§ 11.20 p.m.
§ Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 24th April, 1950, entitled the Housing (Rate of Interest) Regulations, 1950 (S.I., 1950, No. 1008), a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st June, 1950, be annulled.These Regulations were made under the Housing Act of 1949, which enabled local authorities to make grants to individuals for improvements to dwellings, on conditions. If those conditions are not observed the local authorities are entitled to claim back their money, with compound interest at a rate to be prescribed by the Minister. It is also provided that if a person to whom a grant has been made desires to be released from the conditions, he can repay the money to the local authority, together with compound interest at a rate to be prescribed by the Minister. These Regulations prescribe the rate of interest. They are made under Section 35 of the Housing Act of 1949, which runs as follows:The Minister may by Statutory Instrument make, with the consent of the Treasury, regulations prescribing anything required or authorised by this Part of this Act to be prescribed.I would invite the attention of hon. Members to the Regulations. It is stated on the document that the Regulations were made on 24th April of this year. Underneath the signature of the Minister, which is under the official seal of the Minister of Health, "this 24th day of April, 1950," we find the signification of the consent of the Treasury. It reads:We consent to these regulations.—R. J. Taylor, Wm. Hannan, Two of the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury.Reading that, one would assume that under the terms of Section 35 of the Act, consent was given either before, or simultaneously with the making of the Regulations; because the Section says that the Minister may by Statutory Instrument make, with the consent of the Treasury, Regulations. But it appeared in evidence before the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, to the report of which I shall refer in some detail in a few moments, that in fact the consent of the Treasury was not signified until about a month after the Minister made the Order. 396 Therefore, I think it quite probable that if these Regulations were challenged in the courts they might well be held to be invalid.
The reason the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments reported this Order to the House was undue delay in presentation. They invited the Ministry of Health to put forward a memorandum to explain this very considerable delay, because, as appears on the face of the Order, the Regulations purported to be made on 24th April, and they were not laid before Parliament until 21st June. The Ministry of Health, after reciting what the Regulations did, stated:These Regulations were accordingly executed by the Minister of Health on the 24th of April, 1950, and that date was inserted on the instrument before it was sent to the Treasury in order that they might signify their consent to the regulations. The instrument should have been left undated at this stage, being given a date subsequently after it had been returned signed by two of the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. The instrument was returned by the Treasury under cover of a letter dated 26th May which reached the Department on 30th May. A further delay took place before the instrument was laid, during which routine action in connection with the printing of copies for sale was taken. This should not have occurred, but accounts for the fact that the instrument was only laid on 21st June.I should like to ask when the instrument was sent to the Treasury. That is not stated; nor is it stated in the memorandum supplied by the Treasury. The instrument was returned by the Treasury under cover of a letter dated 26th May, which reached the Department on the 30th. I know that Whitsun was included, but surely if the document was sent by hand, as I assume that it was, it ought to have got round in five minutes. How is it that it took five days?
The Ministry of Health in their memorandum make a very frank apology, which is more than the Treasury ever did. The Ministry of Health state:The Department wish to tender their apology to the Committee for the mistake within the Department in the handling of this matter, which would not have occurred had the clear standing instructions in force been carefully observed.I hope we shall be told what these instructions are.
The Treasury also supplied a memorandum, but they were not the least apologetic, although in my reading of what took place they are a good deal more to blame than the Ministry of Health. They state: 397In reply to the Committee's enquiries,The Treasury is silent as to the date on which they received the Order from the Ministry of Health. It is important that we should know what that date was.
As the Committee are doubtless aware, it is not customary for a Statutory Instrument which requires only the consent of the Treasury to bear the date of signature. In this respect the instrument followed long standing practice and was similar to other instruments which have been the subject of scrutiny.
- (1) On receipt of the instrument from the Ministry of Health, it was submitted for signature by two Lords Commissioners and was received in the Treasury completed on 22nd May, 1950;
- (2) Section 35 (1) of the Housing Act, 1949, provides that 'the Ministry may by statutory instrument make, with the consent of the Treasury, regulations prescribing anything required or authorised by this part of this Act to be prescribed.'
I certainly think there should be a change with regard to it being customary for the Lords Commissioners not to insert the date of their signatures. Why on earth should signatures be appended to important documents of this kind by the Lords Commissioners without a date being given? If I am right in my submission and they appended their signatures long after the Order purported to be made by the Minister, it has the effect of invalidating the Order. It is, therefore, a matter of the utmost importance that a date should be attached so we can be sure it was done before the making of the Order. The fact that the House and the Select Committee have often seen and passed Instruments where the same thing occurred is quite understandable, because we naturally assumed that the signatures on behalf of the Treasury would have been appended at the proper time.
I want to know why at least several weeks have passed while this Order was in the hands of the Treasury. Was it because the Treasury was concerned about the merits of the Order? The Order prescribes that the rate of interest shall be 4 per cent. I asked the Minister of Health on 13th July about the 4 per cent., and I asked why the Regulations authorised local authorities to charge interest at this rate per annum when they could have borrowed at 3 per cent., or even less, from the Local Works Loan Board. The Minister repliedThis rate of interest is not related directly to the rate at which local authorities can now borrow.398 That being so, then to what is it related? There is no explanation whatever, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he comes to reply, will give it.
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)
On a point of order, Sir. I hesitate to interrupt my hon. Friend, but as he is attacking the hon. Members for the Mary-hill Division of Glasgow (Mr. Hannan) and for the Morpeth Division of Northumberland (Mr. R. J. Taylor), and as he has given notice of this Motion tonight, is it not a grave discourtesy that neither hon. Member is present?
§ Mr. Taylor
Then, may I move the Adjournment of the House until such time as the hon. Members are in their places?
§ Sir J. Mellor
I was asking why this instrument was so long in the hands of the Treasury. Was the Treasury considering its merits; did it require a lot of thought? Surely it could have had no difficulty in finding two of the five Lords Commissioners. They are so often to be seen, and the Treasury would have had not the slightest difficulty in finding two. The Statutory Instruments Act is very precise upon the question of the publication. Section 2 says:Immediately "—and I emphasise that—after the making of any Statutory Instrument it shall be sent to the King's Printer of Acts of Parliament … and copies thereof shall, as soon as possible, be printed and sold by the King's Printer.This Order was made on 24th April, but was not published and presented until 21st June. The Select Committee has, on many occasions, complained about delay in the presentation of these Instruments; but fortunately, very largely because of their constant attention to this matter, there has been recently a great improvement and departments have been much more prompt in presenting Instruments a short time after having been made. It is all the more a pity that there should have been this serious lapse in this matter.
§ 11.35 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
I beg to second the Motion.
399 The hon. Baronet has stated quite clearly and fairly the point at issue. I am a little surprised that none of the three Ministers concerned is present this evening, because, after all, this is not just a matter of trifling importance. This concerns the making of a law which may have to be enforced in one way or another, with all the penalties which the law can provide.
Making laws is not a casual matter. The document, on which this Prayer takes place tonight, is not on the merits whether it should be four per cent. or 4½ per cent., but on the failure of the procedure prescribed by Statute. Our colleagues who served on this Committee gave a lot of time to it. Those present on the occasion when this Report was presented were three hon. Members belonging to the party to which I belong and three hon. Members belonging to the party opposite. Therefore, three hon. Members of the party opposite have thought it desirable to draw the attention of the House to the fact that there has been an administrative failure, a piece of gross incompetence. It is no use the Parliamentary Secretary smiling like the cat in "Alice in Wonderland," because that does not suit this case.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Blenkinsop)
I am smiling because we hear these terms so often from the hon. Member that it is very difficult to decide sometimes whether they are really justified.
§ Sir H. Williams
It takes a long time for some Ministers to realise how smug they are. Here is a document signed by the Minister of Health, and two Lords Commissioners, one of whom is the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) and another, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan), who all have their responsibilities. Certainly, the Lords Commissioners have to do what they are told. The Chancellor tells the Lords Commissioners so and so, and they sign on the dotted line. That is what they are there for; to stand at the door and watch the flocks go into the Lobby.
§ Mr. Royle (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)
As the hon. Gentleman has referred to me, I should like to take him up on his point about Government Whips being at the door. Only Tory Whips are at the door.
§ Sir H. Williams
I thought the hon. Gentleman was referring to his duties at the Treasury. I thought he was one of the Lords Commissioners. They change them so rapidly that it is difficult to identify them. I think the other Member is the hon. Member for Glasgow, Mary-hill. I am delighted to get this straight because there is still one or other of His Majesty's Ministers whom I fail to identify. They hardly ever appear, and we do not know what they look like. I have learnt now that the two Lords Commissioners who signed this document are not present and the Minister of Health is not present. The Minister of Health always avoids being present if anybody is to speak after him. He always likes to speak last and not at the beginning, so that no one can reply to him. Let us be quite clear about that. He did not get on too well the other night when he was followed.
Here is this document, improperly signed and improperly dated. A breach of the law—[Interruption.] I do not say it is a criminal offence. There is no penalty on Ministers for this sort of thing. The document was signed on the 22nd and it took four days before they started to send it back. These four days were in the week before Whitsuntide when the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury were available. It took them four days to go through this routine job of signing a document already improperly dated. Then they sent it from the Treasury to the Ministry, a distance of 150 yards. It is true the Whitsuntide intervened, as my hon. Friend said, but if they had hired the Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. P. Noel-Baker), who is a very quick runner, they could have got it there quicker.
Then, they had to print it. It is dated 24th April, so I presume it was in printer's draft then. It was laid before Parliament on 21st June and actually reached the Treasury on 30th May. Surely, it does not take all that time to travel from the Treasury to the Library of this House, because that is what "laid" really means. I am not surprised that hon. Members opposite jeer when we raise these matters. They are completely indifferent to administrative efficiency. They think this House is the servant of Government Departments instead of being masters. The spirit of democracy is not in their blood or bones.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedfordshire)
On a point of order. Is it not a fact that, even if 40 Members are not present, this Prayer can be put down again tomorrow, so that then the Lords Commissioners who are not here tonight can be present?
§ House counted, and 40 Members being present—
—I distinctly heard the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) refer to hon. Members on this side of the House as "dirty dogs." Ought not that remark to be withdrawn?
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor
On a point of order. As an hon. Member opposite raised the question of whether 40 Members were present in the House, would I now be in order in moving the Adjournment of the Debate so that hon. Members responsible for signing this Order can be present?
§ Sir H. Williams
When I was interrupted I was drawing attention to the fact that this does after all, involve a question of the principle of the conduct of the Administration and of obedience to the law. Therefore, I think it is absolutely monstrous that on this occasion, when there is, in the judgment of a Select Committee of this House, containing three supporters of the Government and three opponents of the Government, an administrative failure, to which attention is drawn, none of the three Ministers involved in this charge has taken the trouble to be present, or to show that 402 courtesy to the House that they ought to have shown. I think the time has come when we should protest in every possible way against this gross discourtesy afforded to this House tonight.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I would like to associate myself with what my hon. Friends have said. We do not expect the Minister of Health, in his arrogant disregard of the functions of this House, to be here tonight; but we did think that the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury who had signed this Order and who have not been so long in office as the right hon. Gentleman, might have been here to tender some explanation of their signatures. The hon. Members for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) and for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) are both paid to be Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. They have signed an Order to which the Select Committee has drawn attention. It does seem to us to be a most curious approach to their obligations that they should not have troubled to turn up tonight. They are not "rubber stamps." They must exercise some scrutiny of the orders they sign, and if they make an error they are expected to come here and say that they are sorry. This is one more instance of a casual and inefficient discharge of responsibility. It may be an explanation, but it is certainly no excuse, that they are members of His Majesty's Government today.
§ 11.46 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Blenkinsop)
I confess that I am a little surprised at the comments made by hon. Members on the other side of the House about the absence of my hon. Friends who as Lords Commissioners of the Treasury signed the particular Statutory Instrument about which the Prayer is being made tonight. I am here myself in order to answer the Prayer which is the customary practice in this House and it is quite unnecessary for any request to be made for the presence of my hon. Friends. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] There is no reason at all why they should be present tonight.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I have no objection to giving way in a moment or so but I propose to answer the points which have been raised, and I propose to answer them in my own way.
Let me say at the outset that it is perfectly true that the Ministry of Health did certainly make administrative mistakes in not laying the Order before the House earlier. Already a very frank apology has been made to the Committee upstairs, and I am perfectly prepared to repeat that apology here; because we do realise the importance of ensuring that these orders are laid before the House at the earliest possible moment. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) asked what were the instructions within the Department. They are to that particular effect.
We take some credit for the fact that it is very rarely indeed, if at all, that a complaint of this type is laid against the Ministry. We have always been proud of the fact that we have been able to ensure that hon. Members of the House are properly informed of the contents of these instruments in good time, as we desire that they should be. Far from the Minister of Health taking any action to deny hon. Members their rights, liberties and opportunities of considering these instruments, I think he has been particularly scrupulous to ensure that instruments should be laid in good time before the House.
Therefore, we regret all the more that in this instance there has been, as we openly admit, a serious lapse. We do regard it as a serious matter. We do not take the matter of the delay lightly at all—
§ Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
If that is the attitude which he adopts, how does he explain the attitude of one of the supporters of the Government in attempting to call a count in this House in order that the whole thing should be obliterated and hushed up?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I think the point is perfectly clear. Some of those who spoke from the opposite side seemed to be making rather heavy weather of this matter, including the hon. Gentleman the 404 Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). As he uses some extravagant language pretty frequently in this House, it was natural that my hon. Friend should challenge the House to see in fact how many hon. Gentlemen opposite were present and prepared to support the Motion.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Would the hon. Gentleman, in the new language of Parliament, describe it as "making heavy weather" of an Order to ask the two Lords Commissioners who signed the Order to attend the House and explain their action? Is that "heavy weather" in the new language of Parliament?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
It has been the custom of this House to have the Minister responsible, to answer the Prayers laid before the House, and provided a satisfactory answer is given, I do not see what complaint hon. Gentlemen can have.
§ Sir H. Williams
Surely the hon. Gentleman is under a complete misconception? We are not now finally debating the merits of this Prayer, but an administrative failure involving three specific persons. We are challenging their incompetence, and, accordingly, those whose competence has been assailed have been charged specifically with failure in duty, and ought to explain things to the House. That used to be the procedure of the House before it deteriorated.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The Minister is responsible for this statutory instrument being placed before the House, and we accept full responsibility for the failure. It is right and proper that we should answer the complaints, and not any other persons, or any other Members who may have signed these Regulations. It is the Minister of Health who is responsible for laying this Order before the House.
I understand that the hon. Baronet, who very properly put down this Prayer after the comments made by the Committee upstairs, wanted some particulars of how these errors occurred. It is perfectly true, as he said, that the Regulations were technically made on 24th April, owing to the fact that they were so dated, prior to their signature by the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. That is not the custom with these documents.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)
I think the hon. Gentleman meant 405 to say that they were dated at the time of their signature by the Minister of Health.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
That is so. I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. They were, in fact, dated at the time of the signature of my right hon. Friend when in normal practice the date should await the signature of the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. I quite agree that it was an unfortunate error that this should have occurred. I can only say about the delay there, and the delay that occurred later, that the document was in fact returned to the Ministry of Health, and the delay in its presentation in the House is one for which we are very sorry.
§ Sir J. Mellor
I did ask the hon. Gentleman when the document was sent to the Treasury, because it stated later on that the instrument was returned by the Treasury under cover of a letter dated 26th May, but neither in the memorandum of the Ministry of Health nor in that of the Treasury does it say when it went to the Treasury, and we wish to apportion the blame.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The document was sent to the Treasury on 6th May. We, as the responsible Ministry, accept responsibility for the presentation of this document. I do not want in any way to ride off by passing responsibility to somebody else. The Ministry of Health is clearly responsible. It seems to me, in view of the very frank apologies that have been made, and the assurances given that we are most anxious that this sort of mistake should not occur again, that it is reasonable to ask that the Prayer should be withdrawn.
I want to make one or two points. It is clear that none of His Majesty's subjects has suffered by this delay. Although the Regulations came into operation on 22nd June, their practical effect can only be felt in any particular case at some future date, when an owner of premises in respect of which a grant has been given commits a breach of the conditions which calls for a return of the grant, and therefore the operation of this Order. Very few improvement grants have been made yet, and therefore no one has been injured by the delay that took place in the presentation of the Order.
The hon. Baronet the Member for Sutton Coldfleld (Sir J. Mellor) has 406 raised the point, both in Questions and again this evening, about the rate of interest being charged. He has asked why 4 per cent. was chosen when the Public Works Loan Board rate is 3 per cent. We are following precedent in this. He will perhaps recall that for the interest charged in relation to grants under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act of 1926—a comparable instance—the latest rate was fixed in May, 1939, at 4½ per cent., which compares in a very similar way with the 4 per cent. which was the then existing Public Works Loan Board rate.
The reason why, in both that case and this, the rate was higher than the Public Works Loan Board rate, is that the object is to secure that there is no abuse of public funds that have been made available to private persons for a public benefit in the provision of more or better housing accommodation. The private-person must not too lightly cause a breach of the condition imposed, and it is on this account that the rate at which a private person can borrow is measured rather than the rate at which a local authority can borrow. I hope that with these explanations the hon. Members will withdraw the Prayer, though we appreciate the reason that led to the laying of the Prayer and the point that has been raised by the Committee upstairs.
§ 11.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)
The hon. Gentleman has been somewhat condescending in his remarks. I really cannot congratulate him on his covering-up operations. He has reiterated several times that he accepts full responsibility. It is a new doctrine to me that the Parliamentary Secretary, or indeed the Ministry of Health, can accept full responsibility for the actions of the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, who do not even condescend to be present.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
No. The hon. Gentleman is fond of interrupting himself, but I notice he does not give way very readily. [Interruption.] If hon. Members had been in the House at the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech—[HON. MEMBERS: "They walked out."]—they would have seen that the hon. Gentleman had to be subjected to considerable pressure before he gave way to a question. He sets a bad example in that respect.
407 We have had no explanation of the curious conduct in this matter. We have had an apology from the Parliamentary Secretary and the statement that he accepts responsibility, but we have had no explanation of how this came about.
Let us see what has been established. The Order was made on 24th April, the date on which it was signed by the Minister of Health, and it was not sent to the Lords Commissioners until 6th May. I should like to know why that interval of time was allowed to elapse. Was that due to the normal machinery now in operation under the Minister of Health? Does it really take the present Government a fortnight to pass a communication from the Minister of Health to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury? What is the explanation of that delay?
What happened then? It stayed with the Lords Commissioners from 6th May to 26th May—20 days. Did they really take all that time to read this order and understand it? Did they make any inquiries of the Minister about what it meant? It is not enough for the hon. Gentleman to say he accepts full responsibility. It is the conduct of the Lords Commissioners that has been partly called in question here. What did they do with this document during these 20 days? Did they consider it every one of these 20 days? Did they put it away in one of their files and forget about it while organising other operations? I think it is a discourtesy to this House that two of the Lords Commissioners who held this Order, perhaps reading it night and day for 20 days, should not have bothered to attend the House to explain what they found so extremely incomprehensible about this Order signed by the Minister of Health.
It does not stop there. After 26th May, back the Order comes to the Minister of Health. It is not laid before Parliament until 21st June. What is the explanation of that delay? What went wrong? There are three different things which the hon. Gentleman ought to try to explain. On one of them we do not ask him for an explanation for the simple reason that he is deserted by the Lords Commissioners. But two are obviously within his power to explain—the reasons for the delay between 24th April and 408 6th May, and between 26th May and 21st June. This extraordinary delay in the transaction of public business is only an indication of the present incapacity of His Majesty's Government. I feel that, even at this late hour, we on this side are doing a public service by drawing attention to the defects in the administration of the present Government.
We have been asked by the hon. Gentleman to withdraw this Prayer. Whether we do so or not remains to be seen. But at least we are entitled to ask the hon. Gentleman for what he has absolutely failed to explain. At least we are entitled to point out to him that it really is not enough in this House just to get up and say, "I accept full responsibility, and I apologise," without telling hon. Members really what went wrong in this particular instance. A lot appears to have gone wrong. Or is the hon. Gentleman saying that so far as the Ministry of Health is concerned, there was no departure from the usual procedure in that Ministry? [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide."] It is not enough for hon. Members on the back benches on the other side of the House to shout "Divide," in another endeavour to stifle debate. We had one attempt, when they were all absent, to count out the House. Obviously they are not sufficiently interested to join me in seeking from the hon. Gentleman an explanation of the curious conduct of the Ministry of Health in regard to this Order.
I suggest to them that in the interests of the public service it is important that we should be satisfied that adequate steps have been taken to ensure that nothing of this sort can ever happen again. We have not yet had a very adequate assurance on that point. The hon. Gentleman is always so ready to get to his feet, and I invite him to get on his feet again and repair his omissions.
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor
Some little time ago I asked if I might move the Adjournment of the Debate so that the Lords Commissioners concerned might attend and give their explanation. You then stated, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it would not be proper for me to attempt to move the Adjournment while another hon. Member was speaking. I now beg to 409 move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ 12.8 a.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
As hon. Members opposite have indicated with considerable vocal power that they desire this Debate to go on, I must say that I agree with them in the view which they have, perhaps a trifle incoherently, expressed, that some further explanation is due from the Government Bench. I think that it is due not so much from the Parliamentary Secretary, who has undoubtedly done his best, though perhaps not a very good best, to cover the mistakes of others, but particularly from the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, who today are conspicuous by their absence. There is one point which they alone can explain, and which it is unfair to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to explain.
The Parliamentary Secretary has told the House that this Order was sent to the Treasury on 6th May, and the Treasury's Memorandum submitted to the Select Committee makes it clear that on receipt of the Instrument from the Ministry of Health it was submitted for signature to the two Lords Commissioners and was received in the Treasury completed on 22nd May, 1950. That is to say, that to obtain the signatures of two Lords Commissioners of the Treasury required no less than 16 days. I have searched the calendar to see whether there is any explanation apparent there. But there is not. The House was in session. Indeed, the only relevant entry I can find is that there was a new moon. I am bound to say, in fairness to the Lords Commissioners, that they are not at their best at the time of the new moon.
It is an extraordinary thing that when a Statutory Instrument is made in the exercise of delegated legislation by the head of a great Department of State, which for its validity requires the consent of the Treasury, 16 days should elapse before the necessary consent can be obtained. That is a matter which alone the Treasury can explain. Surely other representatives of the Treasury could explain. I see the Patronage Secretary is present, who normally confines his interventions to 410 short and decisive utterances—[HON. MEMBERS:"Hear, hear."] Members opposite think that these are the most effective interventions that come from the Treasury Bench. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear that they approve.
The Parliamentary Secretary did not attempt to deal with the question put by the hon. baronet the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) as to the effect of this delay on the validity of the Order which may, as result, have to be dealt with elsewhere. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to direct his mind to whether an Order, purported to be made on 24th April with the consent of the Treasury, is valid or not when we know that the consent of the Treasury was not obtained until a month later. The Parliamentary Secretary did not attempt to answer, which I think means that he has a shrewd idea that the argument is unanswerable. One can take it, therefore, from his silence—
§ Dr. Morgan (Warrington)
There is also a good deal of repetition going on. Is there not a rule about that?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am certain that you will pay attention to it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as you have the advantage, which the hon. Member has not, of having been present to hear the Debate. Someone on the Treasury Bench must give an assurance on this matter, if the local authorities, who have to operate this Order are not to be left in doubt, because its validity has been challenged on the Floor of the House without any attempt being made by the Government even to assert its validity. There must inevitably be doubt in the minds of the public as to whether the Order is a valid one or not.
Really, the Parliamentary Secretary is not playing fair by the local authorities concerned if he does not at least give an assurance that the legal advisors of his Department have advised him that, not withstanding the admitted irregularities in the making of this Order, the Order, as such, remains valid.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
There is no doubt about that. I can say straightaway what the hon. Gentleman wants to hear about the validity of the Order. That is not in question at all.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman has at last answered the very important point raised by my hon. Friend.
In his speech, the Parliamentary Secretary defended his hon. Friends the Lords Commissioners, on the important issue of the dating of their signatures, on the ground that it was not a customary practice. I do not challenge that it is a customary practice, but I do assert that the customary practice has been shown this evening to be both inappropriate and inconvenient.
We have seen this evening that the dating of the signatures may be highly important, and it is the common experience of all hon. Members of this House that, when signing documents of any importance—even their wills—the adding of the date may have considerable relevance. Not only hon. Members know that, but, I submit, so does everybody else. I hope, Sir, that those who represent the Treasury will take note of that, and will consider whether or not the events of this evening have not shown that what the customary practice has been shown to be is an unsuitable practice, and that it would be better that those who sign for the Treasury on these occasions should follow the normal practice of putting the date against their signatures. [Interruption.] I thought an hon. Member suggested that they should sign with a cross; I make no such allegation, for I believe, in all fairness, that most of them can write. There is a point of serious practice here, and I hope that, as a result of the discussion tonight, it may be rectified.
Finally, there is the point that, as a result of these mistakes and errors, the House has been deprived of the opportunity for debating this Order before it came into effect. That, too, is an issue of substance, for the effective Parliamentary control of these Orders must be affected very much by the dates on which they are laid; because, if an order is to be debated in this House, and annulled, it is better that that should be done before it comes into effect rather than, as in this case, a month afterwards. But the Parliamentary Secretary, on this lapse 412 of his Department, did not really go far enough to show an appreciation of the fact that the lapse of that Department has, in some degree, diminished the extent of Parliamentary control. Furthermore, the action of his hon. Friends in attempting to count out this Debate would, if successful have prevented us from debating the matter at all, which shows how much importance he and his friends really attach to this matter. I hope that the constituents of the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. H. Davies) who made the attempt will not overlook it.
§ 12.20 a.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
I find that this instrument bears on its face some evidence of not being in the form in which it may have been originally submitted to the Minister for signature. I find, for example, in the opening words of the Regulations that the Minister, in exercise of the powers conferred upon him, "hereby makes the following Regulations," and then, when I look at the actual text of the instrument, I find that there is apparently only one Regulation, namely, an alteration in the rate of interest payable under a certain statute.
It occurs to my mind that when the Minister signed this Order on 24th April there may probably have been additional matter there which led him to refer to these as Regulations and not as one would expect, in the singular, as a Regulation. I hope very much the Government can give the House an assurance that, in fact, this instrument is in precisely the form in which it was originally presented to the Minister.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The hon. Member will notice on this particular Order that there are, in fact, two Regulations, Nos. 1 and 2.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I notice that the title of the Regulations, if that is quite the way to refer to them, is expressed in No. 1 but, as I read it, No. 1 does not affect anything at all except that it was apparently written in a spirit of prophecy, because when one reads No. 1 one finds that the instrument is to come into operation on 22nd June, 1950.
This raises another question which I would like to put to the Parliamentary 413 Secretary. Why was it that the Minister signed the Regulations originally on 24th April, if he knew, in fact, as apparently he did, that: hey were only to come into effect on 22nd June, two months later? Does he know that the delays on the part of the Government are so appalling that it is now necessary for him to sign regulations very nearly two months in advance of the date on which they are to come into operation in order that they may be sent down the road to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury so that the two of them may be brought from this House into one room, excused for a moment from their duties here, in order to put their names to these two Regulations, and that then the paper is to be sent back to the appropriate department, arriving just in time on 2lst June in order to carry out the Minister's intention?
Really, this seems to me to be a very laborious process. Why was it that it was necessary to have this instrument signed very nearly two months ahead of the Debate? I can only draw the conclusion, first of all because of the slip as to the number of regulations that the Minister was, in fact, purporting to sign, and, secondly, this mysterious fact that the date now appears nearly two months after the signatures, there is some evidence for saying that when the instrument was at the Treasury the Lords Commissioners found something to which they objected, that the instrument was altered, and that there have been comings and goings and discussions of which this House so far has no knowledge whatsoever, and of which we are entitled to demand an explanation this evening. I find this set of Regulations, if they may be so called, is entirely unsatisfactory.
§ 12.25 a.m.
§ Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I have been greatly impressed by the speeches we have listened to by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I am convinced that the Government have been guilty of some very serious misdemeanour in connection with this Order. Because I fear that there is some doubt whether hon. Members opposite will have an opportunity of expressing in the Division Lobby their opposition to and their sense of injury from the action of the Government, I consider it my duty, in order that they may not be deprived of that opportunity, to support the annulment of this Order, 414 and to carry it to a Division. I think it is desirable that hon. Members should have that opportunity, when the full 296 of them can register their protest.
§ 12.26 a.m.
§ Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
Before the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) takes the step he has suggested, I think it would be as well if he were to get some more information on which to act, because unless he knows the facts of the case it will probably be rather difficult for him to vote. Of course, he may be "whipped" into the Lobby—but perhaps it may be improper for me to say so. However, he should really be pressing for greater knowledge to be supplied from his own Front Bench. That is what I propose to do.
There is one question which has remained unanswered, and it is a very important question. The only representative of the Government who has dared to stand up and speak from the Government Front Bench is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. He enjoys standing up and speaking, but I cannot believe that he really can enjoy pretending that he speaks on behalf of the Treasury.
When we read into the Memorandum from the Treasury the dates the Parliamentary Secretary has supplied to the House, it reads in this way. I should like to draw the attention of the House to these very significant dates. We turn to the Report of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Memorandum from the Treasury in reply to the inquiries, and paragraph I reads thus:On receipt of the Instrument from the Ministry of Health on 6th May"—the date supplied by the Parliamentary Secretary—it was submitted for signature by two Lords Commissioners, and was received in the Treasury completed on 22nd May, 1950.We have these definite dates, 6th May and 22nd May, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) referred. No explanation of that delay of 16 days has been supplied by the Government—
§ Mr. John Lewis (Bolton, West)
On a point of order. Representations were made to you a little earlier, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, about tedious repetition. I think it must be within your knowledge 415 that this matter has been referred to on three occasions already. I would ask you to give a Ruling on this point, so that, perhaps, we may not have to submit to this any longer.
I was looking up the Rule, and I must warn the hon. Gentleman that we have had this question of date gone into very fully. If the hon. Member persists in it I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
That question, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, was posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. He, in fact, was the only Member to raise this issue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] He was the only Member to raise this issue, and no hon. Member on the other side of the House can deny that. That question has not been answered, and no attempt was made to answer it by any representative of the Government on the Front Bench. What I would submit to you, with the greatest respect, is this.
Am I not entitled, after the Parliamentary Secretary has supplied us with the dates, to ask him once again whether he will consider making an answer himself, with the full responsibility of speaking on behalf of the Treasury? If he does not speak on behalf of the Treasury, I would ask him why it is that we cannot get a straight answer to a straight question from the Treasury itself, because we have not yet had one.
I would not like to pursue that matter to the embarrassment of the Government, but really I do not think that the House —I am not trying to make trouble in this matter at all—[Hon. Members: "Oh, no!"]—of course not. But we are entitled to a straight answer to a straight question, and if we do not get it I think we are entitled to go on asking the question. I would ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to consider this. If in the future the Ministry of Health, either through the right hon. Gentleman or the Parliamentary Secretary, are to speak for the Treasury, who, in future, are we to expect to introduce the Budget in this House? Are we to understand that in future the full authority of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer—
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I certainly will not follow that point. I think it might involve us in a wider sphere of debate than would be suitable at this time in the morning. But I would most earnestly ask that there should be some indication given from the Government that there will be no recurrence of this sort of affair at all. No apology has been made. We have seen the published apology, and I only wish that the Press of the nation could read through the full verbatim apology offered by the Ministry of Health, and then they would see how culpable is that Ministry.
I only wish that on the Floor of this House someone would give an under taking—even the Home Secretary who is sitting there. He always most gallantly turns up at the end of these Debates. It is so unfortunate that he never hears the beginning of them. If he did hear the beginning he might—
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
Judging by the part I have heard. I was very lucky not to hear the beginning.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I am a very junior Member of this House and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman not to judge the rest of the Debate on my standard. But I do think it would be a very good thing if some right hon. Gentleman on the Government Front Bench were to get up and give the House an undertaking that this sort of thing would not happen again. We are entitled to that. The Parliamentary Secretary has had plenty of time. He has now read through the Order and he is beginning to know something of the subject on which the whole of this Debate is based.
I think by now he has had time to get up and say, "I am sorry. I will speak to my right hon. Friend and I will give that assurance on his behalf." But can he do that? I believe that the fact that we have had no such apology is because nobody can speak for the Minister of Health. He is completely irresponsible in such matters.
§ 12.34 a.m.
§ Sir J. Mellor
On our complaint of the unjustifiable delay by the Ministry of Health we have had no satisfactory explanation. On our complaint of the unjustifiable delay by the Treasury we have had no explanation whatever. Therefore, on that aspect of the matter we remain entirely dissatisfied—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide"]—but such complaint as I made with regard to the substance of the Order was at least dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary and he produced an apparently reasonable explanation. Therefore, as I have no wish to destroy the Order, because I do not object to it in substance, I see no purpose in dividing the House. I do not ask leave to withdraw, I merely say I do not propose to divide the House.
§ Question put.
§ The House proceeded to a Division.
§ Mr. POOLE and Mr. USBORNE were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but no Members being willing to act as Tellers for the Noes, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 24th April 1950, entitled the Housing (Rate of Interest) Regulations, 1950 (S.I. No. 1008), a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st June 1950, be annulled.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household.