HC Deb 24 May 1950 vol 475 cc2194-6

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to raise a matter in regard to the Motion on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor), the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and other hon. Gentlemen including myself, which reads That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order, dated 17th April, 1950, entitled the Bacon (Rationing) (Amendment No. 2) Order, 1950 (S.I., 1950, No. 618), a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th April, be annulled. In this Motion there is a grave discourtesy to the House and to yourself, Mr. Speaker. Clearly this is a complete task of supererogation, since it asks for the annulment of an Order which has already been annulled. The point which I desire to raise is whether there are any means of giving notice to the House at an earlier stage when a Prayer of this sort raises something which has already been decided.

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

Further to that point of order. I would seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, for the future in regard to any similar Order of the Ministry of Food with reference to any Motion which may appear on the Order Paper. The Motion on the Order Paper today was tabled on 17th May, and I am now informed that subsequent to the tabling of that Motion an Order has been tabled which, while revoking the Order against which this Motion is Praying, made continuous the point of substance—the reduction of the bacon ration from 5 ounces to 4 ounces.

I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on a point which may be of some constitutional importance. [Laughter.] I hope hon. Members opposite who may before very long find themselves on these benches, will appreciate this point of substance. It is to seek your guidance whether there is any protection in the Rules of this House against the action of a Ministry, after a Motion has been tabled to annul one of their Orders, tabling another which, while preserving the facts, prevents the original Motion from being debated. Further, is there any protection against that procedure being followed again and again, in order to deny to this House the control which it ought to have under the Statutory Instruments Act on delegated legislation.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

Order 618 was signed on 17th April. That Order was covered by the Motion, which has been upon the Order Paper for a week. That has the effect of reducing the bacon ration from 5 ounces to 4. As my hon. Friend said, notice of it was given last week. Then on 12th May the Ministry of Food made a new Order, which reaffirmed the bacon ration of 4 ounces and brought in certain other matters, but did not repeal Statutory Instrument No. 618, so that both Instruments ask for the same thing. That Instrument refers to the principal Order, and was signed on 12th May. The principal Order was signed on 19th May, not by the Minister but by the Parliamentary Secretary. On 12th May the Minister passed Order No. 784 which says Bacon is hereby declared to be rationed for the purposes of the principal Order. That principal Order is Order No. 1950 C, Statutory Instrument No. 790. Now, No. 790 was not signed till seven days later. We have heard a bit about retrospective legislation but this was anticipatory. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh, but we are face to face with a matter of constitutional importance. Hon. Gentlemen are very stupid to laugh at it. In the totalitarian States they make laws by decree, and these Orders are decrees in the Continental sense. If one decree can refer to a decree which is made seven days later, we are face to face with a major constitutional issue. If, on the day we expect to debate an Order we find that we cannot have a Debate because—[Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen go to the Vote Office they can get Statutory Instrument No. 790. They will find, in Regulation 32 (1): The Food Rationing Orders, 1949, (hereinafter referred to as 'the 1949 Orders'), are hereby revoked. Then there are all kinds of things. I find that the Bacon (Rationing) (Amendment No. 2) Order, 1950, which is Statutory Instrument 790 was available to hon. Members only on Monday. Unless they got this document and read it very carefully, and had seen the footnote, they would not have realised that the Order against which we were supposed to be praying tonight was repealed. That was done by a footnote in an Order available in the Vote Office only on Monday.

I think that is a complete abuse of constitutional procedure. The Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1947, and the Statutory Instruments Act which came into operation on 1st January, 1947, were designed to protect the liberty of the subject, even including the liberty of Socialist subjects, although they do not quite understand it. We are face to face with a major constitutional issue in this Order.

Mr. Speaker

As far as I am concerned the position is clear. The Order which it is sought to pray against now is dead. Therefore we cannot pray against it. Whether the methods of the Ministry in cancelling the Order are right or wrong is not a matter for me.