HC Deb 10 May 1950 vol 475 cc392-4

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

3.47 p.m.

Mr. Driberg (Maldon)

I hope not to detain the Committee for more than a few minutes in any consideration of a Measure which was described by my noble Friend who moved its Second Reading in another place as non-contentious in character and entirely of a technical nature. None the less, there are one or two assurances which I should like to ask of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations before the Committee agrees to Clause 3. This is the kind of Clause which is always regarded—I think by hon. Members on both sides—with some caution. I put it no higher than that. I should like, therefore, to secure one or two assurances from my right hon. Friend.

I need hardly remind one who has always shown such jealous concern for the Parliamentary proprieties as my right hon. Friend has done, of the substantial sections of Erskine May which relate to this kind of Clause. He will remember, I am sure, that in Chapter 29, on page 808, there is the well-known example of the Destructive Imported Animals Act, 1932. As Erskine May says, the inclusion of such a Clause means that: A principle enacted in a Statute can be extended in some roughly similar direction.

The Chairman (Major Milner)

I am sorry that I did not catch the page reference. Would the hon. Member be good enough to give it to me?

Mr. Driberg

It is page 808 of the 14th Edition of Erskine May, Major Milner. In the case I am quoting, as my right hon. Friend will remember, the Destructive Imported Animals Act, 1932, aimed at the musk rat, was thus applied to the grey squirrel. On the next page of Erskine May there is a passage which seems to me much more relevant to the Clause now under consideration, which, if I mistake not—and here I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to reassure me—is what is known as a "Henry VIII Clause". As Erskine May says—quite rightly, if one may say so without disrespect— Objection has been taken to a form of enabling enactment sometimes called the' Henry VIII Clause', whereby a statute permits the appropriate Minister to modify its provisions so far as may appear to him necessary for the purpose of bringing them into operation. The use of this Clause, usually transitory, was specially examined by the Committee on Ministers' Powers; it is extremely convenient for making minor adjustments to fit a new principle into the fabric of existing legislation, general or local, and to meet cases of hardship to local authorities, but the argument of convenience might obviously be pushed too far. It may well be necessary in this Bill—and it would be quite out of Order and inappropriate to argue the merits of the original Act when discussing one Clause in a purely consequential Measure—it may be necessary to include such a Clause as that in this Bill purely for the sake of administrative convenience to ourselves and those who come after us; but I feel that we should ask my right hon. Friend if he will give us some assurance that, so far as possible, this so-called "Henry VIII" procedure will not be resorted to unduly in future legislation.

It may well be said—and I have no doubt my right hon. Friend will tell us when he replies—that subsection (1) of Clause 3 is, as it were, safeguarded and fenced in by subsection (2), which says that, The draft of any Order in Council made under this section shall be laid before Parliament. That is quite true, but I would like my right hon. Friend to make it absolutely clear whether that simply means that such an Order can be prayed against in the ordinary way or whether it means that it would have to be approved by an Affirmative Resolution.

I think those are the only assurances I shall ask my right hon. Friend to give us, but it is, of course, important to remember, when draftsmen are including this kind of delegated legislation in actual legislation, that, although it may be perfectly safe to do so when we have a Government of the present kind in power—liberal, humane, intelligent, sensible, clear-headed, forward-looking and so on—the position might be very different if a Government of a different colour were in power, a Government more wedded to arbitrary and dictatorial ways. That is why I feel that we are entitled on this occasion, to ask my right hon. Friend for the assurances that I have sought.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Gordon-Walker)

I am happy to give my hon. Friend all the assurances he asks. I assure him we will not use this Clause to go into operation against grey squirrels, although I wish we could as I deplore the rapid disappearance of the red squirrel. Any orders under this Clause are of a sort which could be prayed against; and I can also assure my hon. Friend that not even a Conservative Government could really abuse the terms of this Clause to take away our liberties.

Mr. Driberg

Thank you.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule and Preamble agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.