§ The Chairman
I propose to accept the manuscript Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), in page 3, to leave out lines 12 to 15.
§ Mr. S. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I beg to move in page 3, to leave out lines 12 to 15.
I am very much obliged to you, Major Milner, and the Committee for allowing me to move this Amendment practically without notice and at a very late stage. I do so in order to call attention to a situation of which I think neither the Committee nor the country is fully seized. I do not think any one appreciates how absolute and uncontrolled the powers of the Home Secretary are under the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919. There is no parallel to it so far as I know in any country in the world outside the totalitarian and police States. It means absolute power—I will not say over life and death, but it is only just short of that—over liberty and movement without any appeal, inquiry or third party judgment of any kind or any communication to the person concerned of what is alleged against him. They do not do these things in any other democratic country.
In the United States all these powers are exercised by the appropriate Minister subject to an open trial. The person concerned is given a copy of what charges are made and he is entitled to go before the tribunal and be represented. He is entitled to cross-examine the witnesses, to call evidence himself, and only if the decision of third party judicial authority, obtained in that way and in the full light of publicity, is against him, can he be detained or imprisoned or deported. Here all is done in secret. I know there is a technical reply, that, of course, the Minister is responsible for the exercise of these powers as for the exercise of any other powers to Parliament, and in that way it will be contended that there is a constitutional control over his actions. That is quite illusory. There is no publication of any of the cases or any of the decisions or reasons.
The House is not aware of what the Home Secretary does. It has no opportunity of knowing, and, therefore, no 1144 opportunity of criticising. It is quite idle to say that because there is in the background the ultimate responsibility of the Minister to the House of Commons there is any actual or valid check upon his action in individual cases. There is none at all. It is an absolute arbitrary, dictatorial power exercised in secret and upon evidence which is never communicated either to the public or to the persons concerned.
How do these powers arise and where does my right hon. Friend get them from? I want to say a word in a moment or two by way of illustration of the evil of this thing. First, where does my right hon. Friend get these powers in a democratic country like ours? He gets them under the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919. I have already apologised to the Committee for not coming properly prepared, but my recollection, though it may be mistaken is that that Act was intended for the most part to repeal a great part of the Aliens Act, 1914. I am not quite sure about that, but I think it was. What it did was to retain Section I of the Aliens Act of 1914. It did so expressly in order to deal with an exceptional position for a temporary period at the end of the first World War, and it has been continued by the House under this procedure of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act for one year at a time every year for nearly 30 years. That is not the kind of legislation by which people's liberty should be infringed.
If this House wishes to give the Home Secretary permanent powers of this character, then it should do so by a separate Act which sets out what his powers are and in what circumstances they should be exercised, submitted to the House and examined Clause by Clause in Committee so that the House can decide whether or not it wishes the Home Secretary to exercise unlimited authority and powers in this way. The worst possible way of giving exceptional powers of this kind on a permanent basis is to pretend to do it on a temporary basis and then automatically slip it through unheard, unknown, unseen, and unapproved year by year in the Committee Stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. It is in that way that other liberties could be filched too.
1145 I am not suggesting for one single moment that that is what this Government wish to do. They are the most unlikely of all Governments we have ever had to act in such a way and abuse any powers of this kind. But for that very reason I suggest, too, that this Government above all other Governments should examine this procedure and should not avail themselves of powers obtained in this way. Admittedly, it may be necessary to vest exceptional powers of this kind in Ministers for temporary periods in times of exceptional difficulty. I suppose it was for that reason that in 1919 the House of Commons accepted them, but I am sure it was never intended by the House of Commons of that day that this should, by way of temporary legislation, become a permanent part of the constitutional law of this country.
This is not, I suppose, the time to pick out individual cases and discuss them on their merits. If I mention any—certainly not by name or individual references—it is not for the purpose of deciding on the merits of each particular case, but for the purpose of considering the kind of atmosphere which these powers produce. I remember one case, in particular, in which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs was very kind indeed. He looked at the circumstances of the case himself and in the end he did what I thought the justice of the case demanded, but in that case the officials of the Home Office had represented to him that a lady had come into this country by false pretences.
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
On a point of Order. I think it has been ruled from the Chair on previous occasions on discussion of the Schedules of this Bill that detailed administration by Ministers cannot be criticised, but the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), if I understand him aright, is going even further and is drawing a distinction between what the Minister has done in a particular case and the advice tendered to him by his permanent officials. Surely that cannot be right?
§ The Chairman
As the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) has said. we are now dealing with legislation and not with administration.
§ Mr. Silverman
I thought I myself said so. I am not in the least criticising 1146 anybody in relation to the matter I have in mind. I said that. I have already said that I think justice was ultimately done. I do not criticise the officials concerned, either, because I have no reason to suppose, and I do not suppose, that there was any conflict of opinion between the officials in the case I have mentioned and the Minister. I am sure all concurred in the result, and the result was not unreasonable. I quoted this particular example, not by way of criticising anybody at all but in order to illustrate the kind of way in which secret powers of this kind must be exercised and the harm they do. If I may continue for one more sentence on the point, I think the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) will see what I mean and will appreciate that I am not criticising either the Minister, or the officials, or the administrative action taken.
It was said in this case that a lady had obtained admission into this country by false pretences and when I asked what exactly that meant I was told it meant this: that the lady was expecting the birth of a child and, because she had not told that to the immigration officer when she landed, that was regarded as getting into the country by false pretences. All I am saying in that connection is this: if we have a procedure whereby when an alien applies for a visa and is refused, reason is given so that he can answer the charge upon which it was refused, that kind of nonsense would be impossible.
§ The Chairman
One of the difficulties which arises in accepting a manuscript Amendment in this case from the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne is that I have not before me the text of the Aliens Act. I gather that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has not the text, either. We are, therefore, in some difficulty, but it would appear to me that he is really dealing with the administration of the Act and not with the Act itself or with the desirability or otherwise of deleting this from the Schedule.
§ Mr. Silverman
I must be guided by you, Major Milner, and I certainly do not want to do anything which you think is wrong, but what I am objecting to is that absolute powers are given to a Minister. The reason I am objecting is that I think absolute powers of that kind can never be exercised in such a way as to produce justice as it is produced by an 1147 open inquiry before a tribunal, or by some other way short of arbitrary power by the Minister. It is a little difficult to see how I can illustrate my point unless I can show how this kind of dictatorial power impedes justice and even prevents justice from being done.
I concede at once that it would be quite wrong to criticise the administration. I am sure the administration is carried out with full integrity under the Act and full intelligence, and with a good deal of sympathy in many cases. It is not the Minister's administration of his powers that I am concerned to attack at the moment. It is the existence of any such powers in a State of our kind. The reason why we like our justice to be done in public is that we believe that public justice prevents anomalies whereas secret justice encourages anomalies. All I am endeavouring to do is to suggest the kind of anomaly which follows, not from the particular way in which this Act has been administered, but from the existence of this Act and the powers under this Clause.
If I may illustrate by one other example, without dealing with names at all, I would recall a case recently in which a man, an alien, had been here and had been working. He was here for many years with the permission of the Home Office; he was working for many years under a permit issued by the Minister of Labour. He voluntarily decided one day that he would go back to the country from which he came and see what conditions were like and what remained for him there. When he went back he found that the country in question was merely the graveyard of all of his friends, family and relations. He was alone in the world there, without means, without livelihood, without relatives and without friends. Consequently, he sought to return to the people with whom he had been living here and to the work which he had been doing here with the approval of all the authorities. He was refused on the grounds that once he had returned to his own country he was just like anyone else and could not be allowed into this country.
That may have been a normal decision, but I am suggesting that it is a decision which no tribunal dealing with cases in 1148 public could ever have arrived at or in which this Committee would think justice had been done. I say that this does not arise out of any malevolence on the part of officials or Ministers, but out of the very nature of the Act under which these powers are conferred on the Minister. It is wholly wrong. Let us by all means give the Minister proper powers to control these things, but let them be exercised subject to full publicity, in the light of full publicity, and in accordance with the canons of justice which we apply to all other cases. Until we do make some change of the kind I recommend in the Amendment which you, Major Milner, have been kind enough to accept —and with which I do not propose to detain the Committee longer—I say that this will remain a grave and tyrannical blot upon the fair name of the administration of justice in this democratic country.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Younger)
This is not by any means the first time that objection has been taken to the continuance of this particular provision. My hon. Friend has put forward a perfectly sound and reasonable argument of principle, namely, if I understood it rightly, that the control of aliens—and I gather he does not deny that there has to be a control—should be exercised by the Secretary of State acting always in public, always giving his reasons, and subject to the proceedings of some kind of judicial or semi-judicial tribunal; in other words, that, generally speaking, the discretion of the Secretary of State should be taken from him or should be exercised only in the light of proceedings of the tribunal. That is a perfectly intelligible principle, and one with which, I should imagine, many of us feel sympathy. However, at the same time, I think experience has shown, even in wartime, when it was a very much easier thing, in a sense, to devise suitable rules—for people were prepared to accept much more stringent rules then than in peacetime—that it is extremely difficult to get any system of control by tribunals which is satisfactory.
I would put it to the Committee that the real test of whether we should alter the basis of the system of our alien control now is the test of looking to see how it has, in fact, worked, ever since it was introduced. I admit that when the 1149 controls of the first World War were introduced by the Act of 1914, and were continued by the Act of 1919, it was undoubtedly the case that the House intended that continuation to be a temporary one; and that it has been, in fact, an annual one, subject to review every year. Nevertheless, it is not disputed that the necessity for having a control has continued. It is, perhaps, even greater now than in the past.
Then there was a great wave of persons wishing to come to this country. There have been successive waves of different kinds at different times. As we all know, there is very great pressure in this country at the present time. Therefore, in that sense, the conditions have not altered. It was put by my hon. Friend that this was a highly arbitrary system, that there was no protection for liberty. He said there was no parallel to this system in any country except totalitarian countries, and so on. I really do not think that the experience of the last 25 years bears that out. I think it is remarkable, in view of the fact that this does come up for review at least once every year on this annual Bill, and can be brought up on the Home Office Estimates, how little evidence there has ever been of improper use of this admittedly wide power.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Would my hon. Friend explain to the Committee how evidence of improper use could ever be available under this system?
§ Mr. Younger
I can only say that I have been personally connected with this only a bare year, and that it is my experience that there is no lack of persons to champion anybody who feels he is wronged in the operation of the Aliens Order. I do not think it can fairly be said that there is any kind of Star Chamber procedure which prevents Members of this House from knowing the principles upon which the administration of this Order is carried out.
§ Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)
How is it possible for any Member of this House to champion cases, as my hon. Friend suggests, if we do not know about them? The 1919 amending Act gives the Minister the power to arrest, to detain, to prevent interview, and to prevent anybody's having any contact at all with the 1150 person detained. How can one possibly get to know about such a case?
§ Mr. Younger
Deport, yes; but I do not know where my hon. Friend gets all the rest of what he has just said. I am not aware of any such powers. It is true that there is a power of detention and of deportation, but I think, except in wartime, when it is impossible sometimes to deport a person, that the detention is of an extremely limited duration. I do not think there is any foundation for my hon. Friend's allegations.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham)
Would my hon. Friend allow me? We are discussing this somewhat in the dark. We are discussing this somewhat unexpectedly, and there is no Memorandum, except the Financial Memorandum, to the Bill. However, would my hon. Friend tell the Committee just what powers this Clause does give?
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Younger
We are somewhat at a disadvantage in not knowing that this was to be raised in this specific way. I am afraid that I have only a note of the actual list of powers given under the Act of 1914. The original powers appear in Section 1 of the Act of 1914. They were continued by Section 1 of the Act of 1919, which I have here; but they were not actually repeated, only continued by reference. The provisions in the 1914 Act covered control of the landing and embarkation of aliens, their occupation and employment, provisions as to their registration, powers as to controlling their residence, their movements, and their deportation. I think that is an exhaustive list, but I have not the actual text of the 1914 Act with me.
As actually operated, those powers are operated through the Aliens Order of 1920, and I think the provisions of that Order bear out the scope of the powers as I have told them to the House—restrictions on landing and embarkation; inspection and detention—always the limited form of detention to which I have referred; returns of passengers; several provisions as to registration, the production of documents of identity; certain provisions regarding the possession of certain 1151 articles; deportation; and one or two general powers to arrest without warrant. I do not think I should at this stage attempt to go into the whole of the Aliens Order, which is a matter of administration, but I think it will be found that what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Western Renfrew a moment ago was too sweeping. The powers of arrest and detention are only for detention for the purpose of enforcing a deportation order.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am sure my hon. Friend wants to be quite frank and candid about this. Which of the powers which my hon. Friend the Member for Western Renfrew (Mr. Scollan) alleged the Secretary of States has, does the Under-Secretary of State say he has not got? He read out what he said was an exhaustive list. Except for the power of life and death I cannot think of anything missing from it. Has he power to deport anybody without reason? When he decides to deport anybody, has he power to arrest him at once if he does not deport him at once? What is the extent of the limitation of detention? It would appear that there is power to detain and to deport anybody unreasonably, without reasonable cause, and that nobody can stop it.
§ Mr. Younger
I said just now that I agree that there are powers of deportation. My hon. Friend was right about that, but as to the suggestion that a man could be detained, and anybody prevented from contacting him in detention, I said I know of no justification for that statement, either in the Act or in the Aliens Order.
§ Mr. Younger
I think I have made it quite plain. Obviously, if there is a power of deportation, and a decision is taken to deport, it must be open to the Secretary of State to hold a man for the purpose of putting him in a ship. That is the purpose for which the man can be detained. I think that the best evidence for the interpretation that has always been put upon this power lies in the fact that during the war, when it was impossible because of the Nazi oc- 1152 cupation of Europe to deport persons whom it was desirable to deport, a special article had to be added to the Aliens Order to permit the detention of aliens under the Aliens Order for an indefinite period. That article was maintained only to meet the special circumstances of the war, and has now been cancelled. It was used only in the war. I think that that, at any rate, is some support for what I am saying.
My hon. Friend said he thought the general purpose of the 1919 Act was to abolish many of the restrictions which had existed in 1914, but its title, I am bound to say, states that it is to continue and extend the provisions of the Aliens Restriction Act. So far as the timing of the continuation is concerned, the interpretation is not limited to any special set of circumstances. The Act of 1919 removed from the earlier Act the condition that these powers should only be exercised when a state of war exists, in imminent national danger or in great emergencies. It removed this condition and said that they could be exercised at any time. It did not relate the continuance of these powers to the particular circumstances of the year 1919.
I do not want to go into the question of administration, but I am sure that the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), who has held the same office as I now hold, will bear me out when I say that the administration of the powers under this Act is an extremely anxious business. No two cases are alike and it is exceedingly difficult to lay down general rules which will not give rise in individual cases to hardship. One is constantly searching one's conscience whether, by taking a particular decision, one would be giving rise to an anomaly which would cause difficulty in the future. Very great trouble is taken at the Home Office by myself—as it was, I am sure, by my predecessors—and by the permanent staff in coming to a decision.
It would be difficult, I think, to devise any more explicit system which would operate more favourably for the aliens concerned. I would point out that the advantages of having decisions of this kind taken by the system of public examination before a tribunal do not lie always with the person whose case is being considered. It must be open to 1153 the Secretary of State to remove from this country persons of bad character, and to exclude, if not to remove, persons suffering from certain kinds of infectious disease who cannot be made the subject of a specific criminal charge. In all these cases, the whole of the circumstances can be brought to light, and very often evidence is produced which could not sustain a criminal charge, but which gives ample ground for executive decision for removing the person.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
What is being claimed is surely a simple and reasonable thing. If we are to take action against a man on which the whole course of his future life may depend, it is unfair to do so without telling him why it is being done, what there is against him and on what evidence the charges are being made, and to give him an opportunity of rebutting them. If it is said that the hearing should not be in public the courts have power to hear cases in secret, or a special tribunal could be set up. It is surely wrong that the person should not be told on what grounds his liberty is taken away and his whole future sacrificed.
§ Mr. Younger
I think that the hon. Member is trying to equate proceedings that take place with regard to deportation or exclusion with a criminal trial. I think that he is overlooking the fact that there must be many cases where there is not a precise charge, as there would be in a criminal trial, backed by the sort of evidence which would be brought to sustain a criminal charge in a court of law, but where there is, nevertheless, ample ground for removing the alien. We all know that the effects in a limited class of cases may be very serious, but in the great majority of cases where exclusion or deportation is operated, it is not against persons long associated with this country who have built up their lives here. In 99 cases out of 100, it is not the sort of case where the whole life and reputation of the alien is at stake. I believe that it would be very hard indeed to devise any rules for a tribunal which could be operated in the manner which my hon. Friend suggests, and which would be satisfactory for the welfare of this country and, at the same time, be operated in a reasonable way for the reputation of the person concerned.
1154 The way in which this has been done ever since 1919 is one possible way, and experience has shown that it has not been abused. The Act comes up for review every year at least once, and could come up at least twice, if the Opposition so chose to bring it up. I think that the complaints made against it show that it has been well operated, and that it is a very elastic system, meeting many types of circumstances, first after the first world war, then during the immediate pre-war period and now at the present when there is an entirely different situation on the continent and elsewhere. I would ask the Committee to allow us to continue these provisions for another year.
§ Mr. Scollan rose——
§ The Chairman
I did not anticipate that we were going to have a long Debate. If hon. Members desire to continue the debate I ought to make it clear that we are discussing the continuance or otherwise of the powers set out in Section 1 (1) of the 1919 Act. It is not permissible to discuss alternatives. The simple question is whether or not these powers should be continued year by year under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act.
§ Mr. Scollan
I listened very carefully to what the Under-Secretary had to say, and it is obvious that he has failed to realise that in asking for a continuance of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, he had to give the Committee some very genuine and logical reason why it was necessary to continue it. He has not given any evidence that it will be necessary. He has simply told us how the Home Office justify the administration of it in the past in certain circumstances. He has not dealt with the principle that underlies the whole of the Amendment, which was based on certain conditions in this country, under which it was possible for people to take subversive action which rendered it necessary for someone to have particular powers to deal with that immediately. Obviously, the powers were vested in the Home Secretary. He might have told the House today if we are now in a situation in which we require a Minister of this country to have the sole power to arrest, to detain and to deport, without consulting anyone. In certain circumstances, 1155 British subjects might be involved in a matter due to the fact that they have some connection with the victim of this sort of legislation in peace-time.
Therefore, I consider that this matter should be referred back, and the Home Secretary should bring before the House some logical reason why it is necessary to continue these powers in 1948 and 1949. If it is then still considered necessary, the matter should be brought forward and discussed definitely and not be hidden in something of this nature which deals with a whole omnibus list of laws which are expiring and which we want to have continued. Owing to the very serious nature of the power given to the Home Secretary, and the danger not only to the aliens but to British subjects associated with them in this country, I think that something should be done.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
The speech of the Under-Secretary raised a question in my mind which I should be grateful if he would answer. There are various reasons why these laws are repeated annually in this Act. The reason I have always understood why the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, is continued by this Act is that it was one of the Acts of a semi-suspensory nature, and an Act which provided the State with powers which it was considered desirable that the State should have in case of need, but it was not an Act which was considered necessary to put upon the permanent Statute Book because there was not any permanent need for these powers, and the powers were not expected to be exercised with frequency. The hon. Gentleman, in his speech, used an expression which indicated that the provisions under the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act were being used with very great frequency. He referred to the constant searching of his conscience and in other ways gave me that impression. The question which I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would answer is approximately how many cases have been dealt with under this Act in the past year.
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)
Would the hon. Gentleman tell me why he considers that this Act should be continued at the present time, particularly in view of the fact that a different line is now being taken in connection with naturali- 1156 sation, in which an opportunity is given to any person who is refused naturalisation or about to be refused to have the matter brought before an appeal committee? His case is considered and decided by the Committee which is set up under that Act. Such procedure seems to me to be the right lines along which questions relating to aliens should be dealt with.
The difficulty in regard to this Act is not the fact that powers are vested in some authority in this country to supervise aliens. The trouble is that the Act does not permit an aggrieved person to have his case tried by some means or another whereby he may present an answer to what may appear to be a proper case against him, but which in fact is an entirely wrong case. In such circumstances trouble of a serious nature might very easily arise, and innocent persons may be subjected, and I fear in many cases must have been subjected, to regulations and instructions which, had the facts been properly investigated——
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member is now dealing with the question of administration. I hope that hon. Members, having regard to what I have said, will confine themselves to the question of the continuance or otherwise of the powers concerned without going into the administration of those powers.
§ Mr. Janner
I was giving that example by way of illustrating that the Act implies that there is no right vested in anybody to have his case brought before any tribunal. Therefore, with the greatest respect, I think I am in Order in suggesting that that is a bad thing, and that it does not really enable an individual to justify any actions or any course of conduct concerning which he may be attacked, before any body which can judicially consider his particular claim.
In addition to that, the Act as it stands gives wide powers to an immigration officer. A person who for many years has conducted himself in this country in a perfectly proper manner can, on returning to this country, be arbitrarily prevented by an immigration officer from landing—I do not know if that has happened in any case—or, as in many cases which have taken place, be permitted to land 1157 only for a temporary period. He may have been living in the country for many years, but he is permitted to land for say three months. Then considerable complication arises with the Home Office in order to release him from that particular restriction. In view of the arbitrary nature of the restrictions, and the powers given to the Home Secretary—including the power to deport without an inquiry being held; without any chance of the individual having any right to request reasons; I doubt whether on every occasion the Home Secretary is prepared to give the reasons even to a Member of Parliament if an inquiry is made—which allow a decision to be arrived at without full inquiry, I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider the point which has been raised, and will allow this Act to be deleted.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
It would be quite irresponsible to suggest that in the present state of the world the Home Secretary should be denied drastic powers to deal with aliens, but I do not think that point of view ends the discussion on this Amendment. There was one point made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), to which the Under-Secretary did not reply, and which certainly carries some weight with me. That is, whether the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill is the proper vehicle for the continuance of these powers. It would be absurdly optimistic to suggest that the Home Secretary will be able to discard powers, not necessarily exactly these powers but of this nature, for many years to come, in view of the state of the world. I wonder whether it would not be more satisfactory to have the matter dealt with by permanent Statute. That would have the advantage, firstly, that this House would know what it was doing and would not merely be participating in a pretence that the matter was being dealt with on a temporary basis, when everybody knows that it will have to be dealt with on a permanent basis.
Secondly, a permanent statute would give an opportunity for the analysis of the exact powers required and their methods of administration, an analysis which you, Major Milner, have rightly ruled out of Order on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. It would enable us to deal with the whole matter, and to clarify 1158 what powers are needed, limit them to that, and have them explicitly set out in a permanent statute. I quite appreciate that that cannot be done at once, but I for one, if the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne presses his Amendment, will find myself faced with the disagreeable necessity of supporting the Government——
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
As I believe the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) has found on occasions, it is disagreeable to support this Government. In fact, I believe that he too has found it a disagreeable thing to do, and I congratulate him upon it. On this issue, it is quite clear that the Home Secretary must have the powers. Therefore, if the hon. Member tries to deprive him of them, I shall do my best to see that he does not succeed. I hope that in the interval between now and next year the Home Office will consider whether it will not be more satisfactory to bring forward an up-to-date statute of as a permanent nature as any statute is, so that we shall not require to have this point raised year after year, and so that we may have the position brought up-to-date and put on a satisfactory legal basis. I do not think that this temporary sham annual statute is the proper way of dealing with the question.
§ Mr. Hale
The first point I wish to make was that this Act was first passed on 5th August, 1914, and could not have been passed on any other day. It is important that the House should have in mind that it was passed immediately after the declaration of war, when it was obviously necessary to give the Executive wide powers which they would not have been given in peace-time. When we come to the transition period after the war, when there was difficulty about the peace treaty, it was extended for 12 months. The Act of 1919 says that the powers which were specifically given only for war-time and a state of grave national emergency, could be extended for 12 months after the end of 1919, which was the period when we attempted to re-approach the tranquillity which never rapidly came.
1159 Under the powers given by Order in Council it is possible to do almost anything with an alien. He can be prohibited from landing and from embarking. He can be deported; he can be required to reside in a certain place or he can be stopped from residing in a certain place or required to reside in the United Kingdom. He can be required to register his changes of abode, when travelling or otherwise. Officers can be appointed to carry this into effect, and impose penalties on him and on any person who aids or abets him. His employment can be directed and powers with respect to arrest, detention, search of premises and otherwise, as may be specified, are conferred under the Order, and so on. This Section of the Act gives tremendous powers to the Executive.
§ Mr. Hale
Yes, but we have also to protect humanity. We have to protect the elementary principle of the dignity of the human being. We have to respect the historic tradition of this country, and the right of political asylum which is part of its great tradition. We have to have regard to the fact that if a man did not have the privilege of being born in the United Kingdom—he may have been born on the high seas—he is, nevertheless, entitled to the same elementary rights that it is our desire to accord, as far as possible, to citizens of all countries.
I agree that there must be some reasonable limitation on the wholesale rights of immigration, that attention must be paid to the balance of employment, the needs of trade and the balance of population, but there is another very important point. It is all very well for the Under-Secretary who, as usual, was so able and courteous, to say that no great harm has been done. What is important is that the Statute Book of Westminster is the model Statute Book for the Commonwealth of Nations and, in many respects, the model Statute Book for the colonial territories. It is no use our saying we believe that the powers being exercised in the Colonies are fundamentally wrong if the same powers exist in the Mother country and are embodied on the Statute Book of Westminster. I urge my hon. Friend to see that this matter has the direct consideration of his Department 1160 and of the Home Secretary and to give an undertaking that it will be considered in the light of what has been said today.
§ Mr. C. Williams
It is possible that I am the only Member here who can be considered to be partly responsible for the 1919 Act, as I was in the Parliament of that year. It is seldom that I agree with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), but I do so today. It should be the first duty of Parliament and each of its Members to look after the interests and freedom of the private individual. Nothing is more important or vital to our work. The trouble with this Bill is that from year to year there is only one real opportunity to discuss the administrative effect of its operations, and that is on the Home Office Vote. We cannot properly discuss its administration today. That is why I object, in principle, to the Act being continued in this manner. When the Act was extended in 1919 few people imagined that it would continue for another 20 or 25, or even 30 years. The necessity for it then was the after-war period, but for year after year since then we have kept the Act in being because Governments have never been able to make up their minds precisely how they wish to deal with an alien coming into this country.
There has been great feeling on this matter, sometimes cutting across party lines, and I have to ask myself what position I should take up in the event of a Division. I dislike the Act from the point of view of the individual's freedom, but I realise that the Government of the day must be given power to deal with aliens coming into this country, and also aliens who have been here for a very long time. In the case of those who have been here for a long time the problem is much more difficult for the Government to decide. There have been times during the last 30 years when a flood of aliens might be a bad thing—for instance, bad for trade here. I am, therefore, compelled to vote for the continuation of the Act, but I think we ought to get away from the present anomalous position.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), and no doubt we shall have some guidance from my right hon. Friend 1161 the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), who has great experience of these matters, and who, no doubt, wishes to speak. It would be wise in peace-time to adopt a systematic way of dealing with these questions, and not to leave them to be dealt with by an emergency Measure of this kind. It is better that Parliament should bring in a Bill to be put through all its various stages rather than that we should adhere to the present procedure. It might, however, be difficult to deal with the subject in the usual way, because circumstances change so very quickly. That has been the real excuse of Governments in the past for not dealing with the matter. But, in spite of that, I think it would be advisable if, in his reply on behalf of the Government, the Minister give a promise that the matter will be looked into to see if some permanent legislation more in keeping with the ideals of freedom could be introduced.
§ Mr. Younger
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) for his useful and helpful intervention. I can assure him that I will bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend the views expressed by the Committee, but I certainly could not give any undertaking that my right hon. Friend will, on consideration, think it would be useful to introduce a permanent Measure. I believe that there is a good deal of unreality in the alleged advantages of having a permanent Measure for this particular purpose.
I will refer, first, to the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan), that these were powers taken for security purposes in the first world war, and that no case can be made out for saying that they are needed now. I did not go into detail, in my first intervention, about the necessity for retaining them because I thought that was obvious, and because they are not limited to security. We all know that, since 1919, there have been vast numbers of people, particularly on the Continent of Europe, homeless and anxious to come to this country. No Government could have kept in being a completely open-door policy at any time since 1919. Even though the reasons have been different, and the types of people wishing to come to this country have been different throughout that period, the problem has always been there. If it were not for 1162 powers of this kind, it would not be merely a question of keeping out a few subversive people; it would be impossible to control immigration at all. The order made under this Act concerning immigration, the taking up of employment in this country, and so on, are necessary for control. Therefore, I do not think it necessary to amplify that point very much.
The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) asked how many cases of this kind were dealt with in the course of a year. I have not the figures, but if he is referring to the number of times that the powers of this Act are invoked, I should point out that, of course, they are invoked every time an immigration officer considers the case of a person coming into this country, and every time a visa is applied for by a person wishing to come here, either as a visitor or permanently. If an order were not made under this Act, there would be no control. When I spoke of searching my conscience, I was talking of the scores of cases each week from Members of Parliament alone which involve the powers under this Act. I am afraid I cannot give the hon. Member the number of deportation orders made in the course of a year. The deportation procedure is frequently used in respect of persons who arrive at ports in this country with no proper documentation, stowaways, and so on. There, again, it is only by virtue of the Aliens Order that it is possible to send such people back.
With regard to the question of a permanent statute, I think it is clear that, if we had one, we should have a full Debate in Parliament on the occasion of its introduction, and, thereafter, no annual opportunity of reviewing it as under the present procedure. Could the necessary powers be put in such a statute? If they were, they, again, would not be subject to continuous review. I think that any Government which introduced such a statute would leave the powers to be put into an order under the statute, and that, therefore, there would be no different position from that under the existing Aliens Order. If the actual powers were to be set out in the Act, then I have no doubt that any Government would insist on making those powers very wide and very general, for the reason given by the hon. Member for Torquay, that 1163 the circumstances in which those powers have to be used have varied enormously from one year to another, and from one decade to another. If they were put into the statute, alterable only by the introduction of another statute, then I have no doubt they would have to be at least as wide as the Aliens Order.
I think the iniquities of the powers set out under the present Aliens Order have been greatly exaggerated. If hon. Members studied that order carefully and considered which powers at present in it they would wish to oppose, were it proposed to introduce them into some future permanent statute, I believe they would find that they would have to reproduce practically all those powers. The only thing that would turn out to be an issue would be the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) as to whether the decision of the Secretary of State should be subject to some sort of procedure by tribunal. I believe this is essentially an executive decision which has to be taken. It is not in the nature of a criminal trial, and I think it would be found inappropriate, on full Debate, to adopt any kind of procedure by tribunal.
In conclusion, I should like to mention one small piece of evidence which has occurred to me in support of my contention that the insecurity of aliens under the present procedure is nothing like what hon. Members have suggested. In the course of my duties, I see a great number of applications for naturalisation, and I find that many of them are from people who have been in this country for 10, 15 or 20 years, and who have never before, even though eligible to apply for naturalisation, done so because they have been perfectly content and secure in carrying on their business over the years. Some of them have not even a national passport, and are Stateless persons. I think that anybody who watches the administration of this policy will be convinced that aliens in this country do not, on the whole, feel themselves subject to any of the indignities which have been referred to, or feel insecure, and that the procedure we have adopted works relatively satisfactorily.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I thank the Chair for having permitted me to move this Amendment without notice, and I do 1164 not think it would be right to ask the Committee to take a decision upon it in this way. However, before doing what I propose to do, I should like to say two things. No one supposes that, in the world as it is today, we can go back to 1914 in this or most other matters. No one supposes that we ought not to have an immigration policy, or that the Executive ought not to have powers to control the movements, admission and deportation of aliens. If I may say so with great respect to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, we all want to protect society, but we think society is better protected by good laws than by bad, and that it is better protected by freedom than by the arbitrary administration of matters which affect people's lives very deeply.
What we are saying is that no Parliament has ever said, at any time, that the powers which the Minister has under this Act ought to be given to him at all except in time of war and the aftermath of war. It is not enough to say that we need them during war. Of course we do. It is not enough to say that we need them during the aftermath of war, as in 1919 or in 1945. Once a Government have powers, they part with them with the utmost reluctance. These powers, which nobody ever intended that they should have in times of peace, were taken year after year in time of peace, from 1919 to 1939.
It is no good my hon. Friend talking about the dangers of permanent legislation. When do these powers become permanent? The Government have had them for 35 years. What we are saying is that these powers ought not to be exercised on no ascertainable principle; that their administration ought to be subject to review, and that they ought to be administered in accordance with the elementary principles of justice which, in this country at any rate, forbids playing about with people's lives on grounds that are not communicated to them, and on charges against which they cannot defend themselves.
Therefore I do not do anything today, but I give notice that next year, unless something is done in the meantime by the Home Office by way of setting up some inquiry or introducing permanent legislation—or indicating an intention to do so 1165 —I shall give much better notice than I have given today and invite the Committee to give a decision on the matter. I do not propose to do so today. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I beg to move, in page 3, line 22, column 3, after "one," to insert:except so much of that section as defines a 'built-up area' by reference to a system of street lighting furnished by means of lamps not more than two hundred yards apart.This Amendment will not arouse such deep passions or attack such fundamental principles as that which we have just been discussing; nevertheless, it is of considerable importance. Its object is to vary the provisions of Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934. In that Section there is a definition of a built-up area for the purpose of securing that motor traffic shall proceed in a built-up area at not more than 30 miles per hour. The part of the definition which my Amendment seeks to cancel is in Subsection (1, a), which reads:A built-up area shall be deemed to exist where a system of street lighting furnished by means of lamps placed not more than 200 yards apart is provided thereon.That is not the only definition of built-up area in that Act but it is the part which I seek to remove.
I hope that object is simple and clear, and that it will be acceptable to the Minister, if only for the reason that it facilitates sound planning. At the moment the position is that if for any reason lamps are provided along a road at intervals of not more than 200 yards, a 30-mile speed limit comes automatically into operation by virtue of that definition. That happens every now and again, even at the present time. A parish council may, by leave of its county council, decide to improve the amenities of a village by the installation of street lighting. If the lamps it erects are not more than 200 yards from each other the speed limit is imposed in that area. Such a case occurred quite recently on the main trunk road from London to Brighton. A parish council took that kind of action. It was not the highway authority, nor was the county council the highway authority. The Minister himself was the highway authority, because the matter concerned a 1166 trunk road. Without consultation with the Minister or reference to him at all, the definition which I have read automatically brought into operation that speed limit, and more than eight months were required to get rid of it.
I shall be glad if the Committee would appreciate that important point. Once a speed limit has been automatically imposed, steps have to be taken which cannot, of necessity, be completed with great speed, in order to get rid of it. An inquiry has to be made. The authority which erected the street lamps has to be consulted. In point of fact, this important case on the London-Brighton main road required eight months before a derestriction order was made by the Minister. I am not pleading with the Committee for the abolition of the 30-mile speed limit but asking that this automatic restriction should not be imposed fortuitously merely because of the action of somebody who is not necessarily the highway authority.
I agree that in 1934 some way had to be devised in which a speed limit could be introduced all over the country simultaneously. The standard of a 200-yard lighting system was very good, but there is no need for that standard now. It has worked successfully, but the introduction of a speed limit by virtue of that definition is now out of date. In the near future the Minister will doubtless talk to the House about his motorways Bill. It is quite possible that there will be sections of the new roads contemplated in the Bill in which, at first experimentally and then permanently, lighting will be carried over the road. If that happens, the definition in Section 1 of the Act of 1934 will automatically restrict the speed to 30 miles an hour upon that motorway, unless the Act is amended in the way which I am now proposing.
I appreciate that the Minister may move forthwith to derestrict again, but what a burdensome, cumbersome and unnecessary procedure that will be. If he will accept my Amendment he will still be left with the power contained in the remainder of the Section to make a restriction order wherever necessary. The Amendment will result solely in the removal of the automatic restriction, which I submit is now no longer necessary or desirable and is a considerable handicap in the planning, operation and 1167 development of the motorways and highways of this country.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. James Callaghan)
I appreciate that the hon. Member has a helpful purpose in mind in moving his Amendment. The definition of built-up area has been fully considered in the past. When the Road Traffic Act of 1934 was going through this House there was considerable Debate in the Committee about what should be the proper definition of built-up area in order to arrive at a standard for the 30-mile-an-hour speed limit. There were various suggestions put forward. The right hon. and gallant Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank), who is here with us this morning as he was then, suggested that these should not be called built-up areas but lit-up areas. That did not seem to commend itself to the Committee, although I cannot see why, for it seems to me to be an excellent definition, if I may say so.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am sorry that he was not able to carry his right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) with him on that occasion. Finally, the decision was reached that the best way of determining a built-up area for this purpose should be an area in which street lamps were situated not more than 200 yards apart. There were a lot of gloomy forecasts made that the system would prove to be unworkable. Indeed, it is interesting to read the account of the Debate which took place in Committee and to see how these forecasts have been falsified by events. In point of fact, I think it is true to say that it has worked admirably. Nowadays the motorist knows that if he is in an area where there are street lamps, he is in an area where the 30 miles an hour limit is operating. Broadly speaking that is the case, and he knows where he stands.
Therefore, the first point I put to the Committee in relation to this Amendment, which would have the object of taking away that protection, is that it would make it much more difficult for the motorist to know where he stood, if, indeed, he had not the lamp posts to rely 1168 on to tell him that he was within the 30mile-an-hour speed limit area. For that reason alone I should be sorry to see disappear this well-tried system, which has stood the test of time. I quite understand that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) would say that we could rely on Subsection 1 (b), which says that the Minister will be entitled to give a direction that a road may be deemed to be in a built-up area on certain conditions. I ask him to consider what the effect of that would be. If his Amendment were carried this morning, on 31st December next the 30-milean-hour speed limit would collapse in all areas where the Minister has not given a direction.
Certainly the Minister has given a number of directions. During the last 14 years he has given 890 directions. Approximately 1,126 miles of roads that are lit have been freed from the speed limit on the ground that they are not really built-up areas and, contrariwise, 1,733 miles of unlit roads have been made subject to the speed limit. That is, as hon. Members will appreciate, mostly in villages which have not a system of street lighting, and similar places where clearly there should be a speed limit imposed and we have been pressed by the local authority to do so. Apart from that sort of case, the effect of carrying this Amendment would be to destroy the 30-mile-anhour speed limit in all those areas in which the Minister had not made a direction.
Apart from the convenience of the motorist knowing exactly where he stands when he sees a lamp post on the side of the street, we then come to the administrative question as to how the Minister is to impose on some 45,000 miles of streets, at the moment covered by the speed limit, this requirement of observing it in future. I am told that it is legally doubtful whether the Minister could impose this by a general direction. I am not a lawyer and I hesitate to give an authoritative opinion upon it, but that is the first advice I got. When I saw the Amendment I looked into that matter to find out whether it would be possible to do it that way. I am told, and I rest on this for the moment as the best advice I have, that it would mean going through every street in which there is a speed limit at the moment if we wanted to keep 1169 it on—and that is his purpose as much as it is mine—and making an order in respect of every street within those limits.
I am sure the hon. Member would be the last to want to see an increase in the number of forms to be filled, an increase in the number of clerks who would have to sit in local authority offices making out these schedules, an increase in the number of officers in the Ministry of Transport who would have to consider all those applications and give directions in each case, and publish in the newspapers what they propose to do and take objections to it in order to achieve precisely the same result as we have at present. I think there is something to be said for what he has in mind, but the administrative difficulties of doing it are too great and, on the merits of the case, the removal of the protection that the motorist has at the moment of knowing where he is in relation to the 30-mile-an-hour speed limit when he is in a lit-up area, make me hope that the hon. Member will withdraw his Amendment. If not, I must ask the Committee to reject it.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I appreciate what the Minister has said and I think in intention there is practically no difference between his outlook and mine. It is evident that if the advice tendered to him is correct, my Amendment goes further than I desired or intended it should. It was not my desire that we should abolish the existing system. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said in that connection. However, I believe, although he did not specifically say it, that he is also with me in the view that the time has passed when new street lighting systems should automatically necessitate the introduction of the 30-mile-an-hour speed limit. I agree that where there are lamp posts—which is not invariably the case nowadays by any means—they are a useful guide to the motorist. On the other hand, it is by no means necessary, and the introduction of the speed limit can perfectly well be brought about by Ministerial order based upon the general principle that in those other circumstances which arise, such as a main road, where it is a lit-up area, in the Minister's expression, it would be a good thing to have an order.
If the Committee will allow me, upon the understanding that the Minister and 1170 I are in general sympathy upon the matter—and perhaps he may look at it again before another year has gone by—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Callaghan
On the whole, I think the system of defining this by reference to street lighting is administratively the best and most convenient, especially with the reserve powers that the Minister has of considering whether street lighting is the best way of doing it, and de-restricting a road if necessary or putting a restriction on if that is necessary. Therefore, I am not in agreement with the hon. Gentleman as far as that point is concerned.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir J. Mellor
I beg to move, in page 3, line 44, col. 3, after "Act," to insert "except Section seven."
The Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, which is the Act in question, contains in Section 7 these words, which are the words with which I am concerned:but save as aforesaid nothing in this Act shall affect any provisions of the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Acts, 1920 to 1939.The effect of those words would be to leave the rents of certain premises controlled by the Rent Acts, and it will be my purpose to argue that the rents of those premises should no longer be frozen under the Rent Acts but should come under review by the Tribunals under the Furnished Houses Act. Premises involved are flats and divided houses in London where the rateable value is £100 or less and elsewhere where the rateable value is £75 or less and where the landlord provides certain services under the contract of tenancy. Under the Rent Act the rent is frozen in all those cases. I submit that it would be more just if it were possible for either landlords or tenants to go to the tribunals set up under the Furnished Houses Act with a view, in appropriate cases, to obtaining adjustment of rent.
I should disclose that I have some private interest in this matter. I raised it a little over a year ago, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will recollect. At that time the proposal in the Bill was to extend the 1171 currency of the Furnished Houses Act for one year. It is now proposed to extend it for two years. On this occasion I think I have even more cogent reasons for raising this matter than I had on the last occasion. One more year and two more Sessions have passed since the Ridley Committee reported in April, 1945. The Ridley Committee stated:Many flats comprised in blocks are let at rents which include a charge not only for the accommodation but for services provided and maintained by the landlord such as porterage, cleaning, hot water, central heating, lifts and refrigerators.They then made this recommendation:We agree that, if the provisions of these services in accordance with the standard agreed between the landlord and the tenant involves the landlord in a greater expenditure than he had to incur before the war, he should be entitled to an increase in the rent. The amount of the increase must obviously depend on the services provided in each individual case. This is a question eminently suitable, in our view, for decision by the Rent Tribunals, who will be able to decide on the appropriate increase on the evidence produced to them. Since the expense of providing services may have been continuing for some time at a higher level, Tribunals should arrange to give applications of this kind a high priority.It is clear that the Committee regarded this as involving an urgent claim on the time of the Government and Parliament. That Report was presented to Parliament and was signed by the present Minister of Works and by Mr. George Buchanan, a former Minister of Pensions. Although they made certain reservations, they made none in regard to the paragraph which I have read. My proposal would, of course, involve transferring jurisdiction in these cases in regard to rent from the county courts to the tribunals. I should make it clear that security of tenure would be in no way affected and for possession the landlord would still have to go to the county court.
I am naturally reluctant to suggest a transfer of the question of rent from a superior court to an inferior court, from what is a professional court to a lay court. But, having regard to the fact that the county court judge has no discretion whatever under the Rent Acts to permit an increase in rent because of an increase of the cost of services, I would prefer on balance that it should be possible for the landlord or the tenant to go to the tribunal with a view to ob- 1172 taining an adjustment of rent, for which tribunals have discretion under the Furnished Houses Act where it has been proved that there has been a change of circumstances or an increase in the cost of services.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) and I are anxious to secure by this Amendment not that rents should be de-controlled—they would remain controlled—but that they should no longer be frozen. The difficulty has arisen in this way. The Rent Act of 1920 excepted from its scope cases where the landlord was required by his agreement to provide either attendance or furniture and the Rent Act of 1923 proceeded to narrow that exception by limiting it to cases where the value of the attendance or of the furniture represented a substantial proportion of the whole rent.
Why I feel I have a more cogent reason for presenting this Amendment now than I had a year ago, is that since October, 1947, when a similar Bill was before the Committee, the House of Lords have given a very important decision on this matter. In the case of Property Holding Company versus Mischeff on 19th December, 1947, the decision was that "attendance" must be of a personal character and that services which were supplied by the landlord but which were enjoyed by the tenant in common with all the other tenants do not constitute "attendance."
Until the House of Lords reached that conclusion there had been a great deal of doubt about the matter. Many borderline cases were disputed in the courts. I say that in coming to that decision the House of Lords changed the situation in the sense of giving a degree of finality which was previously lacking. Not only on that, but also an another point, because the House of Lords decided in the same case how a substantial proportion of "the whole rent" was to be interpreted. They decided that where the landlord pays the rates, the rates cannot be deducted from the contractual rent in arriving at "the whole rent." Obviously that made it much more difficult for attendance or furniture to qualify as representing a substantial proportion. There again, the decision of the House of Lords has changed the situation in finally crystallising those definitions.
1173 In the previous Debate, the Parliamentary Secretary stated:We are agreed that this, in common with other problems, must be reconsidered at some point. The view of the Government is that we have not the time at present to bring proposals before the House.A year has elapsed since then, and still the Government take the view that they are not able to bring proposals before the House. On the same day, the Parliamentary Secretary told the House:I do not believe it would be right to take a special and relatively small section of property and treat it differently from the broad generality of property under the Rent Restrictions Acts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 1266-7.]But that is what the Government have announced that they intend to do in the King's Speech, because it was there stated:You will also be asked to pass a measure to provide for reviewing the rents of shared rooms, and of houses and flats let for the first time since the war.The Government are proceeding to deal with this matter in a small way. If they are going to do that, why should they not go this trifle further and deal with these cases of dwellings where landlords provide the services which were the subject of such a very strong recommendation by the Ridley Committee? Therefore, I make no apologies for presenting this Amendment again this year, and I believe that, for the several reasons I have given, I have a very much stronger case than I had a year ago. The Government have changed their policy to the extent that they are starting to tackle the rent problem in a very small way, but are doing nothing whatever to remedy the injustices to which the Ridley Committee called attention. What we all wish to see is a general revision of the Rent Acts, but the Government, although they think it necessary, say they have no time. If that view has to be accepted at the present time, we might at least, if we have got to make do, try to mend what we can.
§ The Chairman
I assume that the hon. Member is moving his Amendment to except Section 7, and, although I do not know what view the Government may take, his remarks are clearly applicable to the point he raised earlier—that, if Section 7 is not excepted, he would wish those remarks to be considered by the Government in relation to the transfer of 1174 this particular item, the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act to Part I instead of being in Part II. I do not desire, if it can be avoided, a second Debate on the Schedule, because the arguments are precisely the same. May I take it that the hon. Member has covered that point?
§ Sir J. Mellor
May I say, in order to avoid further discussion on the Schedule, that, if the Government were prepared to accept this Amendment, we should be most happy that the Act should continue in operation for another two years. If they do not accept it, I feel that we ought to have another look at the Furnished Houses Act next year.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)
I do not understand the hon. Member's reference to two years. Perhaps he would explain it?
§ Sir J. Mellor
Unless I have completely misread the Bill, it places the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act in Part II and, if the hon. Gentleman will look——
§ Mr. Edwards
The difference is not between one and two years; the actual difference is between 31st December, 1949, and 31st March, 1950. It is a difference of three months, not double the time.
§ Sir J. Mellor
I apologise for that oversight, but I feel that it should come into Part I so that we can have a look at it when, next year, the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill is again before the House.
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
I should like to support the Amendment, for which my hon. Friend has set out all the arguments. I should imagine that there must be a very wide measure of agreement that the Rent Restriction Acts are fast becoming a sort of madman's paradise, so that it will soon be more appropriate to refer them, not to the Courts of Justice, but to the Commissioners in Lunacy. They started off with the idea of protecting the tenants of small houses against exorbitant rents, but they have now gone far beyond that and we find these Acts being applied to the protection of tenants of luxury flats in the West End of London.
In fact, we have the anomalous position that these Acts no longer affect the class of people for whom they were in- 1175 tended—the poorer-paid section of the population—because, if that section of the population is living in council houses, they do not get protection under these Acts. So we have this ridiculous and anomalous situation. I am sorry that the Minister of Health is not here, because I fear that he might get himself commemorated in quarters which he would not otherwise visit and find himself immortalised by a statue to himself in Grosvenor Square, while, at the same time, people are burning his effigy on the L.C.C. estate at Dagenham.
The rents of flats and services should be adjusted to cover the increased cost of those services, and the court which decides the matter should be a tribunal set up under the Act. So far as I know, no one quarrels with that, or suggests that it is unjust or unfair. Certainly, the Ridley Committee not only considered that the present situation was unsatisfactory, but felt that something ought to be done about it. The whole position is now quite fantastic. It means that, if hot water is supplied to a tenant through pipes, it is not regarded as a service, but if a man brings it in a tin mug it is. A landlord can provide well laid-out gardens and a staff of gardeners, and this is not regarded as a service, but, if a commissionaire hands a tenant a bunch of flowers every time he goes into a block of flats, that is regarded as a service. The whole thing has become fatuous and fantastic. Why do not the Government do something about it?
We had an argument last year on the Government's proposal to deal with this matter piecemeal. They are not now prepared to deal with it wholemeal, either. They have also said they have no time, but most of these two arguments have been shot sky high by the King's Speech, because two piecemeal Acts are to be brought in to deal with tenancies and the Government are finding the time in which to do it. I suggest that the time has come when something should be done about it. I do not want to bring up individual cases of hardship, because every hon. Member knows of them. Unless we take steps to protect our existing property, we may find that the property is deteriorating faster at the one end than it can be replaced at the other. For these reasons, I hope the 1176 Government will be prepared to give us a sympathetic reply.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) has referred to the fact that he raised this matter about this time last year and he has been good enough to quote some of the words I used on that occasion. That means that my words on this occasion can be very few indeed. The arguments he advanced are substantially those he advanced last year, and such extra points as he put to the Committee do not alter the view I must take on this proposal. After all, the effect of what the hon. Member is proposing would, as I understand it, mean that for the very limited field of service flats and houses controlled rents should be increased or for that matter reduced, and for a limited field of furnished houses rents controlled under the Rent Act could be reduced. I am quite certain that Parliament, when it passed the Act of 1946, clearly intended that only those rents which were not already subject to control should be dealt with, and that the Act should not, therefore, apply to controlled rents.
The acceptance of this Amendment would alter the character of the Act. I have said before and I say again that at some time when pressure of Parliamentary business permits, doubtless there will be a review of the whole field. In the meantime the provision which allows only a limited section of those rents to be varied could I think hardly be justified. It would cause considerable criticism from all other sections, and I cannot see that this particular case can be advanced for special treatment on any grounds of special hardship.
It has been pointed out that the Gracious Speech contained reference to certain points on which there is to be legislation. Everyone, I think, understood that the reference in the King's Speech did not even remotely suggest the kind of comprehensive revision which would really deal with the possibility of increasing rents over the whole field. Therefore, I am sorry that nothing that the hon. Member or his hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) has stated today alters the view which I must take on behalf of the Government, that we cannot agree to a change which would be for the benefit of a relatively limited class in circumstances where we are unable 1177 to do anything other than permit increases.
§ Mr. Janner
I would ask for your Ruling, Mr. Bowles, on a point raised a few minutes ago when we were on this Amendment as to whether you would permit a discussion on the Question that this be the Schedule to the Bill, because that raises further points on which I should like to make some comment. I understood from the Chairman before you took over that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) could discuss both point—sfirst the question of Section 7, with which he was specifically dealing, and then on the Schedule as a whole he could refer to other matters which would enable that provision to be dealt with on the basis of a shorter period than is intended by Part II of the Schedule. If it is for the convenience of the Committee that these matters should be dealt with at the same time, I should like to say a word or two now, but if not I will reserve what I have to say till we discuss the Motion that this be the Schedule to the Bill.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Bowles)
Perhaps the hon. Member would start his remarks and we can see how he goes along. If he gets out of Order I shall stop him.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Janner
In that event I want to say that I am not in accord with the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield in his desire in any sense to limit the powers already existing, whether this be exercisable by the courts or by tribunals. He himself is asking for a piecemeal dealing with Acts which require very extensive modifications and Amendments, and which, in my view, in order to be fully effective or understood, will have to form part and parcel of a consolidating Measure. I do not think that the public as a whole—landlords or tenants but particularly tenants—have the foggiest idea of their powers under these Acts, including those parts to which the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield has referred. Certainly we should have a very much larger number of cases coming before the tribunals and the courts under these Acts if it were understood what powers the Acts gave the people and what they are entitled to demand.
It appears to me that any attempt at the present moment to interfere with the 1178 Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act other than an attempt to extend its possibilities in the direction of giving much longer notice and security of tenure to the tenant ought not to be contemplated. It appears that this Act has served an extremely useful purpose, and if I were to put to the Committee some of the figures to the end of September that relate to its operation, hon. Members would agree that an Amendment in the direction that is suggested now ought not to be accepted. We should not interfere with the course of the proceedings of the tribunals except in the interest of security of tenure to which I have referred.
In my constituency, for example, the court for Leicester was set up on 16th September, 1946, and the cases referred to the tribunal by the lesse—ethat is the tenant—were 245; by the lessor only eight; and by the local authority, I am sorry to say, none at all. I think that is somewhat unfortunate, because I believe local authorities ought to exercise their rights of bringing cases before these tribunals much more frequently. Of those cases under the heading of "cases incompetent, withdrawn or not entertained" there were 83. I want to say a word about that in a moment because it is in this regard that we ought to deal with a Measure that is in the Schedule at present. The number of cases decided were 162, cases which were dismissed were only four; cases in which the rent was reduced were 139; cases in which the rent was approved were only 18; and the cases in which the rent was increased was only one. I would like to point out that the mean percentage of reduction was 27. That is, 27 per cent. of the rentals that were being charged, on the average, in the cases brought before the Leicester tribunals were reduced. It was thus shown that the necessity for the operation of this Act was very great and very urgent.
In Paddington, which is in the constituency in which I live, the court was established on 8th July, 1946. The cases referred by the lessee were 2,122, by the lessor, 189, and by the local authority, 2,267; the total cases numbered, therefore, 4,578. The cases which were incompetent, withdrawn or not entertained were 420; the cases decided, 3,215; and the cases awaiting decision, 943. The 1179 rent was reduced in 2,037 cases, rentals were approved in 485 cases and the rent was increased in 74. The mean percentage of reductions was 27. Throughout the country, and I think this will be of considerable interest to the Committee, the total number of cases referred to tribunals by the lessees was 24,130, by the lessor, 2,334, and by the local authorities, 3,531, a total of 29,995—nearly 30,000 cases. The cases which were described as incompetent, withdrawn or not entertained, on which I would say a word or two in a moment, totalled 7,843. The cases decided were 20,387, and dismissed cases, 3064. The rent was reduced in no fewer than 14,155 cases, approved in 2,917, and increased in 251; and the mean percentage of the reductions throughout the country was 30.
That means that even if the rent had been £1 a week in each of these cases—which is a very low average: I am sure the average must be very much more than that; probably £2 or 30s. 0d.—then, on calculations which I have made, it appears that something like £218,000 was saved to the tenants in the course of one year. I think nobody could deny that a Measure which was introduced for the purpose of checking exorbitant rentals and which has achieved that figure is an extremely useful Measure, but I would go a step further than that. If I may be permitted to refer for a moment or two to what has been stated by various tribunals in respect of the number of cases which ought to have come before the tribunals, I think the Committee will be startled by the results.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
On a point of Order. Shall we be in Order, Sir, in discussing in this Debate the whole merits of this Act? We are discussing the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor), not the question whether the Act should be included in Part I or Part II of the Schedule. If we are to be allowed to range over the whole Act, could we have your Ruling on the point?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
We do not want a discussion on the whole Act, but I think the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) is in Order so far. Although I cannot say whether or not he is in favour of the Amendment, I think 1180 he has been in Order. It would not be in Order however to have a discussion about the whole Act.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Before you assumed the Chair, Sir, it was ruled by your predecessor, and it has been ruled in previous years in a Debate of this sort—indeed I think the point was raised by the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) this morning—that it is not proper or allowable for a discussion to take place on the administration of any particular Act.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that information. I hope the hon. Member for West Leicester will take note that that is the condition.
§ Mr. Janner
I am obliged. I am not commenting on the administration of the Act. What I am commenting on is the necessity for the continuance of this Act without interference, in so far as it is possible for there to be no interference with it. I am showing, therefore, that this Act should be included in the Schedule because it has served a very useful purpose. I intend also to try and show by means of figures that if the Act could be exercised as fuliy as we would like, then the results would be even greater than those I have given. The Chairman of the East London Rent Tribunal referred in a statement which he made, and which was quoted in the "Leicester Mercury," to the rent tribunals, saying that in its present form the law has led to the creation of a new social group, which he called "the Order of the Trembling Tenants."
§ Mr. Peake
On a point of Order. It was ruled by your predecessor, Sir, I think to the knowledge of everybody at present in the Committee, that the discussion on this Amendment might cover the actual Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor), which is designed to continue The Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, with the exception of a single Section—Section 7—and also that we might discuss the point whether or not the continuance of that Act should be for 12 months or for 15 months. No one has at any time suggested the deletion of this Act from the Schedule and I submit, therefore, that the remarks of the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. 1181 Janner) who is seeking to justify the inclusion of this Act in the Schedule, are out of Order.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Member for West Leicester has the advantage of me. He heard my predecessor's Ruling; I did not. Perhaps he will abide by it.
§ Mr. Janner
I do not want to take advantage of the Committee in the sense of speaking at an earlier time than is permissible. I do not wish to ask you, Sir, to make a decision on this point, because that would not be fair in view of the fact that your predecessor has already made a decision. It is possible that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) is right and that that is what your predecessor meant. Obviously, we are going to discuss this when we are discussing the Schedule itself. If the right hon. Gentleman feels happier that we should not discuss it at the present time, I shall be very pleased indeed to make my further points when we are discussing the Schedule as a whole. I had hoped we might save time by discussing it now, but I am quite prepared to finish at this point and to indicate that I would like to say a word or two more on the subject when the Question that this he the Schedule to the Bill comes before us.
§ Mr. Marples (Wallasey)
There is one point I would like to raise with the Minister, and that is when do the Government propose to bring forward this comprehensive legislation on the Rent Restriction Acts? The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health gave the same excuses last year as those given this year when he said on 31st October:The view of the Government is that we have not the time at present to bring proposals before the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 1266.]It seems very desirable that the Government should make some statement on their attitude to The Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act. There are a number of anomalies in the Act and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor), who has moved that Section 7 be omitted is, in effect, trying to extend the scope of the rent tribunals. The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) has spent a considerable time showing how efficient 1182 the rent tribunals are in their administration. In point of fact, he went on to say that although they are very good they should not have more cases to deal with, which is quite a contradictory attitude. If the Minister will not accept this Amendment, will he give the House some indication of what line the Government propose to follow in connection with the Rent Restriction Acts in order to get rid of some of the anomalies in those Acts?
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the occasion. We are considering whether to continue certain laws, and we are in particular considering whether Section 7 of the Act we have been discussing should be continued. We are not discussing in any way any comprehensive review. Nor would it be proper for me to begin to answer the question the hon. Gentleman has put. I have claimed that the Act of 1946 has served a useful purpose and ought to be continued, and I have said that I cannot accept the hon. Baronet's view that we should give what, in fact, would be special treatment to a small group in circumstances in which, certainly at this moment of time, nothing can be done for the larger group. I cannot even begin—I should be ruled out of Order were I to try—to indicate the Government's view on the whole realm of rents restriction to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Before we leave this matter I should like to take it a little further. The Parliamentary Secretary, as I understand it, has admitted quite candidly that the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend is fully justified on merits. He has not said a single word against the merits of the Amendment, and, indeed, his whole case was that this is a meritorious Amendment, but that there are other meritorious Amendments which could be made, and that if we made this one we should cause trouble elsewhere, because the others were not made.
§ Mr. Edwards
I have not discussed the merits. What I have said is that I am not prepared to agree to alter the law in this one small respect. I put my case in that way, without, in fact, arguing 1183 the merits, which I did on a previous occasion endeavour to do.
§ Mr. Peake
Let me say first of all that I think we are indebted to you, Sir, for the Ruling which you have given, for it is a far more convenient course to dispose of this Amendment rather than to take a discussion upon the whole merits of the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, which the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner), quite rightly and properly from his point of view, wishes to do.
The Parliamentary Secretary did not say anything about the reasons why the Act is to be continued for a period of 15 months rather than for the normal period of 12 months. I looked at Part II of the Schedule and imagined that this must be one of the Acts which normally expires on 31st March. When I looked up the particular Act I saw that it expires on 31st December. The normal thing to do in a case of that sort is to continue the Act for one year until 31st December following. A very exceptional course has apparently been taken in this case, which is to make this Act continue for 15 months rather than for 12. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address himself to that point before the Amendment is disposed of, because I think the Committee ought to be informed why this exceptional course has been taken in this particular case.
On the merits of the Amendment I should like to say how extremely disappointed we are that the hon. Gentleman has not been able to meet the most convincing and unanswerable case put forward by my hon. Friends. The Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, was in terms intended to apply to premises let to tenants where services were provided. Section 2 of the Act speaks of premises leased in consideration of a rent which includes payment for the use of furniture or for services. That is to say, it was intended that the rents of premises where services were provided should be subject to review by the Tribunals established by that Act. Subsection (4) of Section 2 provides in terms that:Where on any reference of a contract, the rent whereunder includes payment for services, the tribunal are of opinion that it 1184 would be proper that the rent payable for the premises should include an amount in respect of increases…. in the cost of providing such services…then the Tribunal may recommend accordingly. It was discovered only after the Act was passed that the inclusion of certain words in Section 7 prevented the rent of such premises being reviewed. The Ridley Committee went into all this and came to the conclusion, which was inescapable, that the cost of providing services for flats of this character had gone up owing to the war, but that the rents were frozen by the operation of the Rents Restriction Acts.
The injustice is manifest. It is admitted. Members of the Government who served upon the Ridley Committee recommended that that matter should be dealt with, where injustice was inflicted upon persons who found themselves in the position of having to provide more expensive services than they had contracted for, and were unable to obtain any adjustment of the rent paid by their tenants. It is extremely disappointing to us that the hon. Gentleman who represents the Ministry of Health in this matter should not have addressed himself at all to the merits of the question, because he knows that the whole of the merits of the argument is on our side, but simply says we cannot deal with this problem piecemeal. The King's Speech clearly showed that the Government do intend to deal with this problem piecemeal. In those circumstances I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would have said that the Government realise the injustice here, and were going to introduce certain legislation dealing with rents and with housing, and that they would take this matter into consideration before finally framing their legislation. I could have hoped that that might have been the attitude he would have taken. He has not taken it, and I can only once again register our extreme disappointment at the attitude the Government have taken up.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
I am sorry if I did not answer the one point which your predecessor in the Chair, Sir, agreed we could take in the discussion on this Amendment. I did point out that it was just three months' difference. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right in saying that previously we continued this 1185 until the end of December. The reason for the change is a quite simple one. When we were preparing this Bill on this occasion it was pointed out to us that it would be much more convenient if we could renew the Act for a period of 15 months in order to coincide with the financial provisions in the Estimates. That seemed to my Department to be a sensible course. Therefore, for the first time now, I agree, we are actually asking for this particular Act to be extended for the 15th months' period. The right hon. Gentleman knows that that, of course, will not alter the time at which the House will be asked to reconsider the matter if it is necessary, but I am advised that it would be much more convenient from the Treasury's point of view if we had this renewal for 15 months.
§ Mr. C. Williams
If this is to go on for 15 months, will it come up again in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill next year as usual? Then we shall have the rather curious position of our passing a law which will begin three months, apparently, after the existing period. That is an interesting point to which it is well worth while drawing attention.
§ Mr. Edwards
It will come up about this time next year as usual. It is quite normal form to have in the Schedule the categories of the expiring dates, at the end of December or the end of March.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this be the Schedule to the Bill."
§ Mr. Janner
I agree that what I intended to say may come more appropriately within the scope of this Motion. Therefore, I want to continue the matter to which I was referring when my right hon. Friend raised the question about the Amendment which was then being discussed. I was saying that these Acts are serving an extremely useful purpose, but not as useful a purpose as they might serve, if they were framed and completely used by the tenants who are entitled to use them, some of whom, in consequence of certain of the provisions of this particular Act, have been described as forming a new social group called "The Order of the Trembling Tenants." "The Order of the Trembling Tenants" arises from the fact that people 1186 are frightened in many cases to approach the tribunal——
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Gentleman is not confining himself to the Question, "That this be the Schedule to the Bill." I hope that he will do so.
§ Mr. Janner
What I am endeavouring to do is to show that the Act is good in many parts and should, therefore, be continued, but that, nevertheless, it may be utilised even more extensively than it is at present, if it did not contain——
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Gentleman is not allowed to discuss the merits and demerits of the administration of the Act, which is what he is doing.
§ Mr. Janner
With great respect, that is what I am intending not to do. If I am infringing, it is with very good intent, but perhaps with very bad results. I am referring to the Act and not the administration of the Act—to the Act itself, why it should remain, and why it may be held by some people that it should not remain. I am trying to show that the advantages of it remaining outweigh the disadvantages of it not remaining, and consequently it should be included in the Schedule.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The Question before the Committee is, "That this be the Schedule to the Bill." If the hon. Gentleman wants the Act to be deleted, he should put down an Amendment to that effect. It is now part of the Schedule itself.
§ Mr. Janner
Supposing the Schedule, like the curate's egg, is good in parts, surely I am entitled to say that there are reasons why it should remain as it stands, and that the parts that are good outweigh the parts that are bad to such an extent that I have reason for asking that the Schedule should remain. I think that on that basis I am entitled to say that the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act is very good, but in view of the fact, as has been stated, that in some places as many as 40 tenants——
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I must ask the hon. Gentleman to make up his mind whether he wants this Act in the Schedule 1187 or not. He must either say which are the good parts of the Schedule which he wishes to retain or which are the bad parts which he wishes to delete and leave the Committee to judge on balance.
§ Mr. Janner
That is what I am trying to do. I am not referring to those parts of the Schedule which I agree are very good; I am dealing with a particular portion of the Schedule, and I am trying to show that the Schedule should not be rejected. Because Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act does not permit 40 persons instead of one to come before the courts to have their rents reduced that cannot outweigh the great advantages contained in the other Acts in the Schedule. If I am out of Order in doing that, I will seek another opportunity——
§ Mr. C. Williams
I have no wish to discuss the Act on the question of merit or otherwise. There are a considerable number of Acts in the Schedule, and I should like to know what method the Government have for going into these Acts and deciding whether they should be there or not. Acts sometimes come out of the Schedule. There used to be a committee dealing with this point. Is there still such a committee, is it sitting now, and how often does it generally sit for the purpose of revising and cutting down this Schedule? I am wondering if the committee to which I have referred has been kept in existence since the war, and I should like to ask whoever is to reply whether the attention of this committee is being drawn to the various objections which we may have when we deal with this Bill during its Committee stage.
§ Mr. Fairhurst (Oldham)
I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to the matter contained in lines 17–20 of the Schedule, which refer to the Cotton Manufacturing Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1934. I propose to make some brief comments on the proposal to continue for a further period of 15 months the provisions of that Act which are mentioned in the Schedule. At the time when the Act was passed the world was just emerging from a shocking economic crisis, and the cotton industry was in the 1188 doldrums. At home, spinning mills were stopped, looms were idle——
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Hon. Members may say that they like the Schedule or that they do not because certain Measures are contained in it. The hon. Member cannot talk about the merits of any Act contained in the Schedule.
§ Mr. Janner
On a point of Order. May I ask, with the greatest respect, how a person can give any reason for his likes or dislikes unless he refers to a Measure in more specific terms, and explains why he likes or dislikes a particular Act which is contained in the Schedule? I quite understand the difference between what is permissible on the Motion we are discussing and what it is permissible for a Member to say in moving an Amendment or in referring to an Amendment which he believes ought to be made. But for the purpose of showing his like or dislike, surely a Member is entitled to say that the provisions of a particular Act please or displease him in consequence of what is contained in that Act or what is left out of it? I hope that we shall not be reduced, in these Debates, to the position of having to get up and say: "I like or I dislike this or that," and that is an end of the matter. That would give the Government, any Government, tremendous scope to evade points of public importance.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The way to proceed is for a Member to put down an Amendment. Otherwise he is out of Order. The position is that the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Fairhurst) cannot go into details. He can generally, within certain degrees, discuss an Act which he wishes or does not wish to continue, but he cannot do so in too great a detail.
§ Mr. Fairhurst
Shall. I be in Order in asking the Minister certain questions which arise as a result of the 1934 Act?
§ Mr. Fairhurst
Then I shall confine myself to asking certain questions. The first is whether any useful purpose will be served by continuing this Act? The second is, could a new order prescribing a new list be made, or will it be necessary for both sides of the cotton industry 1189 to make a joint approach to the Government, and——
§ Mr. Fairhurst
My third question is whether the continuance of this order prevents the adoption of any new scheme of piecework prices, incentives or new wage standards?
§ Mr. Fairhurst
I must make a protest. How am I to explain to the Committee either the background of my observations and the reasons for them, and how can I persuade the Committee to think about the points which I wish to mention and discuss, if I am only allowed to say that I like or do not like the Act in question? The Act does not now serve any useful purpose, but although I can say that, and although I might be able to justify it, how can I provide that justification if I am not allowed to speak?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Member for Oldham, like the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner), has missed his opportunity by not putting down an Amendment. I agree that he finds himself in an unfortunate position in trying to make the speech he wishes to make within the limits of the Motion before the Committee. He cannot, on this Motion, go into the kind of detail upon which he was embarking.
§ Mr. Fairhurst
I have no desire to discuss the Act, but I wish to state certain points which I had in mind about the provisions of that Act.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
The answer to the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) is that Government committees of one kind and another are constantly sitting. It is impossible for me to say whether some committee, unspecified by him other than in his general indication that it was in existence when his party was in office, is still in existence. I can tell him that all the Bills listed in the Schedule are kept under review, and when a Bill of this kind is prepared year by year, the Government Departments concerned are consulted before the Bill takes 1190 the shape which it assumes before us today.
§ Mr. C. Williams
I am not satisfied with that answer. I was not referring to a committee which only sat when the party to which I have the honour to belong was in control. There was not in the ordinary sense a Government committee. It was, I think, a Select Committee which used to sit regularly. It was referred to in this House in 1930, when the previous Socialist Government were in power. At that time we received some explanation about what it was doing. I realise that the right hon. Gentleman cannot have all the details and facts before him now, but in considering this Schedule it is of vital importance that we should know if that method of limiting the length of the Schedule is still in operation. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would be kind enough to inquire into this matter, and either on the Third Reading, or else in some other way, perhaps by my putting a Question to him, he could tell the House whether that Select Committee still operates, and if it is now still operating as it used to do.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
It is obvious that if there was such a Select Committee it would have been reappointed when this Session began because Select Committees do not continue year after year. I think that the Committee will agree that no Select Committee is sitting on this matter at the moment. The hon. Member asked for an assurance that these matters were closely watched by the Government and Government Departments. I can give him that assurance. They are watched, and where it is possible to allow an Act to expire it is excluded from this Measure.
§ Mr. C. Williams
I thank the Financial Secretary for the amount of information he has given me. We all know that Government Departments review these matters from time to time, but where there is a long Schedule of this kind it is essential that we should have something more than an ordinary Government Department inquiry. There has been at least one instance in which that has led to very unsatisfactory results by Bills having been left hanging over in this way. I hope that as I have drawn attention to the matter some consideration will be given to it by the authorities in the future.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ness Edwards)
A question has been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Fairhurst) as to the Government's reasons for continuing Sections 1 and 2 of the Cotton Manufacturing Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1934. It is highly necessary, in view of what is transpiring in Lancashire that the Government's reason for continuing these Sections should be made quite clear. Unless we preserve Sections 1 and 2 the machinery whereby new wages are established in Lancashire will become defunct, and the present wage system, which is frozen under an order under this Act, cannot be altered. All that Sections 1 and 2 do is to preserve the machinery whereby both sections of the industry may come to the Government and ask for a new order.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Preamble agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment: read the Third time, and passed.