HC Deb 30 November 1948 vol 458 cc1904-10
Sir J. Anderson

I beg to move, in page 6, line 23, to leave out from "force" to "any" in line 25, and to insert: (c) adapt as may appear to him necessary. In my speech on the Second Reading I called attention to the very sweeping nature of the provisions in this Clause, giving power to the Home Secretary in the circumstances contemplated to amend and add to existing statutory provisions. I indicated then that my hon. Friends considered that to be a very tall order and that we should have proposals to make during the Committee stage. It would probably be convenient, Mr. Bowles, if this Amendment and the related Amendment in page 6, line 29, leave out from beginning to "and" in line 30, were taken together.

The Deputy-Chairman


Sir J. Anderson

We have tried, in putting forward these suggestions, to preserve powers which might reasonably be thought necessary without going so far as—perhaps by inadvertance—seems to be implied by the Clause as drafted. Our proposal is to leave Subsection (2, b) as it stands down to the word "force" in the last line but one without any reference to adaptations; that is to say, to take power to bring back into operation provisions of the earlier Acts which are either spent or have been suspended, and then to delete the words "may amend, extend or repeal" which appear in Paragraph (c) and to substitute "adapt as may appear to him necessary" leaving the Subsection to run on as it stands. That at first sight might appear to be a change without any substantial difference, but I am advised that the word "adapt" in this connection has been interpreted by the courts in a way which narrows considerably the implications of the expression as compared with the words that appear in the Clause, namely, "may amend, extend, or repeal," adaptation being held to be such changes as are reasonably necessary to bring provisions into conformity with the actual conditions of the day.

8.30 p.m.

That is the whole purpose of this Amendment. As the Clause was originally drawn, it seemed to me and my hon. Friends to be wide enough to cover, for example, the introduction of a complete system of conscription for Civil Defence in the preliminary preparatory period, with arbitrary age limits applying to men and women alike, which I can hardly think is within the contemplation of the Government. It seems to us that the words which we propose, which would make the provision read adapt as may appear to him necessary any of the provisions of the said Acts … etc. should give to the designated Minister or Ministers, if there be more than one, all reasonable latitude without opening the door to changes of the law of the most far-reaching and possibly objectionable description.

By our second Amendment we propose to omit Subsection (2, d), which is equally far-reaching. It states: may substitute other provisions for any of the provisions so repealed; By the Clause, as it would be amended if these proposals of ours were accepted, the Home Secretary would have power to bring back into operation the Acts of 1937 and 1939, which are to some extent spent and otherwise in suspense, and to "adapt as may appear to him necessary" any provisions of those Acts. I say nothing about Subsection (2, e), which is not affected by these Amendments.

Mr. Ede

I have been adjured from both sides of the Committee this evening not to attempt to win the last war but to look forward and realise that I am looking into a realm where prophecy is very difficult, and where it may be necessary for me or my successor—and may he be a very distant successor who really has to contemplate proceeding from preparation to action—to have available an instrument flexible enough to deal with circumstances as they may arise. It is of course difficult, when one is engaged in prophecy of any kind, to be very precise in one's language unless one is certain about what is to happen. The fate that overtook the forecasters of the American election will be in all our minds. They were certain that they knew what would happen, and they had no safeguarding clauses. Apparently the only person who had no doubt at all was the gentleman who announced that he would "knock hell out of Mr. Dewey."

I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate the difficulty that confronts me. Let me at once admit that this Clause was exceedingly difficult to draft. I had to have two considerations in mind, securing sufficient flexibility and also limiting myself so that I or my successor should not do anything outrageous in carrying out the provisions of this Clause or leave myself open to being tempted to do anything outrageous. I am bound to say that it never occurred to me that this particular Clause would be used to impose conscription upon people.

I had regarded this as being more concerned with the premises of public utility undertakings and private firms, proposals with regard to which I cannot yet announce. It may very well be that when I have had negotiations with representatives of private enterprise, national enterprises and public utility undertakings, there may have to be very drastic revisions of the proposals that were made in the two previous Acts to bring them into line with the requirements, as far as we can foresee them, of the future, and yet still leave us sufficient flexibility to be able to bring the provisions up to date as and when -developments occur. I have therefore had to use words in this Clause which are very wide in their application. I desire that the Clause itself shall not be so wide as to lead to any of the extravagances that the right hon. Gentleman hinted might be found possible in its working.

Sir J. Anderson

The right hon. Gentleman does not know what sort of Government may have to work the regulations.

Mr. Ede

No, Sir. The first regulations will be made by a very good Government, and I think the second and third—anything up to, let us say, 1955. Of course the right hon. Gentleman, as an Independent Member, looks on these things from a very high altitude, and I have no doubt does survey them with complete impartiality. He must be in great discomfort when this House has only two sides, and he has to choose the less objectionable of them as the one on which he shall sit. But I cannot at the moment accept this Amendment as it is moved. I do not know whether it would be possible for the right hon. Gentleman and myself, with any person not politically associated with him—for he stands in a class apart—but certain other politicians whose views temporarily seem to coincide with his, to come along and discuss this point with me. We could then see whether there are words that could possibly be found which, while retaining flexibility, will limit us, or other people, from doing extravagant things.

I think we may possibly find words that we can incorporate in the Bill which would remove the misgivings that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed. I personally gave a great deal of time to endeavouring to find words that would enable this part of the Bill to be workable, and I admit that it was the most difficult task I have ever undertaken. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to accept this offer in the spirit in which it has been made and that between now and the Report stage—which will be on either Thursday or Friday—it may be possible for us to have consultations that will enable us to see if it is possible to do something that will carry the confidence of the House in this matter.

Mr. Peake

The right hon. Gentleman has I think made a very fair and reasonable suggestion, and I am authorised by my right hon. Friend, with whose politics I have practically nothing in common, to say that he is perfectly prepared to accept it. However, whatever form of words we ultimately arrive at, we must all recognise that we are giving the Government quite unprecedented powers to proceed by means of regulation in this Clause, and that the only real safeguard which Parliament possesses is the fact that by a subsequent Clause such regulations have to become a subject of an affirmative Resolution of the House. The difficulty about affirmative Resolutions as applied to regulations is that the House can only approve or reject the regulations as a whole. Therefore, it becomes vitally important that the regulations should not cover a wide range of separate subjects.

The right hon. Gentleman could probably do a great deal to allay our fears in entrusting him with these unprecedented powers if he would consider giving some assurance that he will not join together in one set of regulations submitted to the House a variety of subject matter which is not naturally cohesive. If the right hon. Gentleman would consider giving an assurance of that kind, we may easily find a solution to this problem.

Mr. Ede

I thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) for the way in which he has approached this subject and the offer made by me. I certainly think that in a matter where the sweep might be very wide indeed it would be indefensible on the part of any Government to attempt to get through some highly controversial matter by making it one in a series of paragraphs to be found in one order the majority of which the House might not wish to question. Sometimes, no matter on which side of the House we may sit, we have been presented with an order in which there may be a number of paragraphs with which we agree but in which there may be one to which we may object. If we vote against the one to which we object we also destroy perhaps a dozen which we heartily support.

I will give an undertaking that the orders shall not be so all-embracing. I gave a similar undertaking with reference to regulations in the course of our consideration of the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Powers) which we took upstairs. I think that the promise I gave has been honourably observed both by my own Department and those of my hon. Friend's who have made regulations under that Measure. I have no hesitation in repeating the promise.

Sir J. Anderson

I am sure that the Committee will be very glad to have the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that the Government, in exercising their powers under this Clause, will not resort to the practice which I think used to be known as "tacking." I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the suggestion he has made about the Amendments in my name. In view of what he has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Younger

I beg to move, in page 6, line 25, to leave out, "may."

This and the Amendments to lines 29 and 31 are drafting Amendments.

Mr. Peake

I should like to observe that these three are admirable Amendments which have been copied from an Amendment put on the Order Paper by myself and my right hon. Friends.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 6, line 29, leave out "may."

In line 31, leave out "may."—[Mr. Younger.]

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

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Howard

I want to refer to the question of this very wide power, though I think that the undertaking and offer which the Home Secretary made will entirely meet my point. I want to make it perfectly clear that I shall find myself extremely unhappy as a rebel, although I have great respect for the views of the right hon. Gentlemen who sit in front of me. In Subsection (2, d) the Minister is given power to substitute other provisions for any of the provisions so repealed. Unless, after discussion with my right hon. Friends, a narrower wording is found, I want to reserve an absolutely full right to vote against these very wide powers.

Mr. Ede

May I say that the observations of the hon. Gentleman shall be borne in mind when we are discussing the matter. I would not get him into trouble with his own party.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.