveloping the export trade—and this particular industry, paper, must fulfil its part in the general export development—the longer the control will have to exist. It is a very simple economic proposition.
Let me take as an example the main export of the paper trade—the printings and writings for which the mills of this country have a world-wide reputation and for which there is a tremendous and unsatisfied demand, especially in the Dominions of Australia and New Zealand and other portions of the British Commonwealth. We can increase that export trade to surpass the tonnage of 1939 at a relatively early date, but only under the condition that the home market is kept somewhat shorter of supplies as a consequence. If you are going to keep the home market short of supplies, I suggest that, if you are going to leave off control, you create the very condition that makes for some degree of inflation. But controls perform other functions as well. They fulfil the function of regulating the use of the material, and I do not think that, in the interests of our export trade and its stimulation, any hon. Member of this House would object to continue to use the small, single-sheet notepaper for large portions of his correspondence because the double sheet is taboo under the control for reasons of internal economy. Similarly, he would not object to restrictions in margins in the publishing trade through a certain Regulation which limits the quantity of material that goes into the production of these goods.
Controls are essential, first, to limit the price to set a ceiling price for any com- 137 modity, during a period of shortage, and that restriction lies far less onerously on the industry if it is guided by the control itself in the usages of the material and in the prohibition of its use in wasteful or luxury directions, if need be. Naturally, the conditions vary as between one control and another. In one sense, may I tell my hon. Friends, I have felt a greater freedom in this war under control than I felt in any of the previous 20 years' business and manufacturing experience that I have had in this country. I only had a very short phase before 1914—about two years—in industry, but I lost completely that sense of any reality of policy between the two wars. I felt that there was drift, and I trust that now, in the continuation of controls, they will become more and more generalised, less and less difficult from the point of view of detailed returns which will not be insisted upon as time goes on.
When we compare the valuable possibilities, as well as actualities, in so many of these controls, as general guides and stimulators of exports, it is gratifying to see, only in the last few days, that materials have been granted in extra quantities on the condition that the firms began to pay attention to the export trade. Exports should become a prominent example of the way in which controls can be a good thing. I am convinced, from my experience of this particular control, that controls have been operated very closely in consultation with the industries and trades for which they are acting as controllers, and perhaps there has been one advantage in having, in so many of these controls, people who have been prominently associated with these trades. There has been a very close understanding of the needs of the trade, and the best possible action has been taken in order to bring about smooth working between the control and the traders.
I am going to say that, unfortunately, a real return to peace-time conditions inevitably must work somewhat slower. We start with the raw materials coming in to this country in limited quantities, and with controls necessary for their equitable distribution between the manufacturers concerned. We have to create an export trade out of these materials sufficient to pay for these credits, and, at the same time, to build up a currency reserve to carry on buying further materials. A short-sighted view in the next two or three 138 years means lack of work in our factories through lack of materials in every direction. So you get the real imports, the export trade rebuilt, you build up credit and currency reserves and your trade begins to revolve with ever greater speed, but you cannot dash into it shortsightedly. In this export policy, you are bound to maintain a certain degree of shortage in the home market. Ignore exports, and you can rebuild the stocks in Britain very rapidly and there could be an apparent super-abundance for a year or two, but you will not then have the foreign currency available for raw materials through which the industrial machine will continue to operate. When I try to buy a single machine, and I am quoted two years for delivery, I wonder how are the bulk of our industries, outside engineering, getting on when their mills are working the same plants six years older to-day than they were in 1939, and when it will take far more than two years to get this part of your war-time industry back to the level of1939. But even 1939 is no criterion. It is essential that we should go far above the level of 1939, and it is going to take far more than two years to reach that peak of efficiency. To build our export trade is going to be easy in the first year or two, but more difficult as time goes on and world stocks are replenished. I thank the House very much for their kind and indulgent attention.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
It is my privilege to congratulate the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Holman) on the fine maiden speech he has just delivered. It will, I am sure, be a source of great satisfaction to his constituency to read to-morrow what he has said and to know that he has been able to bring into this discussion of controls that intimate knowledge of the subject through personal experience to which this House always listens with respect and attention. I hope there will be many occasions in future on which, when the hon. Member has special knowledge of the subject, he will intervene in our Debates and he may be assured that his speech will always be welcome as it was to-day.
There is one aspect, in particular, of this Bill to which I would like to pay special attention. During the last Parliament, I was associated with some of my hon. Friends in trying to ensure that Rules 139 and Regulations issued by Ministers and their Departments should be brought under the critical survey of the House. We recognised how necessary it was for powers to be given to Ministers to issue Rules and Regulations in order to give effect to the general policy of Acts which had been passed by the House, but we did view with great suspicion and distrust the very large number of Rules and Regulations which were poured out during the war, some of which affected the liberty of the individual and others of which affected his economic activities.
On a number of occasions we raised this matter with the present Leader of the House when he was Home Secretary, and, on the first two or three occasions when we did so, he resisted all our requests that the power of the House over this delegated legislation should be increased. It was only in May, 1944, that, on behalf of his colleagues in the Government, he accepted the proposal which we had made that all the delegated legislation which is to be laid on the Table of the House should be scrutinised by a Select Committee appointed by the House for that special purpose. We regarded that as a change of heart on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. He had on many occasions said that the very wide powers which he exercised were only justifiable in war and that, when the emergency came to an end, he would favour increased Parliamentary control over these powers. It was with these conditions which we have been pressing so long, in our minds, that when this Bill in its earlier form appeared, we felt that it represented a very great measure of advance and acceptance of the view for which we had been contending.
I would, therefore, like to welcome very cordially Clause 4 of this Bill, which says that Orders and other instruments of a legislative character which are made under Defence Regulations will, in future, come before this House and may be prayed against. It represents a very great increase in the control of the elected representatives of the people over the delegated legislation under which they have in the past been so largely ruled. Therefore I welcome that Clause as a change of heart. I hope that it means that the Leader of the House has now in some degree modified the views which he held, or, at any rate, which some of his col- 140 leagues in the Government expressed on previous occasions, as to the desirability of extremely wide Rule-making powers being entrusted to the Executive without any control by the House of Commons.
There are two respects in which, as has already been pointed out, this Bill differs from the earlier Bill introduced by the Coalition Government. There is, in particular, Clause 2, which enables the Goods and Services (Price Control) Acts of 1939 and 1943 to be amended by a Defence Regulation and it widens the scope within which regulation of prices may take place. I welcome this extension of the powers. During the last Parliament, some hon. Friends of mine were interested in what we believed to be the profiteering that was taking place in funeral charges, and we approached the present Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was President of the Board of Trade and asked him to exercise his powers to regulate the price of funerals. We had ascertained that the London County Council was able to obtain a very satisfactory service at a very much lower price than is ordinarily charged to the public, and we were very much concerned at what appeared to be the unreasonable prices being charged. The right hon. Gentleman, the then President of the Board of Trade, was unable to take action in that matter because the service in question did not come actually within the scope of the words of the governing statute. I consider that if these powers are taken—and they are necessary as has been admitted by everybody—then I think it is desirable that the Government shall be able to exercise those powers in all cases where it is necessary for them to do so and not only in those "essential to the life of the community." When the National Insurance Bill comes to be put on the Statute Book, it will be of the utmost importance that the death grant of £20 shall not be entirely swallowed up in excessive funeral charges. Therefore I definitely welcome this extension of the wording of the Bill in order to give powers which I believe would be necessary to prevent an abuse of that kind.
I feel that this Bill in some respects is carrying on a tradition which goes back 20 years. It was a Conservative Government under Mr. Baldwin that in 1925 set up the Food Council in order to inquire into any cases where it was 141 believed that excessive prices were being charged for food. It was a subsequent Government, in which the Conservative Party was strongly represented, which, when it was setting up the Agricultural Marketing Boards, created the Consumers' Committees which were empowered to consider whether the agreements entered into by the Marketing Boards provided for fair and reasonable prices. I feel, therefore, that these powers which will be taken by the Government in this Bill, are not in their scope more than are reasonably necessary in order to protect the consuming public against the charging of excessive prices and to give assurance of supplies being adequate. Therefore I welcome the Bill so far as its scope is concerned. I think it would have been better if it had been confined to two years, as was the case with the original Bill, and it would have been possible for it to be continued by Resolution of the House had it been necessary to do so.
§ 5.34 p. m.
§ Mr. Hurd (Newbury)
I want to put to the House one or two points that occur to a countryman on studying this Bill, and I hope that I may have the kindly tolerance that the House always shows to a Member who is making his first speech.
In moving the Second Reading, the Home Secretary told us that there were about a dozen regulations affecting food production which would be continued for five years under this Bill as it stands. It is really remarkable, knowing the country, how tolerantly the war-time regulations and controls have been accepted and how smoothly they have worked. In the country, the master and the man on the farm, and the neighbours in the village know each other as human beings, and I think that our relationships are always rather closer than those which generally obtain in the towns. I think that controls were more irksome to us perhaps, than to some townspeople, but they have worked, and out of the many thousands of directions which have been served on farmers, to plough grass fields, to grow extra potatoes, to grow wheat and so on, very few have been disputed; they have been carried out loyally and they have been carried out successfully. But let the country make no mistake. The achievements in additional food production have not been due to orders.
142 If I may give one instance, in the county of Berkshire, part of which I have the honour to represent, the acreage of wheat has been doubled, the acreage of potatoes has been increased fourfold, and the milk production has also increased despite the war difficulties. That has been done by the team work of the whole of the farming community. The leading farmers, the leading representatives of the farm workers and the landowners, have given their time and experience freely on the war agricultural committees in order to get this increased production. It is thanks to them, rather than to any orders which were made under the Defence Regulations, or to be made under this Bill, that the country has got and will get the food it wants. During the war years there was a 70 per cent. increase in food production. As the Home Secretary reminded us in his speech, we need to maintain that production for some years to come, and therefore it is vital that we should maintain the team spirit which obtained for us this greatly increased production. For five years of the war it was my privilege to serve as one of the liaison officers of the late Minister of Agriculture with the war agricultural committees. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) has earned the lasting respect and gratitude of the country for the energy and drive that he put behind the work of those committees. He was tireless in travelling about the country; sometimes he was rather exhausting, and it is not surprising perhaps that at the height of the ploughing-up campaign the farmers of Somerset dubbed him "Rob the Ruthless."
But that phase has passed. I sense in the agricultural districts now some reaction. Members of the war agricultural committees—the men who operate the powers which this Bill will continue for five years—are getting tired; many of them have served right through the war years, and given three or four days of their time each week freely to this work. Some want to retire. Some members of the committees' staffs are looking around for other jobs which they think will be more permanent. There is a real danger of this team spirit being lost, and no amount of regulations will get this country the food it must have if we are unable to keep the team spirit going between the farmers, the farm workers.
143 owners and all concerned with the job of food production. I pray that the present Minister of Agriculture will not rely on these regulations but will see to it that the farming community knows the facts about the present food supplies and knows what the prospects are. If he puts the case fairly and squarely to them and asks for their full co-operation I am certain he will get the response that the country wants.
There are some changes needed in the structure and the functions of the war agricultural committees. There is nothing in this Bill which will stop the Minister making those changes, some of which should be made now. The Minister has already promised to review the possibility of setting up appeal tribunals to consider cases where a farmer is faced with dispossession. He was repeating a promise made by his predecessor, and I hope very much that will be done now. There are other changes which would bring the farming community itself into even closer relationship with the essential work of the committees, giving them even fuller responsibility. We know that the new Minister did a good job during the war as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, and he has the good wishes of all of us regardless of party. I hope he will be more successful in getting the full co-operation of his Cabinet colleagues in framing a post-war agricultural policy than his predecessor was in getting support from the Labour Members of the Coalition Government.
I support this Bill as a temporary measure to give the Minister of Agriculture time to re-fashion our agricultural administration in such a way that the country will have the prosperous and efficient agriculture it wants, and that those who live by the land—the farmers, the farm workers and the owners—if they do their job properly, will be able to count on a fair reward.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
As this is the first occasion on which I have had the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure I shall require the full measure of that indulgence which the House so readily accords a new Member on such an occasion. I am particularly glad to have this opportunity of supporting the Bill because, sweeping 144 as are its proposals, I believe its passage into law is essential for the programme for which this Parliament has been elected At practically every one of the election meetings which I have addressed in East Islington I urged that the war-time controls should not be suddenly taken off but that, just as during the war the resources of the nation have been mobilised and used for the good of the whole community, so, during the years of peace and so long as shortages of labour and materials continue, there must equally be a pooling of labour and resources and a control of prices to ensure fair and equitable distribution for all.
The intentions of the "caretaker" Government in this matter were clearly exposed at the end of May when, instead of introducing a Bill on the present lines as the Coalition Government decided, they introduced a Bill which made it quite clear that their intention was to divest themselves of the powers necessary to protect the people of this country from the perils of a scarcity market. Without adequate control of supplies and services we should soon find, as we found after the last war, a profiteer's paradise in this country. During the election campaign the Leader of the Opposition, in one of his least fortunate broadcast speeches to the nation, taunted the Labour Party with a love of controls for the sake of controls, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) repeated that taunt this afternoon. That issue was decisively settled at the General Election. This House and this Government have a clear mandate for this Bill; it implements the promise contained in the Gracious Speech that legislation would besubmitted to ensure that during the transition from war to peace there are available such powers as are necessary to secure the right use of our commercial and industrial resources and the distribution, at fair prices, of essential supplies and services.This Bill provides machinery whereby the rationing of foodstuffs, clothes, domestic utensils, and the prices of all goods and services will be regulated and controlled while the existing scarcity conditions continue. Nobody likes ration books or queues, but they are minor evils compared with the inequalities and injustices that would otherwise result.
This Bill will also ensure the supply of building materials for houses, and the pro- 145 duction of furniture and household goods in adequate quantities to the general body of our people, in priority to production of luxury goods. It is true that this Bill confers on the Government unusual powers that hitherto have been justified only by the emergency of war, but the present economic emergency of the transition of war to peace is no less serious than it was during the war. Indeed, in some ways economic problems are more acute to-day than they were during the war. As to the length of time for which the provisions of this Bill will be required, it would be idle for anyone to pretend that the economic ravages of war and the gigantic arrears of production of goods for peace-time use will be made good within such a short period as two years. It would be misleading the electorate to convey that impression. Admittedly, the powers conferred by this Bill are of a far-reaching nature. The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) made certain observations about delegated legislation. In general, I would agree with the view expressed by the Lord President of the Council made during the Debate on the Motion for the appointment of the Select Committee on Procedure, that for this Government or any other Government delegated legislation had increased, would increase and ought to increase.
But I would like to draw the attention of the Lord President and his colleagues to some of the criticisms which have been made about delegated legislation, because I believe it is the duty of members of the Government to consider those criticisms and take such measures as can be taken to correct them. The power which this House will confer by this Bill on the Government to legislate by Defence Regulation and Orders in Council is an unusual power, which carries with it unusual responsibilities. The advantages of legislation in open Parliament is that the process can be watched, observed by the public, reported and ventilated in the Press, and discussed before it becomes finally effective. It is not unreasonable that those who are likely to be interested in and affected by delegated legislation should have all reasonable opportunities of knowing what is proposed. I should like to invite the attention of the Home Secretary to the question whether it is really necessary, as is proposed under Clause 4 of this Bill, to provide that Section 1 of the Rules Publication Act, 1893, shall not 146 apply to Orders in Council which the Government will be given power to make. Section 1 of the Rules Publication Act, 1893, provided, not unnaturally, that before the Government legislated by Order in Council notice of their intention to do so should be given. It may well be a matter for consideration as to the length of such notice that is reasonable. I would seriously ask the Home Secretary to consider whether it is really necessary for the purposes of this Bill to exclude Section 1 of that Act, particularly bearing in mind that Section 2 of the Act of 1893 gives the Executive power, on the grounds of urgency, to proceed by way of provisional rule.
Then there is the duty of ensuring that full opportunities are given to the public of seeing and obtaining copies of Statutory Rules and Orders when they are made. Acts of Parliament may not always be intelligible, but they are always easily and readily accessible. The same is, unfortunately, not the case with Statutory Rules and Orders. There is, and has been, legitimate complaint in the past on the part of those who have to observe Statutory Rules and Orders, those who are bound by them, and those who have to advise on them, that it is sometimes impossible to obtain copies for several days after they come into force. Is there any reason why, on the Committee Stage of this Bill, an Amendment should not be introduced so as to ensure that printed copies of all Orders in Council are available before they come into force? I would like to say a word or two about the obscurity that one from time to time finds in some of these Statutory Rules and Orders. There, again, I think the long suffering public have a legitimate grievance, and I would urge the Home Secretary to take into consideration some of the recommendations that were made many years ago by the Committee on Ministers' Powers, generally known as the Donoughmore Committee, which, among other recommendations, suggested that the Parliamentary Counsel staff should be considerably increased. I agree with the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) when he pointed out that the public have been very tolerant about this matter during the war. I do not think the Government can expect that the same spirit of toleration will necessarily persist during times of peace 147 The hon. Member for The High Peak also referred to the provisions contained in this Bill, which are designed to secure more effective Parliamentary control over subordinate Orders and other instruments of a legislative character that will be made possible by this Bill. I regard it as highly satisfactory to note that, in future all such Orders in Council of the nature of public Acts will be laid before Parliament. One result will be to bring all such Orders within the jurisdiction of the scrutiny committee. I would remind hon. Members that experience has shown that the existing procedure for securing Parliamentary control over the Executive is by no means as effective as it might be and, in my judgment, ought to be. The Lord President of the Council will remember the incident of the Fire Service Regulations. Although an Act of Indemnity was passed by this House the question still remains obscure, whether those Regulations had the efficacy of law despite the fact that they were not laid before this House. I think the Lord President, who was Home Secretary at that time, threw out a hint to the House during the Debate on the Indemnity Bill that that matter would be considered and I do suggest that this is a fitting occasion to invite the Home Secretary or the Law Officers, or whoever is responsible, to make it quite clear in this Bill, beyond any doubt, that regulations which ought to be laid before Parliament are not valid unless they are so laid.
While, therefore, I welcome this Bill, which I regard as vitally necessary to implement the programme for which this Government had a clear mandate from the electors, I hope attention will be given to the criticisms which have been made in the past with regard to delegated legislation, and which will no doubt be made in the future unless those criticisms are considered. This Government will be judged not only by their legislative output but, equally, by their administrative efficiency. Decisions made by the rules and orders made under this Act will impinge closely on the public life of the community. It is the duty of this House to control the Executive. In normal times the House might well be criticised for entrusting these wide powers to the Executive. In my judgment the exceptional nature of the economic emergency justifies and requires this Bill, but at the 148 same time renders it increasingly necessary that Parliamentary control over subordinate legislation should be strengthened and upheld.
This country has never accepted, and never will accept, the doctrine of authoritarian government that was satirised in Pope's couplet:For forms of government let fools contest, Whate'er is best administered is best.Generations of Englishmen have fought and struggled over "forms of government," and I am sure that Members of this House, while granting the Executive the exceptional powers required by this emergency, will be vigilant to avoid the constitutional dangers latent in such delegation.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Major Guy Lloyd(Renfrew, Eastern)
I find myself in an unusual role to-day in rising to address the House with a bouquet in either hand, which, on behalf of the House—all parts of the House—I am privileged to present to the hon. Members who have preceded me. I feel quite sure that the House will be glad of the opportunity of welcoming the maiden speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) and the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher). It is obvious that the hon. Member for Newbury is deeply interested in agricultural questions, on which, indeed, he spoke with knowledge and ability. I hope we may hear him on many other subjects as well. I would like also to congratulate the hon. Member for East Islington on his most able speech, so moderately phrased, with which, in general principle, none can disagree. He also spoke with knowledge and I am sure the House will listen in future with particular attention to anything he may have to say to us.
I must say I have been amazed during this Debate, and I believe Members on the Front Bench opposite must also have been somewhat surprised unless they had pre-knowledge, at the way in which the Opposition is letting them off in connection with the proposals of this Bill. I think we have been most tolerant. I can only hope that the true feelings of this side of the House will be more strongly represented when other opportunities occur to discuss this Bill; otherwise the country will not have had its views on this Bill adequately expressed. It seems to me to be very appropriate 149 that the first Bill of the new Government should be in connection with controls; for, indeed, that was one of the major issues of the recent Election. But it is, to me, a most unfortunate thing that we should have been told to-day that we, on this side of the House—at any rate, it has been hinted—need not or ought not to have any particular objection to the Bill because certain Members on the Front Opposition Bench are supposed to be godfathers of its predecessor and prototype. The point about that surely is that the circumstances of the presentation of the two Bills are fundamentally different. At the time of the last Bill, in which, for instance, certain Clauses, such as Clause 1, had been duplicated, the Japanese war was not over, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. O. Lyttelton) made the point very emphatically, it was thought that it would take another one and a half years, perhaps two years, to conclude after the war with Germany. To suggest that we need have no particular objection to the major principles of this Bill because the Bill was framed in large measure, but in entirely different circumstances, by a Coalition Government and taken over, in some measure, by a "caretaker" Government of our way of thinking before the Japanese war was over is, to my mind, an argument not particularly convincing, and I repudiate it.
The manner in which the party opposite welcomed the introduction of its Government's first Bill was most noticeable. While the Home Secretary was making his most able speech, I counted throughout the whole of the time he was speaking not more than 23 of his supporters on the other side of the House, and on the benches above the Gangway, where the more senior and leading supporters might be expected to assemble, the largest number I counted was 12. I hope that the country will not hesitate to make a note of the fact that there was such a large attendance of Members to support the Government during the speech on the Second Reading by the Home Secretary [Interruption.] I do appreciate the honour of having a much larger attendance than the Home Secretary had to hear my speech.
My particular criticism of this Bill can be summed up fairly easily and briefly. It is, of course, obviously putting the 150 country in chains, and sending many people to penal servitude for some five years. I do not really think the House can possibly fully realise, and certainly the Home Secretary has not made clear, what immense implications are involved in this Bill. It is overwhelmingly sweeping in its effect and its powers over us all and over every aspect of our national life and over the individual daily round and common task of all. It is full of significance in that respect. It seems to me it is far too full in the tendency, which many of us in the last Parliament noticed was growing, of reference to previous legislation without giving adequate details of what that legislation is; in compelling us, unfortunately, in the future, if we are to do our job properly, to examine in full detail, all previous Regulations and Defence Regulations to which this Bill now acts as an umbrella. Throughout the Bill there is reference to previous legislation which is by reference alone. The right hon. Gentleman told us, after he had added and subtracted a bit, that there were 460 Defence and other types of Regulations on the Statute Book, and he took some credit for having removed some already. Four hundred and sixty in my opinion is still far too many, and yet we ought to know something about every one of this 460 if we are really going to give a proper Vote on this Bill, because everyone of those can be kept on by the Government, and we do not know whether it is wise or unwise that this should be so.
After all, the Explanatory Memorandum for a Bill of such far-reaching power is the briefest and most unsatisfactory piece of wording. It is far too perfunctory to be a proper explanation of such far-reaching power as we are asked to give the Government. Exceptional powers should surely only be demanded in exceptional circumstances. I would be willing to agree that exceptional circumstances may well exist for a while longer, but I cannot for a moment agree that these exceptional circumstances ought, at any rate, to last as long as five years, unless the Government make such a mess of things and the country gets into such a state, that there will be an exceptionally awkward and unpleasant condition to be faced five years; hence. Possibly the Government had that in mind.
I want to know whether or not these conditions which make the Government 151 feel that this Bill is essential are really likely to be in existence in three or four years' time. There would have been no objection on this side of the House had the Government asked us only to let the Bill go for two years, although the argument could have been put that that was a bit too long in view of the fact that we have peace and the Japanese war is over. To ask for five years is something to which this side of the House could not possibly agree, representing as it does many hundreds of thousands of people in the country who, in my opinion, object to the Bill in a much stronger way than has hitherto been represented in this House. Do we realise that irrepressible and definite Socialistic changes are to be made on most of us for the next five years, and for who knows how long after that, through the deliberate medium of what, after all, was a wartime expedient? Why use a wartime expedient, for which I remember the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister pleading with us in 1940—why use wartime Regulations—which we gladly accepted, for the freedom of our people, in the great emergency of war? It seems to me to be mean and wrong to impose these Regulations and the powers to have others as well for another five years in time of peace.
Were the late House of Commons aware that such a thing would happen when they were asked to pass many of these Defence Regulations and emergency powers? Not at all. Everyone, including Members on the other side of the House, believed that it was purely a temporary expedient. Now we are going on for at least another five years in time of peace. If that had been said at the time, what a howl there would have gone up not only from this side of the House. There would have been a howl from many Members of all political opinions. Now it can be done because of the huge majority on the other side of the House who love controls. It seems to me this is a very bad beginning for a Socialist Government in their first Bill presented to Parliament.
To take some details of the Clauses, such phrases are used throughout, as "essential to the well-being of the country." Who is to decide what is essential to the well-being of the country? [Hon. Members: "We are."] It is going to be 152 decided in a purely arbitrary way and with the most deliberate political bias—[Interruption.] It is quite obvious that is so. It is no good putting in the Bill "essential to the well-being of the country" if you leave to the Government of the day the decision as to what is essential. The Government have a right to do it, but we who judge them have no confidence in the Government now, and we find it very difficult to say that because they think something essential to the interests of the country the rest of the country, or at any rate very large numbers in the country would necessarily agree with them. What guarantee have we that this readjustment or control on industry to which we are now asked to agree will really be used for the requirements of the country? Who is to decide the requirements of the country? [Hon. Members: "We are."] Exactly. Therefore how can the Home Secretary expect us on this side of the House to have confidence in who is to decide the requirements of the country? How can we use war-time Defence Regulations for the purpose of imposing peace-time price control? Who would have thought in 1940, that we would be asked to use the war-time machinery of Defence Regulations for the purpose of peace-time price control? What connection is there between Defence Regulations, which everyone knew had to do with the war, and peace-time price control?
It is stretching things too far to suggest that this is an innocuous Bill to which no one can really object. I was shocked to find more than one hon. Member on this side of the House, including the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), using the expression that he welcomed the Bill. I want to make it clear that I do not. I hope the House will, at any rate, hear some pretty strong criticism of the Bill when we come to the Committee stage, and at this stage those on this side of the House should make it clear to the country that they do represent those who strongly object to controls being imposed, quite unnecessarily in many cases, in peace time, which were originally imposed under the stress of war. I hope I have made clear my point of view. I repeat that I was delighted at the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot, who most forthrightly criticised the Bill on the grounds that it was bad and far too exaggerated and quite unneces- 153 sary. I hope that this side of the House will make it hot for the Government when we come to discuss the details later.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
We are indebted to the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken and to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) in that this Debate has not so far degenerated into a mutual admiration society. I was impressed, on listening to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot, by his reference to the prisons and penitentiaries, which, in his imagination, were to last for five years. It recalled to my mind those lines:Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage; Minds innocent and quiet take That for an hermitage.It has seemed to me that during this Debate there has been a very considerable measure of agreement but that the one main difference has been in the point of the period of time. In my view that period is a measure of the confidence that this Government has in the success that will attend its efforts. The objection to that period lies largely in the fact that the objectors do not realise the needs of business for long-term measures, needs which are greater to-day than they have been at any time. I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), in a maiden speech, in regard to agriculture. He spoke from considerable experience of war agricultural executive committees during war-time, and he referred to the smooth working of those committees, and the general acceptance of the regulations. It occurred to me that in that particular branch of industry five years is regarded as a very short term, and that general farming feeling to-day is that these measures must be strengthened. I repudiate the suggestion that the period of time is viewed with any degree of alarm by the farming community. They urge that war agricultural committees should be revitalised and reconstituted, but they do not object to regulations as such.
A reference was also made to the possibility of prior publication of regulations, but surely one of the most important points about the production or dropping of any regulation is that there should be no prior knowledge in the industries affected. Then there was also reference to the obscurity of some of the orders. I 154 agree that there are many occasions when the matter is likely to be complicated, but experience does show the care that is needed in the framing of these orders in order that they should do the job for which they are intended. It has been my privilege almost throughout the war to be connected with two industries which were very scattered and almost entirely unorganised. During the war I have been the chairman of a Committee which by arrangement with the Ministry of Supply has set up a kind of voluntary control with the very minimum of orders. In one of those industries there was some 800 small firms. They were given a very large task during the war, a task thought to be entirely beyond them, but by means of organisation, and without any introduction of machinery, without any increase of labour force, they were able to double their output of vital war stores.
The organisation which has done that in an industry which was formerly regarded as almost dead is still in being. Hope has been revived, and there is every prospect that with further Government assistance, which we hope for and expect, employment in that industry may be trebled. It is quite useless to talk of revitalising an industry when it can only have two years in which to look forward. There must be a longer period. Many of us on this side of the House have really been through the mill in industry, and in that way we have a distinct advantage over some of our friends on the opposite side of the House, who entered industry much as a boy at school would enter the sixth form when he should be going to "prep" school. We have the vital knowledge, the real grounding which tells us that any short-term planning or short-term arrangements will in all likelihood be bad arrangements. We feel that it is vitally necessary for industry, for employment, for the safe and sound government of this country, that the present regulations, as visualised in this Bill, should continue for the period of five years.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)
I had not intended to intervene until the speech to which we have just had the pleasure of listening. I would say at once with regard to my own constituency, which is predominantly agricultural, that there are a great many amendments we want to see made to the 155 war agricultural executive committees. I believe I am speaking for the majority of farmers in saying that they want to see a right of appeal to an impartial tribunal from an eviction order, and that these arbitrary powers, which in the hands of the right people may work well, do not always work well on every occasion. I am not saying that my own war agricultural executive committee does not do admirable work. I think it does, but it is dangerous to give arbitrary powers and not to have safeguards.
I was not quite sure whether the Home Secretary, who is now back in his place again, was pleased with this Bill or whether he was not. He began by saying that he did not approve of control for control's sake. Yet there was applause from back benchers behind him when he spoke of the necessity for controlling industry very closely. Later he said that he commended this Bill to the House. I would like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman regards this Bill as a very necessary Bill, but a very unpleasant one, or whether he says "We really believe in a system of planned scarcity." Does he want to see abundance or does he merely want to set up a machine which may exist for a considerable number of years, based on the fact that there is to be scarcity? I regard it as fundamental that we should step up production so that there is abundance for everybody at the first available moment. I think it is a rather dangerous attitude to say that we shall all be hard up for everything we want for years and years and that therefore we are to set up a more or less permanent machine to make sure about the cutting of a very inadequate cake. I am all in favour of seeing that what we have is fairly divided but I think we should remember the main objective, which is to get prosperity back once more and get the wheels of industry turning so that there shall be no scarcity.
The kind of economic system that works under legal orders is not really a happy one. Take the case of the building industry, which has been mentioned by several hon. Members. The right hon. Gentleman said that he disapproved of the cost-plus system. It is a vicious system, and if we forget our parties hon. Members will agree that there is little good that can be said of the cost-plus system which is now working in the building industry. I 156 have reason to believe that only about one-third of the production capacity is being produced by this cost-plus system—this information was from an authority on the subject—and as soon as we can get rid of it we should do so. A system which gives no incentive of any kind and under which an employer knows that the longer the job takes and the more it costs, the more he gets, is hopeless. If that is to be the planned economy with which we have to put up in the next five years I do not know when we shall get houses. I believe we will face a crisis in which we shall forget our parties for quite a time, because I do not think we shall get houses.
I would like to ask hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House whether they believe in delegated legislation or not. They have this vast majority but I think that although the country sent them back to power—unquestionably with great power—the country want them to govern. People do not want government to be carried out in offices and by hole-and-corner methods and by officials. They want it to be carried out in the open by their representatives who are answerable to them on the hustings, and who have to give an account of their stewardship. Like any reasonable person I feel that so long as there is the danger of inflation these powers must exist, but I feel that the moment it is possible to remove them it will be a good and not a bad thing to do so.
Therefore, I would very much prefer to see my right hon. Friend introduce into this House a Bill which will set up this machinery for, say, two years with power for its extension, if he likes, for three years, so that he can run his five years if necessary, rather than say he wants five years, because that looks as if he likes the system. I do not like the system. I do not think the hon. Member who spoke earlier was speaking entirely for the Government when he said that they liked the system. There are a large number of men in the Government and on the Opposition Benches who do wish to see a healthy economy with as much freedom for the individual worker as can possibly be obtained. I wonder if during the Committee stage of this Bill it would be possible for an Amendment to be tabled—not the one in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill)—which would set a period of three years, with powers of ex- 157 tension for a further two years, if necessary. I am not at all sure that it would not get a certain amount of support in all parts of the House. I join with the hon. Gentleman who spoke before me in saying that I have some views to put forward. That is what this Chamber is for. We do not want speeches all on one side.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I had not intended to join in this Debate, but I think I should like to support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) and express the view, which is more widely held in the country than in this House, that these controls are detested, disliked, hated and abominated by the greater portion of the people of this country. I have heard many speakers on the other side, and some on this side, say that the people of this country like these controls. Queues, we are told, are not detestable—they are only a lesser evil. That was one of the observations we heard this afternoon. The situation would be very unreal if I did not take this opportunity of joining with the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew in repeating what public opinion has been saying much more vehemently. An hon. Member, earlier in the Debate, said he left the Conservative Party in 1922 because of this question of control. It is strangely paradoxical that I left the Socialist Party at about the same time, because I found it was not a proper custodian of human liberties. I joined that Party which had the honour of making a somewhat tepid protest against the further loss of liberty of the people of this land. This is the party which for half a century, since James Keir Hardie—whose name was not referred to when we spoke of the Tolpuddle martyrs—raised the banner of Socialism, and preached Socialism and the doctrine of freedom and liberty for mankind till it got into power. It is a significant confirmation of what Lord Acton had well said, that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Their first public demand since coming to power has been to ask this House of Commons to lay chains on the people of this country for five long years.
I am not a young man, but I was eager to believe that, having fought in two wars, I might look forward to the approach of three score years and ten 158 with a degree of liberty. What is the sentence pronounced on me this afternoon? I was born a free citizen, I have lived as a free citizen, and I have, as a soldier, been prompt to fight for this land of liberty. Yet, at the conclusion, I have no hopes that the bonds of serfdom will be lifted from me. Five years is the sentence which, if the consent of this House is obtained—as I anticipate it will be—will be laid upon us. These are sad feelings. Where is Robert Blatchford today? Where is William Morris? Where are those who laid the foundations of this movement which has now sold itself to the most authoritarian government of any government in the history of this country? We can go back to the government of the Kings or to the government of the Peers, but we will not find a government which attempted to impose measures of this character on a free people. This is a sad day for me because I find there have been only two voices raised on the other side, and hon. Members on the Front Bench know well that there is a case for human liberty and freedom, and that that case is being outraged and denied by the proposal to impose these five years of penal servitude on Britain.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
I am delighted to hear my colleague and my old friend the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) holding forth with a passion and sincerity which will survive the inept acquiescence of the Party opposite. They are showing already the indiscipline of totalitarianism in the making. My hon. Friend was an excellent soldier and, like many gallant soldiers, be became bemused about civil affairs and joined the I.L.P. But that was in his youth, and, as with normal men, his brain began to progress, and so he left the I.L.P., and the stagnant paralysis of the Socialistic State. He became a successful man in a world of free society. Now he is an honoured Member of his House. Perhaps he is a relic. Perhaps his career is a reminder that as long as the Party opposite is in power, never can such a career be repeated. If hon. Members opposite find something to resent and to object to in a man starting with very little, and by being a gallant soldier and a good business man making good, then it only con- 159 vinces me that the Party opposite is a Party of despair and malnutrition.
§ Mr. Baxter
I would most certainly have come to the point of my speech if the Party opposite had not exhibited their opposition. Out of courtesy to new hon. Members, I was trying to explain the position. However, I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker.
We were introduced to-day to an extraordinary Bill—extraordinary more in the length of its operation than in its contents—by the Home Secretary, a man who has spent most of his life in the study, and in the absorption and imparting of education. He was a most admirable Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education when the Butler Act was passed. All parties agreed that was a most marvellous achievement and one greatly to be desired if carried through on time. But to-day the Home Secretary has appeared before us as the arbiter on industry and trade of which, I am convinced, he knows practically nothing. It is, of course, difficult because Ministers are appointed for their qualities rather than for their particularised knowledge, and it is expected that they will acquire, in time, an intimacy with the problems of their Departments. Just what the Home Secretary has to do with trade is difficult to see, but what the Home Secretary has to do with restraint is very obvious to us since the days when the Lord President was his predecessor at the Home Office.
I do not want to detain the House, but would put one or two very important points. The period of five years has more than a passing significance because, within that period, there will be another General Election unless, of course, the President of the Board of Trade has his way and there is an indefinite prolongation of the life of Parliament. But supposing the President of the Board of Trade is not the guiding power, and there is an Election within five years, how convenient if this measure is still in force at that time. It is a law of nature that if one does not use a muscle for a long time, the power of that muscle disappears. If, under this Bill, people are taught for five years, as 160 they were taught in every speech by the party opposite in the General Election, that competition is wrong, and that personal achievement is anti-social, if the country, wearied by years of war, is told for a further five years that competition must lead to upward prices instead of, as is so evident, to downward prices, then it is possible that the party opposite may be returned to power, as it was in July of this year, by a public wearied beyond ordinary powers of endurance. I grant the party opposite that where Philip of Spain, where Napoleon, where the Kaiser, and where Hitler failed, they may kill the instinct for liberty in this country, simply because liberty becomes a legend which nobody remembers.
How has this country, this great little island, with no raw materials, and with only fishing and agriculture, which can be developed, supported 40 to 45 million people through the years? It has been done by the inveterate genius and leadership of the individual, by the genius of our bankers [Laughter.] That laughter from the opposite side is the blatant voice of ignorance. There used to be an expression "Safe as the Bank of England." I think that that expression will now pass out of currency. It meant "safe as the Bank of England as long as it was not under Government control." Go into the insurance markets of the world. Offer an insurance policy for Lloyds, which is private enterprise. Offer a British Government guaranteed policy or a Russian Government guaranteed policy in its place. The ordinary shipper of goods will pay 2 per cent. more for Lloyds than for any Government guarantee. So we see this turning against the great destiny of this country. We see opposite us the worship of mediocrity, by which the industrial convoy must follow the pace of the slowest ship, and the workers must set their standards to that of the poorest worker. Opposite is the party which, unless this Opposition rises to great heights, is going to bring achievement, progress and the victory of peace to a level which may indeed bring about what so many of our enemies have tried to bring about—the descent of this country to the status of a second-rate Power.
I would end with this thought to-night. This is a miserable Bill inflicted upon us by war and by a transition period. The five year period is inexcusable because 161 the Government intend to exploit it when the next General Election comes, and they intend to keep control. Above all, it is a confession that under a Labour Government shortages are to be not temporary, but part of the permanent life of this country.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Robertson(Berwick and Haddington)
I did not intend to take part in this Debate, but I was prompted to do so because of the remarks made by the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling). This is the first occasion on which I have had the honour of speaking in this Assembly, and so perhaps hon. Members will bear with me while I deal very briefly with one or two of the points that have been made by the last two speakers on the other side of the House. The hon. Member for South Edinburgh takes upon himself the defence of freedom. What I want to know is: of what type of freedom was he thinking? If it is the type of freedom we had in this country between the two wars, then I shall not defend that kind of freedom. I feel that my hon. Friends on this side of the House will be with me when I say that we are not prepared to defend the kind of freedom which allows the monopolists to exploit the needs of the nation by an economic scarcity, which allows the bankers to draw great tribute from the needs of the nation. Nor do we believe that the kind of freedom that we want to build in this country of ours is that by which the unemployed man has to waste his time at the labour exchanges and under which his house will be invaded by the means test man. That is not the kind of freedom on which the Socialist movement was built.
The Socialist movement was built on the kind of freedom for which we stand to-day—the freedom to give every individual the right to work for the community, to have joy in working for the community and not merely for selfish interest. That is the kind of freedom for which we intend to work in this country. The country has given us a great mandate because the people believe that we are prepared and ready to put into operation a planned economy which will give to our people freedom from want and scarcity. That is precisely the underlying element in the present Bill. If we were to do what at least some of the speakers 162 on the other side have indicated, we would throw off this and that regulation and say to the financiers, the landowners and the industrialists, as the Government said after the last war, "The best way to prosperity is to give enterprise a free hand, and let it go ahead." We all know what happened. We have tragic memories of that. For a short time we had an artificial boom. Then came the inevitable depression, and, as the Home Secretary very truly said, we are not going to allow that to be repeated in this country. One of the reasons the people have returned an overwhelming majority of Socialists to this House of Commons is because they fear that kind of thing. Those of us who are back benchers and the Government intend to see that that mandate which was given to us by the country as a whole will be carried out. We must maintain those controls until such time as we will be able by our national effort to modernise industry and organise that plenty and surfeit for which we are working. We will achieve it. I have not the slightest doubt about that. We are not going to be stampeded into throwing off controls until the time arrives when it is possible to do so.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
It is my pleasant duty to congratulate the last speaker on the manner in which he has successfully surmounted the ordeal—and it is a great ordeal—of making a maiden speech. Whether it is a greater ordeal than addressing you, Mr. Speaker, for the first time from this place, I at this moment am inclined to doubt. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that we have had an interesting and at times a lively Debate. In the course of it no one has sought to dispute that it would be impossible, without plunging this country into chaos and confusion, to celebrate the conclusion of the war by the immediate abolition of all defence Regulations, Rules and Orders, but personally I have no doubt that, although the Home Secretary has stated that the Government have a mandate for a planned economy—which apparently means unlimited controls—the majority of the people in this country would welcome the restoration of their pre-war liberties at the earliest possible moment—liberties sacrificed in the cause of war, which can be revived only by the revocation of these Defence Regulations and which now ap- 163 parently are going to be withheld for at least another five years.
With regard to Clause 1 of this Bill, there has not been very much criticism. The Home Secretary in opening the Debate started off by giving, as I think he said, a proof of his sincerity with regard to the removal of Regulations. Something like 200 have been abolished. Then he went on to indicate that the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act would expire next February, and he said that that, of course, means that we must have this Bill which provides for the adaptation and continuance of Defence Regulations. In case any fall by the wayside we are going to have an Emergency (Transitional Powers) Bill, and under this Bill we can have a multitude of Orders. I begin to wonder whether, in fact, we are going to gain a single thing by the repeal of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act. The proof of that pudding will be in the eating. I desire to make no criticism of Clause 1 because it seems to me to be necessary that some of the Defence Regulations should continue for the purposes stated. I think the hon. Member for East Renfrew (Major Guy Lloyd) thought one of those purposes was slightly vaguely phrased, but in my opinion it would not be right for the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. Eric Fletcher) to assume that because this Clause was in the Coalition Government's Bill and backed by Conservative Members, and because that Bill was not carried into law before the Election, if the Conservative Party had been returned to power, that Clause would not be carried into law now.
When we come to Clause 2 we come to a Clause of an entirely different character. It is the first Clause for which the Government are responsible. No doubt they feel very proud of it. We have been told that it is not a Clause providing for control for control's sake. In his speech the Home Secretary, I think, made one reference to it—he may have made more—when he said there must be some power of differentiation between different traders with regard to prices. I am not quite sure what he meant by that, but when one reads the Clause there is nothing in it concerning the purpose for which these controls are to be exercised. There is not one word about the purpose for which the controls are to be exercised in the ex- 164 planatory memorandum. Indeed, when one looks at Clause 3 (1) (b) one sees the words:…for the additional purpose specified in Sub-section (1) of that Section"—That is, Sub-section (1) of Clause 2. You will there see that the additional purpose is the purpose of controlling. I submit that although the Home Secretary may say that this is not control for control's sake, the actual words of this Clause for which the Government are responsible make it quite clear that that is the only object for which these controls are sought to be imposed. The object appears to be to control, whether or not such Regulations are necessary or expedient for the purposes specified in Clause 1.
Let us consider for one moment what that means. It means to control, whether or not such Regulations are necessaryto secure at fair prices a sufficiency of those essential to the wellbeing of the community or their equitable distribution";to control, whether or not it isto facilitate the readjustment of industry and commerceAll that the Explanatory Memorandum has to say is:Hitherto price control by Defence Regulation has only been possible in connection with the control of production and distribution.Now the war is over it is obvious we are going to have more controls fastened upon us. We are told that new Regulations can only be made under Clause 2 while the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts are in force. We have not been told, although I think it is the case, that any Regulation made under that Clause between now and next February, will last for at least five years, without any opportunity for this House to reconsider the operation of the Regulation during that period.
Not a single word is in this Bill as to the purposes for which these Regulations are wanted. There are ample powers, in my view, under the Price Control Acts to make Orders as to the prices of goods, and charges for services in relation to goods. A mass of Orders has been made under those Acts, and I would ask the Government, "Why do you now want these additional powers?" We have had no clear explanation on that point, and I hope that the Lord President of the Council will explain in detail when he winds up why these exceptional powers are required.
165 In that attractive electioneering document called "Let us face the future" and put out by the Socialist Party, a document which, of course, did much to induce the population to let the party face it—and which has brought the party right up against it—it is said that "they," meaning the Tories,accuse the Labour Party of wishing to impose controls for the sake of control. That is not true, and they know it.All I can say is that, on the face of it, the Government have given conclusive proof in the Bill of the truth of that accusation. Nothing that has been said to-day has altered my opinion in that regard.
What sort of controls are there to be under Clause 2? What sort of differentiation? Look at the orders under the present Acts for price control. Hon. Members will see that they cover a wide variety of subjects. Perhaps the Solicitor-General will have an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon this matter at a later stage, but, as I see it, it is quite possible under the Bill for the Government, if they so desire, to control a small shopkeeper out of existence while preserving the vested interests of the co-operative socities. I am not suggesting that it is the intention of the Government to do such an unfair thing, but I contend that they would have power to do it under this Clause, and I suggest that every small shopkeeper would sleep far happier at night if the Government did not get that power.
Under the Clause the Government can control allcharges made for services of any description.I gather that the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), whose speech I regret I did not hear, approved of the Clause on the ground that it would make some provision for controlling the price of funerals. I dare say that if that control remains in force for five years the Government may be extremely glad that those prices are controlled.
Those are wide words and it seems to me that they are wide enough to give the Government power to control wages by Defence Regulation. Are not wages payments for services? So we here have a Socialist Government, not a Tory Government, seeking to obtain power to interfere with the free negotiation between trade unions and employers. [Laughter.]
166 It is no use laughing about that matter, because, under the words of the Clause, the Government are seeking to take power to do that thing. It is no use the Government saying that they will not do it and that they do not want that power. My point is that they could do it; and if they would not do it, then they are taking wider powers than are needed. It is no use the Government complaining of pressure on parliamentary time if they use that time in seeking to obtain powers which they do not want.
I hope that the Government will agree to some modification of the Clause in Committee. If they would agree that the powers in Clause 2 could only be used for the purposes stated in Clause 1, that would remove a grave defect from the Bill. I do not suggest that some new price control Orders might not be necessary, but they can be made, can they not, under existing Acts? They might be made by Regulation, but why Defence Regulation? We have never had that point explained to us and the only reason I can see for doing it by Defence Regulation and not by Regulation is that, under the Emergency Powers Acts the Government are authorised by Defence Regulation to give authority to take possession of any property or undertaking, to enter upon or search any premises, to require persons to place themselves, their lives and their property at the Government's disposal, and to amend, suspend or modify any Act of Parliament. I can see no reason myself, and perhaps the Lord President of the Council will give one, why we should not have perfectly ordinary Regulations in time of peace and why we should have Defence Regulations which would entitle those powers to be exercised. If we are to have Defence Regulations, why is Clause 2 of the Bill necessary? By Defence Regulation the Government can amend any Acts, including the Price Control Acts. So much for that point.
In my submission no case has been made for the granting of these unlimited powers. I welcome, as I think other speakers have on both sides of the House, the provisions for increased Parliamentary control over Regulations and Orders, but I would point out that this House has no power to amend those Orders. It has to take them or leave them. That power of supervision is not a sufficient substitute for the consideration by this House of 167 proposals on the Floor of this House with the power of Amendment. I regret that, in spite of all that has been said about the Bill and the power it gives for imposing control, not one part of it is concerned with the setting up of any machinery for the regular scrutiny of existing Regulations or for the revocation of those that are no longer necessary. It would seem that once a Regulation is made it is likely to endure for a period of at least five years.
Now I come to a part of the Bill which I regard as of very particular importance. I was surprised not to hear the Home Secretary refer to it at all when he opened the Debate. I refer to Clause 5 (5). There we find a most important provision, innocuously phrased and tucked away, looking very harmless. It says:For the purposes of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945, the expression 'war period' shall include any period after the expiry of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, during which this Act is in force.What does that mean? Under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, the words "war period" mean the period during which the Emergency Powers Acts are in force. That Act as the House will remember gave new powers, which were expressed in the Act which was passed by the Coalition Government at the beginning of this year as temporary powers. There were new powers for the acquisition of land by Ministers, temporary powers for the acquisition by local authorities of land which they had occupied for one purpose or another during the course of the war, new powers to stop up or divert highways and temporary powers for the maintenance and use of Government works on other people's property and on commons.
I remember that in the course of the Debate on that Act we had considerable discussion as to the power of the Government to acquire open spaces and commons, and great safeguards were put in the Act against that happening. But all the powers in that Measure were temporary powers which could only be exercised within two years of the end of the war period, that is to say, within two years of the end of the Emergency Powers Act. What is the effect of this Amendment? All those powers will be 168 exerciseable for at least seven years and all these temporary powers will become almost permanent. What will that mean in practice? It will mean that Leith Hill will languish in its present condition for all that period. It will mean that the whole of the South Downs will remain as they are now and nothing can be done about it. It will mean that anyone who has let his land or house be used for Government purposes may within seven years find that property taken away from him by compulsory acquisition. I looked at Hansard to see whether, when this Coalition Measure was introduced, there was any Socialist Amendment to extend the period during which such property could be acquired. I found that there was nothing of the sort, but there was an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York) to reduce the period of two years after the end of the war period, to one year. That was opposed, and I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health making one of his usual eloquent speeches on that occasion. I would like to remind the House of his words. He said:Let us suppose that my hon. Friends succeed in their intention, with which I sympathise, because the owners of property ought to be able, at the earliest possible moment, to know what their future will be. I believe it is the worst possible situation for individuals, owners of property or no property, to have no practicable future before them knowing that at any moment the Government may step in and do something about which they cannot make the slightest possible conjecture."—[Official Report, 19th April, 1945; Vol 410, c. 528.]I, for once, find myself in complete agreement with the Minister of Health, and it was with great regret that I find that he must have lost some of his persuasiveness in that, now he is a Member of the Government, in the Cabinet, in the first Bill produced by the Government there is a provision for the extension of this period during which the powers can be exercised by five years. I hope that the Lord President will explain the necessity which has apparently arisen between last May and now for extending that period so much. I would have thought it was better to wait and see how things go on under that Act before asking for any extension. I have no idea what the reason is, but I cannot help feeling that when the people of this country realise the effect of this second change in the Bill which was a Coalition Measure, and when they 169 realise that this progressive Government with their Mandate, about which we have heard so much, now think that it will take five more years to do what they thought could be done in two years when they had Conservative colleagues to assist them, then, indeed, the control of funeral prices, about which we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak, may have a useful part to play.
It seemed to me that the Home Secretary's argument in support of this Bill really fell into two categories. There was first the economic argument for the continuance of some Defence Regulations for a short time. Then he seemed to put his case on entirely different grounds, namely, that, quite apart from that, there was the necessity to carry out by Regulations the mandate for this planned economy. I must confess that I was a little reassured to hear him say that he would be engaged in getting the war-distorted economy back into its peace-time shape. It does not seem to me that, if he is engaged on that task, as I hope he will be, he can also be engaged in the construction of this land of dreams, a land which is not going to be a land of reality, this Socialist Utopia about which we hear so much.
In so far as this Bill contains any good, I suggest it is a legacy from the Coalition Government. In so far as it is new, I regard it as thoroughly bad and pernicious. It is a sad and sorry start of this Government's legislation programme. We shall not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill in the hope that the Government will accept Amendments on the Committee stage. They have already indicated that they are going to table some Amendments. We shall do our utmost to see that no unnecessary fetters are put on the necks of the British population during the next five years, or at all.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
This has been a day of congratulations to hon. Members who have addressed the House for the first time, and I would like to join in the congratulations which have been offered to them. I would also congratulate the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), who has just addressed the House from the Front Bench for the first time. Those of us who have had that experience know that it is also a bit of a trial, but I think that we can all say, irrespective of 170 party, that the hon. Gentleman has acquitted himself well and made a valuable and effective contribution to our Debate. If in the course of my observations he does not get quite the gentle treatment that a real maiden speech should get, I do not want him to think that it in any way diminishes the respect and admiration that I have for the competence with which he has just discharged his task. He said that he began to wonder whether the cause of liberty was going to be improved by the repeal of the Emergency Powers Act.
It is true that, broadly speaking, the powers that existed under the Emergency Powers Act in the social and economic field will be continued under this Bill for the purposes that come within Clause 1 (1). But, after all, the hon. Gentleman need not be so depressed. The cause of liberty has already gained by the revocation of many war-time emergency powers. Already, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made clear in his lucid opening speech, hundreds of Defence Regulations have been revoked, some by him and some by me; and I think it is true that actually one was revoked in the cause of liberty by the "caretaker" Government. We between us have repealed hundreds, and the "caretaker" Government, to do them credit—and they are entitled to full credit—have contributed to the cause of liberty by the revocation of at least one Regulation. Moreover, 18B, which was the most serious invasion of civil liberty, has gone. 2D, which was a danger to the liberty of the Press—at any rate the naughty ones of the Press—has gone. The black-out has gone and all the Regulations associated with it, and even double Summer-time has gone. I could quote a lot more. Let not the hon. Gentleman be depressed—because liberty marches on. We have this Bill because liberty marches on. This Bill is in the true cause of liberty.
The hon. Gentleman quoted from a very admirable publication—perhaps it is not for me to say so, since I was, so to speak, its editor-in-chief—called "Let us face the future." It may be that at the next General Election we shall produce another one, and call it Part 2. If you are to organise a government properly you ought not always to be looking backwards, you ought to look forward. I would not expect that to occur to the 171 Conservative Party, but nevertheless it is true. The hon. Gentleman quoted a sentence from this document which says that they, the Conservatives, accuse the Labour Party of wishing to impose controls for the sake of controls. He went on to affirm that that accusation was true. I think that while he was about it he might have quoted three more paragraphs from this pamphlet, and, for the purpose of putting them on record and in order to put that sentence into its proper setting and proportion, I would like to quote those three paragraphs, which state certain principles of public policy. The first one says:But the war in the East is not yet over. There are grand pickings still to be had; a short boom period after the war, when savings, gratuities and post-war credits are there to be spent, can make a profiteer's paradise. But Big Business knows that this will only happen if the people vote into power the party which promises to get rid of the controls and so let the profiteers and racketeers have that freedom for which they are pleading eloquently on every Tory platform and in every Tory newspaper. They accuse the Labour Party of wishing to impose controls for the sake of controls. That is not true, and they know it. What is true is that the anti-controllers and the anti-planners desire to sweep away public controls, simply in order to give the profiteering interests and the privileged rich an entirely free hand to plunder the nation as shamelessly as they did in the 1920's.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
On a point of Order. May I ask whether, in view of the very interesting electioneering speech to which we have just listened from the right hon. Gentleman, it will be in Order for subsequent speakers to discuss charges made in this pamphlet?
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter
Further to the point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Since you were good enough to call me to Order in the course of my speech, may I ask what is the degree of licence allowed to Back Benchers as opposed to Ministers?
§ Mr. Speaker
I thought that I had allowed the hon. Gentleman a great deal of licence and the hon. Member who spoke before him, and I must accordingly give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to reply to the remarks, that were made. In regard to the first point of Order I am afraid that we must stick to the Bill. The Lord President of the Council is entitled to answer points which were made against him, and beyond that I do not think he will go in this Debate.
§ Earl Winterton
Further to my point of Order. Would it be in Order if any of my hon. Friends desired to do so to refer to the points which the right hon. Gentleman has put forward and discuss whether or not there is one single word of truth in them? May I have an answer to that point of Order?
§ Mr. Morrison
This seems to be causing a certain amount of feeling and, I am sorry to say, a certain amount of heart-burning to the Noble Lord and his colleagues. Therefore, out of sheer humanitarian feeling, I will quote only one more paragraph. That paragraph reads as follows:Does freedom for the profiteer mean freedom for the ordinary man and woman, whether they be wage-earners or small business or professional men or housewives?''
§ Mr. Morrison
Why try to get me into trouble with somebody else? The paragraph continues:Just think back over the depressions of the 20 years between the wars, when there were precious few public controls of any kind and the Big Interests had things all their own way. Never was so much injury done to so many by so few. Freedom is not an abstract thing. To be real it must be won, it must be worked for.
§ Mr. Morrison
I had a hand in it, and I thought it was very good. Anyway, it was effective, which is more than can be said for certain other literature circulated at that time. All that I have quoted is related to controls, it is about controls, and therefore it is relevant to this Bill. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken was anxious to know why we have brought Clause 2 in, and it seems that this Clause 2is the proof in the minds of the Front Bench opposite that we do want controls for the sake of controls. Clause 2 is needed because the Goods and Services Price Control Acts do not cover the field adequately, and we want to cover the field adequately. Those Acts only enable maximum prices to be fixed for a class or description of goods, and do not enable prices to be controlled for individual manufacturers or for goods made by them. Clause 2 could not be confined to the purposes set out in Clause 1, because to some extent it will be necessary to 173 control the prices of non-essential goods in some cases. It is a matter of tidying-up and expanding the powers of price control.
It does not, however, follow from the fact that we have expanded powers of price control that those powers will be used in every conceivable case, and that is true of the Bill as a whole. We are taking powers; this enables us to do certain things, but it does not follow that because we take such powers for a period of five years or more that we shall therefore use all the powers during all the five years. Surprising as it may seem to hon. Gentlemen opposite, they can rely upon the Labour Government conducting itself with good sense and wise discretion in that regard. That was realised by a lot of other people recently.
Clause 5, as to which the hon. Gentleman also raised some points, is simply a consequence of the intended duration of requisitioning powers under this Bill. The Requisitioning (Land and Works) Act gives an opportunity to requisitioning authorities to acquire requisitioned land after the properties are given up during a period not exceeding two years, while they negotiate and so on. If the requisitioning powers go on for five years after the Emergency Powers Act expires, the opportunity is postponed until then. Really it is desirable to have these powers in the field of requisitioning because they are related to the general economic powers of the Bill which would be deficient if the powers of requisitioning were not tidied up.
I think that covers the principal points made by the hon. Gentleman who spoke last. I ought to refer to other speakers who have made points in the Debate. The Debate was opened on the Opposition side by the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton)in what, if I may say so, was a curious speech. He really argued that the Bill and all it contained was in and of itself evil, pernicious and objectionable, but he said that they could stand the evil and the pernicious and the objectionable for two years, evil, pernicious and objectionable though it was, but that it was a dreadful thing to impose it on us for five years and possibly more—because I warn you we have power to extend the Bill by affirmative Resolutions by both Houses of Parliament. If the Bill is as bad as the right hon. Gentleman affirmed 174 —and he painted a gloomy picture, though he used some charming sentences, of a good capitalist flavour but nevertheless of very good phrasing, which we all thoroughly enjoyed, as we usuallydo—I cannot follow why it should be tolerable for two years as against five years. [Interruption.] It was contemplated, when the Coalition Government introduced the Bill, that it would operate for a period after the war had finished.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The point I made was that scarcity is bad if it continues for two years, and it is very bad if the Government have to confess that it must continue for five years.
§ Mr. Morrison
With great respect, that is irrelevant to the argument I am putting to the House and on the whole irrelevant to the argument that the right hon. Gentleman used. If this Bill is thoroughly bad in principle, content and nature, as the right hon. Gentleman and his friends have made out, I want to know why the right hon. Gentleman ever allowed his name to be associated with the Bill when it was introduced by the Coalition Government. [Hon. Members: "There was a war on."] It is no good saying, "There was a war on." It is no good saying things that are not very wise and not very rational. When this Bill was brought in, it was contemplated that it might well operate for a substantial period after the end of both the European and the Far Eastern wars. [Hon. Members: "No."] Oh, yes, it was. It was not by any means entirely dependent upon the continuation of the second stage in the war. The Bill was for two years, and it contained provision that, on affirmative Resolutions of both Houses, it could be continued from year to year. There was no definite decision by the Government that the Bill as an Act should not operate if the Far Eastern war came to an end. The truth is that the Conservative Party has got itself into the most complete muddle on the question of controls. It does not know where it is. It did not know where it was in the last Parliament, and it does not know where it is in this Parliament. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite have been tearing the Bill to pieces, attacking the arguments and the economic doctrine behind the Bill, attempting to prove that it is a shocking Measure, destructive of all the virtues of free competition and what not, and the cause of freedom, and 175 then at the end of the day, having painted a dreadful picture of the Bill, they say they intend to assent to the Second Reading of it. I cannot follow their attitude. It was the same with the King's Speech; it was full of the most dreadful doctrine from their point of view, and yet, in the end they assented with complete unanimity to the Address. What those who supported them at the election will think of this performance, after the speeches critical of control by a certain noble Lord known to the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Beverley Baxter) and others who led the anti-control campaign in his newspaper, I really do not know. I tremble at the thought of opening the newspaper to-morrow morning. I cannot follow why, if the Bill is as bad as they say it is, they should think of letting it go through without a Division and merely content themselves with moving an Amendment, as presumably they will do on the Committee stage, to reduce the period of five years to one or two years. I think the right hon. Gentleman's speech was illogical and inconsequential, and that it was not a useful contribution to the Debate. The right hon. Gentleman was willing to strike but not willing to wound. I think that is very sad.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter
There are many of us here who would very much like to divide against the Bill, except for this, that the Bill is like the convalescent period after a severe operation in which you have to do without things, such as drinks and food, in order to restore the constitution. The only thing is that the Lord President of the Council says that the convalescent period shall last for the rest of the natural life of the patient. That is where we disagree.
§ Mr. Morrison
Well, that is where you are. The right hon. Gentleman said that the circumstances were different when the Bill. was first introduced. That is true. The Far Eastern war is over, whereas the war was still proceeding when I, as Home Secretary, introduced the Bill of the Coalition Government. All the arguments about there being a war on have ceased to operate. There is not a war on; not one that is noticeable. Therefore, logically, if the case of the Coalition Government was that there was a war on, that in itself is a conclusive case for the Opposition dividing on the Second Read- 176 ing of this Bill at a time when there is not a war on. The right hon. Gentleman said the scope of the Bill has been increased, and he referred to Clause 2. That is true. The scope has been widened, not only in Clause 2 but in other respects also. The duration has been extended. Yet, notwithstanding all these things and this strong indictment, there is to be no Division against the Second Reading of the Bill. I invite the Opposition to do their duty, stand by their principles and vote against the Bill. My hon. Friends will be delighted to add another Division to the excellent record they started a bit earlier on.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the word "defence" in Defence Regulations. I do not mind what you call them. If some other name will please the Opposition and be not too difficult in drafting, we might consider a concession on the point, but Defence Regulations by any other name will sound as sweet to those who believe in them. The right hon. Gentleman said that the defence should be a defence of the liberties of the subject against incursions of the State; but we want some defence of the liberties of the subject against the incursions of the property owners and profiteers, and we are going to have that defence under this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman painted a picture of long-drawn-out inquiries before a person could get a certificate to obtain raw materials. That might have happened under the former Minister of Production, but it will not happen under the present President of the Board of Trade, whom we all know as a man of action and rapid decision. Things will be better, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman. He said that the cost of administration to the Government and to private trade will be terrific. I venture to suggest that the advantages of the planned economy we are seeking will be worth the amount of money that will have to be spent upon it, and the amount of money will not be excessive. He also said that the Bill was dangerous, cluttering-up and defeatist. I think it was an anti-climax when the right hon. Gentleman, to whom I listened with very great interest and pleasure, finally said that nothing was to happen as far as a division was concerned.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) raised some points about the Rules Publication Act.
177 It is a rather involved matter, as he will know, and I will not go into it to any extent to-night, but I remember that it did arise out of my little adventure with the National Fire Service Regulations. I was hoping that would be forgotten and never mentioned again, but it was too much to hope for. The matter is being examined with a view to seeing what would be the right remedy. I do not think it is pressingly urgent at the moment, but it will not be forgotten. I think I have now covered the chief points that were raised in the Debate.
It is argued that we ought not to have this Bill for five years, and I want to give some reasons why we should have the Bill for the five years period, it being understood that we would not of necessity use the Bill or every feature of the Bill or the Regulations under it for the whole of the five years. Nobody responsible in economic thought, I suggest, thinks that economic controls can be swept away at once. A time limit of between two years and five years is suggested in Parliament to-day and will be in Committee, but the Government, in our opinion, would be failing in their duty to the country if they adopted the expedient of a two years limit as a superficially easy way out of the unpleasant job of saying plainly that we must be prepared for transitional difficulties of an economic character to last for more than a year or two. We do definitely say that, in our judgment, the time the difficulties of the transition will last will be nearer five years than two years, and possibly more than five years. We have had an enormous war with great economic disturbances, there are great difficulties as regards international trade, and it is bound to take time for things to straighten out in the way we would like them to do. If we limited the Bill to two years, it would be tantamount to telling the country that the Government seriously thought that there was a good prospect that by the end of two years we would have got over the scarcities and the other difficulties of the transitional period, completed the urgent priority tasks of reconstruction at home, staved off the danger of post-war inflation, and solved in large measure our export and our exchange problems.
I do not think that any serious student of economic affairs can possibly believe that that is all going to take place within 178 two years. Unhappily, it is going to take materially longer than that. It would be wrong to mislead the country so utterly on the facts. There has been too much glossing over of unpalatable facts in the past, and this Government refuse to follow the bad example set by other Governments. In our view the public can and must be trusted, and we propose to trust them with the facts as we see them, even if they are sometimes unwelcome facts. Moreover, it is wrong to raise false hopes. [Interruption.] It is raising false hopes to suggest that these things are all going to be got over in less than two years' time, and that is what the Opposition wants us to do. It is being said constantly that at the Election we raised false hopes. I do not want to get far into the Election, but I assure the House that as far as I was concerned—and I heard of other hon. Members doing the same—we repeatedly addressed our constituents in precisely the terms that Ministers have been addressing the House and the country; and certainly what I am saying to the House to-night is exactly what I told the electors of East Lewisham, who returned me to Parliament by a 15,000 majority, which was a very pleasurable experience. It is wrong to raise false hopes and to suggest to industry and others affected by controls—it would be a very serious thing to do—that they can make their plans on the basis if not of a certain yet of a possible clean sweep of emergency powers within the short period of two years. It would be wrong for the Government to impede its own planning for the next few years by introducing an element of uncertainty about the duration of the administrative framework on which so much of it must be based.
The right course for the Government, in my opinion, after taking the most expert advice and giving the matter most careful thought, is to make up their minds for how long, on a realistic but not necessarily pessimistic view, the transition from war to peace was expected to last, having regard to all the factors which affect it, some such as the housing problem and the enormous back log of consumption primarily domestic in character, others, such as the balance of payments, by no means wholly under our control. The Government would not be justified in coming to Parliament and saying with careless optimism that they thought that there was a reasonable prospect that 179 within two years consumption goods would be so plentiful that there would be no danger of inflation or that the housing programme or the export trades would not go short of essential raw materials if no controls were maintained. There is in our view reason to expect, on the contrary, that, while things will be much better by then, it will be a longer job than that.
That is our view and therefore we come to the House, asking, I admit, for very wide and considerable powers. I admit that they are wide, that they are considerable and sweeping, but they had better be considerable and, if necessary, sweeping, rather than otherwise, so that we shall not be confined and cramped in our administrative economic work. I assure the House that the Government will seek to utilise these powers with sense and with discrimination for the constructive purpose of helping the country. Let it be remembered that, although we use this word "controls," and although politicians and the Press always debate them, in the sense that they are restrictive and negative, many controls, even though they have a negative form, are really constructive in their purpose. Take, for example, agriculture and the power to direct what kind of crop shall be grown and what the land shall be used for; or take the control of various raw materials. They may well, and very often do, have a constructive and positive economic purpose.
We want these powers for positive purposes and not in order to have the fun of saying to the people that they shall not do this, that or the other, or that if they do they will be guilty of an offence under the Defence Regulations. We do not want to do that, but we must have adequate powers. We are going through a tricky and a difficult economic transition period, and we ask for the powers we need, big and wide powers, I admit, but I can give an assurance on behalf of the Government and the Ministers concerned, that it will be our wish to use these reasonably and as constructively as we can. Then we have strengthened the Parliamentary safeguards. It is true that this was also done by the Coalition Government; but it was done on my advice. We have introduced into this Bill additional Parliamentary safeguards—very considerable additional Parliamentary safeguards. Whereas sub- 180 ordinate orders under regulations under the earlier Act could not be reviewed by Parliament except by special arrangement, all the subordinate orders of a legislative character made under those Regulations will now be capable of being prayed against by either House of Parliament. Therefore, the degree of Parliamentary control is being increased.
We think that this Bill is necessary in the public interest. We believe that it should last for five years. If we do not want it for that period or do not want parts of the Defence Regulations, we will scrap them. They will go. They are not going to last longer than the public interest requires, but if we want them after five years, we shall come to Parliament and produce our Motion to extend the Act for a further 12 months, and, if necessary, for further periods as long as the public interest requires. It is the public interest which is going to be the test, and not any private interests that are trying to rattle this Government. This Government are not going to be rattled. They are going to get on with their work in the public interest, and it is in that spirit of furthering the public interest, coupled with that sweet reasonableness which is always characteristic of us, that I ask this House to give us the Second Reading of this Bill, with or without a Division.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Commitee of the Whole House, for Thursday.—[Mr. Mathers.]