HC Deb 26 November 1947 vol 444 cc2000-11
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

I beg to move, in page 9, to leave out line 43.

This is consequential on the previous Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third lime."

3.48 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

I think we ought to have some statement from the Home Secretary with regard to Defence Regulation 16. Although I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the letter he has written to me upon the point, I think that other hon. Members who are interested in the subject are entitled to know the reasons why this Defence Regulation is retained. It is a regulation which enables the Minister of Fuel and Power to make Orders for the closing up of highways—and highways includes footpaths—for the purpose of opencast coalmining and the erection of electricity generating stations. As I understand the right hon. Gentleman's very clear account, the reason for the retention of this Defence Regulation is primarily to enable a temporary closing to be effected. I have the opportunity of making only one speech on the Report stage, and, therefore, I cannot await what the right hon. Gentleman has to say on this matter and then put my point to him in case he has not dealt with it.

Therefore, I must take this point in advance and say that, as I see it, the closing of a footpath or a highway for the erection of an electricity generating station is not likely to be a temporary closing at all. This Defence Regulation, as amended in its restricted form, will cover the closing of footpaths where affected by an electricity generating station. It may be that at this stage we cannot so limit the regulation that it applies only to temporary closings with a view to reopening in the case of opencast mining. If that be so, I can only ask for the clearest assurance that in any case where there is to be a permanent closing of a footpath, highway or right of way, that shall be done under the powers contained in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be replying in due course, as I have an engagement to fulfil, but I take it that any of the other processes of the ordinary law, by quarter sessions, would be just as satisfactory to the hon. and learned Gentleman as those of the Town and Country Planning Act?

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I was trying to deal with the point very shortly. I meant any processes legally authorised at the present time, other than the procedure under a Defence Regulation; for instance by quarter sessions, where one often has to provide an alternative of a more commodious footpath—I think "commodious" is the right word, although I am never sure what is meant—or alternatively under the Town and Country Planning Act. The House is entitled to have an assurance that when this Bill goes to another place, if possible some change will be effected to make that point absolutely clear, because it is better to have an assurance embodied in an Act of Parliament than merely in the tomes of HANSARD. I feel certain that the Under-Secretary will be prepared to give an assurance on those lines. That is all I desire to say with regard to that Defence Regulation. I had hoped to say it quite shortly in the course of the Report stage, but I was disappointed.

May I now make a few observations on the Bill itself? It is, indeed, a Bill containing miscellaneous provisions. We find a few parts of it satisfactory, namely, those parts concerned with the ploughing grant. I do not wish to comment upon how much more effective that grant would be if the machinery were more readily available, but, so far as the rest of it is concerned, while we welcome the deletion and abolition of a number of Defence-Regulations, we on this side of the House very much deplore the retention by the Minister of Health of the powers of billeting which appear to be grossly excessive for the purpose for which he now says he wants them. What is the case for the retention of those powers? He says he must have them to deal with two classes of the community—young children evacuees in the war, now unfortunately orphaned, numbering 2,500; and civil servants who are dispersed, numbering 1,700. Under Defence Regulation 31B there is provision for dealing with those who have been evacuated under evacuation plans.

When we discussed that matter in Committee the right hon. Gentleman made it quite clear that that regulation could only be used for those people. But this regulation dealing with billeting goes far beyond providing accommodation for those unfortunate children—and, perhaps one may say, for those unfortunate civil servants who still have to live far away from their homes of prewar days. While we on this side of the House would not object to the right hon. Gentleman having powers to secure accommodation for these orphaned children, if he could not secure it by agreement on the proper terms, we must record our protest at the right hon. Gentleman retaining these wide powers of billeting, and we must record our fear that as the direction of labour increases, as apparently it is the Government's policy that it will, these powers will be called into play to secure accommodation, in view of the lack of it, largely owing to the failure of the Minister of Health.

I do not intend to traverse all the contents of this remarkably miscellaneous Bill. We shall be glad when the day comes when we can indeed dispense with all Defence Regulations, and rely upon the law being found in statutes which have first to obtain the approval of this House, and upon Bills which can be amended by hon. Members, instead of upon orders made over the signature of a right hon. Gentleman.

3.56 p.m.

Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)

This Bill, some parts of which may undoubtedly be necessary, suffers from the grave defect that it gives to the Executive much wider powers than are essential for the administrative purposes for which they are required, and also the defect that they are to be continued well into 1950. They are powers which may have been necessary during the war and during an emergency, but which are no longer necessary in this wide application. The proper test for that has been laid down by no other person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Speaking during the war, the Chancellor of the Exchequer applied the really proper test. He said: Exceptional circumstances…may need exceptional regulations, something which may possibly go beyond the ordinary law as it exists in times of peace. What we must bear in mind is that it is far easier to throw away liberty casually than it is to get it back again afterwards, once it has been destroyed. The question we have to consider tonight"— he was speaking in October, 1939— is: What is the minimum of special regulations which will accomplish the legitimate purpose of protecting the country against its enemies? I would stress the word "minimum." This Bill does not deal with the minimum of special regulation, or with protecting the country against its enemies, but is intended to operate in time of peace. These powers, which are considered too wide for time of war, are surely too wide in peacetime. The right hon. and learned Gentleman continued: Anything that goes beyond that"— that is, beyond the minimum necessary— is an unnecessary attack upon the liberty of the subject and ought not to be tolerated by those who should specially be the guardians of the liberties of the people. The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say that the real test was not, what is convenient for the administrator and the bureaucrat, who promises not to misuse the powers that he has, even though they are, admittedly, too wide."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1939; Vol. 352, c. 1889.] These regulations may, undoubtedly, be very convenient for the administrator and the bureaucrat, but that is not at all the test which should be applied here. The complaint to be made against this Bill is—indeed, as the Home Secretary admitted in the Committee stage of the Bill—that it would be better if some of these regulations had been framed to meet the existing situation. His only defence for extending some of them for this period was that their extension would provide an opportunity to reconsider them. That is no argument for the Bill. They could have been reconsidered before this Bill was presented to the House. These powers are too wide and we, as the custodians of the liberty of the people, regard the provisions of this Bill with great jealousy, and feel that we cannot give it a Third Reading in its present form.

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Skinnard (Harrow, East)

I want to raise a small point in connection with Clause 8. Whatever justification there may be for the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) with regard to the powers placed in the hands of administrative bureaucrats in this country, I think we have to look even more carefully at powers which are retained through this Bill for other administrative bureaucrats—I say this in no invidious way—in the Colonies. Clause 8 provides an extension for practically three years of unnamed and unnumbered Defence Regulations in "colonies and other territories". That is not sufficiently specific in the view of those of us who have watched the application of some of these Defence Regulations by colonial governments with some suspicion and, indeed, alarm.

I would beg the Under-Secretary of State to enlighten us as to why many of these regulations are still in force, and are proposed to be kept in force for another three years in our Colonies—whether they relate purely to military installations, or to the control of populations generally as they have done in the past. Exactly what justification there is for retaining the main categories of these regulations in the Colonies? I am also rather puzzled about the reference to "other territories". I should very much welcome elucidation of that point. Where are these territories to which reference is made? What control have we over them in normal circumstances? Does that expression "other territories" refer, for instance, to arrangements with Dominions, or is it a reference to former mandated territories which are now trusteeship territories?

I should very much like to add a note of warning about the retention of Defence Regulations unnecessarily within the Colonial Empire after war conditions have passed, because there is always the temptation to use them for reasons other than those for which they were originally introduced. I am not entirely satisfied with a Clause like this, which does not specify the kind of regulations to be retained, indicate the present purposes for retaining them, or give any clear justification of them.

4.3 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

When the Home Secretary moved the Second Reading of this Bill with his characteristic reasonableness of manner, he gave the impression to hon. Members on both sides of the House that this Bill represented an attempt to discard certain wartime powers which were no longer required; and, indeed, his whole manner of approach, the care with which he referred to the different categories of regulations in the different parts of the First Schedule, reinforced that impression. The opportunities which the House has since had of examining in greater detail the proposals of this Bill, however, have done very little to confirm that impression. It is perfectly true that this Bill gets rid of a certain number of Defence Regulations, and we have learned in this Parliament to be thankful for even small legislative mercies; and so far as regulations are eliminated there is something to be said for that part of the Bill which eliminates them.

But consideration of the regulations involved, and, in particular, the contributions to our Debates of certain Ministers other than the Home Secretary, have done everything to reinforce the feeling that the really important Defence Regulations from the point of the liberty of the subject are not only being retained but are being prolonged until 10th December, 1950. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) has referred to the continuation of the regulation which gives the Minister of Health the full power of billeting. That is one of the serious intrusions upon the liberty of the subject, and it is one for which there has been no attempt at any stage of this Bill to offer the slightest serious justification. The other matter of enormous seriousness is the fact that no attempt has been made to get rid of the regulation under which labour is directed.

The impression is, undoubtedly, that while certain regulations of some importance are being dispensed with, the great ones which really affect the liberties of individuals in this country are being retained, and retained for a substantial period. Not only are they retained for the periods provided in the Schedules to the Bill, but the Government have retained power in Clause 7 to extend them even further. As I understand Clause 7, it will be possible to extend them quite indefinitely by yearly resolutions. That Clause is a blot on the Bill, because it means that we shall not have finished with these Regulations necessarily, even when the dates specified in the First Schedule are reached. If this Bill is to be regarded as a means of getting rid of wartime regulations it is a very poor, meagre and inadequate Bill; whereas if it is to be regarded as part of the Government's attempt to use them, as the hon. Member for East Harrow (Mr. Skinnard) said, for totally different purposes than those for which they were intended—as war emergency powers—then this Bill goes a long way to do that.

Therefore, we are back at the fundamental issue whether, as the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) said, serious matters are to be discussed by the processes of legislation, with all the safeguards which the experience of our predecessors has evolved in that process, or whether great matters affecting the liberties and the wellbeing of this country are to be dealt with simply by the use of emergency powers—simply, in fact, by the untrammelled decisions of Ministers of the Crown. Therefore, this is a poor Bill. It is an inadequate Bill. It does a little good and a great deal of harm. It will certainly leave in the minds of the people of this country the impression that this Government desire to retain, and to retain for a long period, the stranglehold of non-legislative controls over the lives and livelihood of our people.

4.8 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Younger)

Let me first deal with the only two specific points with which I have been asked to deal at this stage. First, there is the question of Regulation 16, of stopping up highways and rights of way for the purposes of opencast coal workings or for the building of generating stations. As the hon. and learned Member for Daven-try (Mr. Manningham-Buller) said, my right hon. Friend undertook on the Committee stage to see whether it might be possible to make use of the powers contained in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. The first general thing I would say about that Act is that it was clearly intended for a different purpose. Section 49, which deals with this, states: …in order to enable development to be carried out in accordance with planning permission granted under Part III of this Act or to be carried out by a government department.… It may be that, as a matter of law, one could bring the operation of opencast coal working carried out by the Ministry of Fuel and Power within that definition, but I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that that was not the type of thing which was envisaged in the Act.

That is only a general comment, and it is not the point I wish to emphasise. I wish to emphasise that this regulation is required for urgent purposes. If the hon. and learned Member will look at the Sixth Schedule of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, which governs the procedure under which highways may be stopped up, he will find that it is certainly not a procedure which can be used where this has to be done rapidly. Notice has to be given, and the plan has to be available for inspection for three months. If during that time, and it might be on the last day, objections are taken, there has to be a public inquiry. I think he will agree that this delay can not be reasonably envisaged for purposes of this kind.

The hon. and learned Gentleman also raised the question of the permanent stopping up of highways in connection with generating stations. My right hon. Friend is perfectly prepared to look at this again, and to put down some Amendment in another place if necessary. I am bound to say, however, that I scarcely think it will be necessary to do that. My right hon. Friend indicated, if not in Committee, at any rate in the letter he wrote, that where it was intended that a temporary stopping up should become permanent, there could be no objection to using the normal procedure, either under this Act, or the old procedure of Quarter Sessions, and he is prepared to see that that will always be done.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

In the case of a temporary closing, I understand that Regulation 16 will be used both in the case of opencast coal mining, and in the case of electricity generating stations, but when it is a question of a permanent closing, the Under-Secretary limits it to electricity generating stations. When there is a question of the permanent closing of a highway or footpath, whether for opencast coal mining or in connection with an electricity generating station, can we have an assurance that the normal procedure under the law—going to Quarter Sessions—or under the Town and Country Planning Acts of 1944 or 1947 will be adopted?

Mr. Younger

In deciding whether the stopping up is to be done by this regulation, the criterion will have to be urgency, whether it is for opencast coal mining or for the building of a generating station. There would be nothing to prevent a temporary order being followed up, if it were intended to make it permanent, by the procedure under the Town and Country Planning Acts. The reason why I limited permanency to generating stations, is because there can be no question of requiring a permanent stopping up for the purposes of opencast coal working, which is essentially a temporary operation. I cannot give an undertaking, but it is certainly my understanding that permanency can only be required in connection with a generating station. I hope that I have made the position clear.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for East Harrow (Mr. Skinnard), I would make it clear that Clause 8 does not enable anyone in the Colonies, or other territories, by which is meant principally Trust Territories to which these regulations have certainly applied, to make any new regulations. It is simply in their case, as with us, a question of continuing for certain purposes regulations already in force. He will realise that the purposes for which these regulations were introduced in so many different parts of the world are far too diverse for me to explain here. Briefly, they were for war purposes, and they have to be continued during the transitional stage for the same sort of reasons which we have put forward and have been accepted in our own case.

Mr. Skinnard

Does my hon. Friend mean that, in general, these regulations mainly cover questions of Imperial defence?

Mr. Younger

I should not be prepared to limit myself to that, any more than I could say that the Defence Regulations in this country were originally produced or required to be continued purely for defence reasons. Matters of economic organisation are also involved, which makes it very difficult to bring these regulations to a sudden end. I can only say that a survey is being undertaken at the moment, and it is hoped that very many of these regulations will be dispensed with shortly. I would draw attention to the fact that until the very last moment in this Debate, it has not been alleged that these powers have been misused; nor has our attention been drawn to any abuses of the Defence Regulations in any Colonial territory.

I need not say much about Regulation 22, which concerns billeting. Those who were present during the Committee Stage will realise that this is the Regulation which aroused the strongest feelings among hon. Members opposite. I would only repeat that there is no intention to use this Regulation in connection with direction of labour, cither in connection with imported labour from abroad or in connection with British labour. That assurance was given on Second Reading, repeated by the Minister during the Committee Stage, and is being repeated again by me now. Hon. Members who spoke on the subject recognised that there were some purposes, limited, no doubt, in number and category, for which some kind of billeting powers were necessary. It was suggested that the Regulation was far too large a hammer with which to hit a very small nail. It is very difficult to devise any formula to cover these small, miscellaneous and necessary occasions for the use of billeting powers without making the powers fairly wide. I hope that the assurance I have given in connection with direction of labour will, to some extent, comfort hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Has the Under-Secretary considered introducing some limiting form of words, to be put either in the Bill or by way of Amendment to the Defence Regulation, showing that these very wide powers shall only be used for the purposes he has specified? Has he even considered that?

Mr. Younger

It has been considered. All I can say is that there are certain occasions, as in the case of some disaster, such as we had last winter, due to serious flooding or something of that kind, where, in the present conditions of overcrowding, it might be necessary to use some powers, of billeting. The Minister of Health, to whose speech in Committee so much objection was taken, showed very clearly that even in the very difficult circumstances of last winter, when he might have been tempted to use these powers, he did not, in fact, do so. These powers will not be used, unless it is absolutely necessary. It would be unreasonable to ask the Government to go further than the undertaking I have given, and to ask for some provision to be put in the Bill which would entirely exclude the possibility of these powers being used in such a case as I have mentioned.

I would say one word about the general allegations made against this Bill by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who enjoyed himself this afternoon, as he always does on matters of this kind. He cannot possibly believe what he asked us to believe, namely, that the people of this country will regard this as a serious infringement of their liberty, or anything of that kind. When I spoke on the Second Reading, I suggested that this was a strictly practical Measure of a rather pedestrian kind, which did not raise any great issues of constitutional principle. It is a miscellaneous Bill and even, I am prepared to admit, a somewhat messy one. I think we would be optimistic if we thought that we could pass from a situation in which we had several new codes of Defence Regulations covering, I think, hundreds of different provisions, to the normal situation—where every issue was dealt with by a Bill, going through all the legislative processes—without having a transitional period when we would have to have omnibus Bills of this kind.

The whole of Part I of the First Schedule will be gone by the end of this year; the whole of Part II will be gone by the end of next year, gone as Defence Regulations although, in some cases, they will be incorporated in new legislation. The Second Schedule will have become the permanent law of the land, and I think that controversy in this matter relates only to Part III of the First Schedule, which includes regulations to be continued until 1950. It is a little too facile to suggest, as the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin-Morris) suggested, that these regulations, taken together, imply the giving of new and oppressive powers to the Executive. I believe he raised that point on an earlier stage of the Bill, when I replied then, as I do now, that there are few regulations which could be included in any such category. It was significant that the hon. and learned Member did not go beyond generalities on this occasion. He did not specify what were the oppressive powers to which he referred. I appreciate that that accusation could be laid—although, I think, wrongly—against Regulation 22, which has been fully discussed, but it could not be applied to the mass of other regulations, and I ask Members not to exaggerate in that respect.

We have had a full Debate twice in peace time, and although it is true that the regulations we are now continuing were devised for war, it is also true that they were fully considered just over a year ago when, in many cases, they were amended. Every Member concerned with these Debates was thinking of the necessity for the use of these regulations in peace time. It was to adapt them to peacetime conditions that they were amended. We have had a very full discussion this time, and, with respect, it is nonsense to suggest that in this matter we have tried in any way to short circuit the normal Parliamentary processes.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.