HC Deb 21 February 1951 vol 484 cc1301-72

Order for Second Reading read.

3.54 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The main and the simple object of this Bill is to make it clear that the Supplies and Services Acts and the Defence Regulations which are in force under those Acts can be used for the purposes set out in Clause 1 of this Bill; that is to say, for building up our defences and so helping to preserve world peace and security. I should like to make it abundantly clear at the beginning that this Bill does not enable the Government to make any new Defence Regulations. This can apply only to regulations which already exist.

When in October last I introduced the Motions continuing the main emergency powers for a period of one year, I said that at the appropriate time Parliament would have to consider the field within which those powers should be made permanent, and the Gracious Speech at the opening of the present Session referred to the Government's intention to introduce legislation on this subject. This Bill does not affect that. Permanent legislation would deal with long-term economic controls, whereas this Bill is concerned primarily, though not exclusively, with temporary powers regarding requisitioning and similar emergency procedures.

I say at once that Clause 1 really does little more than to remove doubts. The Supplies and Services Acts are drawn in wide terms, and we are not therefore in any great legal difficulty over the use of these powers, although in particular cases, to which I shall refer in a minute, we feel that some clarification is desirable. The reason why we are coming to Parliament with this Bill is that defence and rearmament were not among the main purposes contemplated by Parliament when the Supplies and Services Acts of 1945 and 1947 were passed, and now that they are coming more and more into the centre of the picture we feel it right that they should be expressly sanctioned by an Act of Parliament. We do that because, as the House well knows, we are a very, very constitutional Government. We have always been meticulously and scrupulously careful and respectful about the rights of Parliament and the principles of our great constitution.

This is in line with what we have done on previous occasions. For example, when the Act of 1945 was passed it contained a pretty wide purpose in Section 1 (1, a), namely, to secure a sufficiency of supplies and services essential to the well-being of the community. It was arguable that those words would cover anything needed for defence purposes, but during the passage of that Act the Government promised that property which had been requisitioned by the Service Departments would not be retained under that Act unless the property were turned over to essential economic purposes, otherwise it would be given up before the end of the two years' period allowed by the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945.

That was an indication that the Government did not intend to use the requisitioning regulations for purely military purposes. Accordingly, two years later, when it was found that, owing to the unsettled international situation, the defence services could not be allowed to run down any further, we did not think it right to rely on the wide words of the Supplies and Services Act, but we came back to Parliament with a new Measure—the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1948, which enabled Service Departments to retain requisitioned property.

Then in the economic sphere, when balance of payments difficulties became acute in the summer of 1947 and more drastic controls had to be imposed for the purpose of increasing exports and economies on imports, we thought it desirable, to be on the safe side, to pass the Supplies and Services (Extended Purposes) Act, 1947. I well remember the day upon which that Bill came up for Second Reading. The Opposition were in a state of the most amazing suspicion. The Leader of the Opposition was in that state, and they denounced us as if they thought that at least that was the beginning of the social revolution beside which the socialisation of iron and steel was relatively unimportant. They were mistaken about that. We tried to mitigate the apprehensions of the Opposition, although I must admit that the hon.

Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Grossman), did his best to stimulate all the fears of the Opposition, while I was attempting to allay them, and I think shat, in the light of experience, I was right and my hon. Friend was perhaps wrong.

We were suspected of all sorts of dark designs at the time, but the truth was that we were only being respectable once again. We were protecting the Constitution and the rights of Parliament, and we were merely seeking Parliamentary endorsement of the use of economic control powers for purposes which seemed to us to go rather beyond the transitional matters contemplated in 1945. Now, once again matters have taken a different turn, and we find ourselves compelled to harness our economy, to a greater extent than was ever contemplated in peacetime, to the task of re-armament. We all wish that was not necessary.

This may involve not only the re-imposition of economic controls which had lapsed, but also the direct use by the Service Departments and the Ministry of Supply of powers to requisition land and buildings and to do work on land. These latter powers are not covered by the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1948, which only dealt with the retention of land already requisitioned or works already executed and did not give powers to carry out new requisitioning and works.

Everybody recognises that these powers may have to be used in order to speed up the defence programme and probably, if we were prepared to adapt our interpretation of the law a little, we could do nearly everything needed under the existing provisions of the Supplies and Services Acts. But, as I have said, we feel that the right course is to obtain express Parliamentary sanction, and not to depend on Acts of Parliament which were primarily directed at other matters. Moreover, there are one or two questions about which we have felt some legal difficulty. In connection with the Korean operations, the Minister of Transport has been able to charter all the ships he required but, if difficulties had arisen, we should have had to consider whether it was permissible to requisition ships for such purposes.

The language of the 1945 and 1947 Acts may well be wide enough to cover the general building up of the defence services, on the ground that such services are essential to the well-being of the community. As provided by Section 1 (1, a) of the 1945 Act, or that the use of the "resources of the community" for this purpose is "calculated to serve the interests of the community" as provided by Section 1 (1, c) of the 1947 Act. But when it comes to the use of requisitioning powers for a specific military operation on the other side of the world, which has no connection with our general economic arrangements, the language becomes somewhat strained.

That is one difficulty, and the other is that we may have to use these powers to prevent supplies which might be of vital importance to so-called Communist countries, being sent to those countries. If we need the supplies urgently ourselves, there is no great difficulty, but if the primary motive is to deny the supplies to the other country rather than to secure them for ourselves, it can hardly fall within the purposes of the existing Acts. That matter is expressly covered by paragraph (b) of Clause 1 (1) of the Bill.

Before leaving Clause 1, I may perhaps say a word about subsection (2). We do not regard this provision as strictly necessary, but we have put it in to allay the anxieties felt, particularly by our Liberal colleagues, whose point of view in this matter we fully appreciate. We have never thought it possible to use such Defence Regulations as Defence Regulation 55 to prohibit the publication of a newspaper whose views might be obnoxious to one side or the other of the House, or to discriminate against such a newspaper by cutting short their supplies of newsprint.

During the war there were specific Defence Regulations which empowered the Government to suppress newspapers, and in that field I had a modest experience at the Home Office. But they were among the 84 Defence Regulations whose revocation I was able to announce to the House on 9th May, 1945, on the morrow of victory in Europe. We do not really feel, therefore, that the Press need any protection in this Bill. However, we accepted an amendment when the Supplies and Services (Extended Purposes) Act, 1947, was being debated, in terms similar to subsection (2) of Clause 1, of this Bill, and for that reason we have inserted the same provision in this Bill, so that the House can feel that we are on the safe side on a matter to which, I know, the House would attach importance.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Some of us feel a little uneasy about this Clause. Suppose a firm is engaged on important contracts for defence and because of differences with their men they refuse to carry out the contracts, would the Government be prepared to take action immediately in the interests of the nation's defence in cases of that kind?

Mr. Morrison

That is a somewhat hypothetical question.

Mr. Kirkwood (Dunbartonshire, East)

No, Craven Bros.

Mr. Morrison

Maybe, but I do not want to indulge in any judgment of a situation where we are not at the moment called upon to act in this respect, and, therefore, while I think that the powers under the Bill may conceivably be usable on such an occasion—that may be so, but perhaps that might be further examined in Committee—I should not like to express a view as to what the Government would do in the particular circumstances to which my hon. Friend has referred.

I now come to Clause 2 which is the only other substantive provision of the Bill, At first sight it may seem to the House that this detailed Clause providing for the stopping up of highways for defence purposes has not very much connection with the wide matters covered by Clause 1. The connection, however, is quite a simple one. When we decided that a Bill was desirable to justify the use of existing Defence Regulations for defence purposes, we considered with some care whether any of the Defence Regulations which had been revoked would be required again in the circumstances of today. We came to the conclusion that there was one such Regulation, the old Defence Regulation 16 which was originally available for the purpose of closing roads near defence establishments and factories but can now only be used for opencast coal working and the construction of generating stations.

During the war this Regulation was an essential part of the machinery for rapid expansion of defence facilities, especially airfields. It was complementary to the requisitioning powers and the powers to do work on land under Defence Regulations 50 and 51, which still remain in full force. Without this power, the extension of an airfield may be held up for six or even nine months if the ordinary peacetime procedure for stopping up highways, under the Highways Act, 1835, or Section 49 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, is gone through. This is a serious matter, and we simply cannot afford avoidable delay in matters of this kind. Already there have been some cases, in which the extension of runways at air-fields required for essential operational purposes has been delayed because of the necessity for lengthy proceedings for stopping up a road passing over or near the proposed extension.

We do not like bringing this power back in peace-time, and we have done our best to make the Clause as acceptable as possible. In the first place, the power is exercisable by the Minister of Transport, instead of by the Service Departments, which is by agreement. The Minister can only exercise the power if, he is satisfied that it is urgently necessary for defence purposes, and he has to give 21 days' notice before making the order. This should be a sufficient period for enabling local authorities and others to inform the Minister of any serious objections to his proposal and for him to consider them, but of course it does not give, and I do not see how we can do it, time for a formal inquiry. The power is only a temporary power, and it will come to an end when the Supplies and Services Act, 1945, expires; in fact, it has the status of a Defence Regulation.

The second part of the Clause provides machinery, which was not in the Defence Regulation, for the permanent stopping up of a highway which has already been temporarily stopped up, and for the provision of a permanent alternative route as necessary. The procedure is that laid down by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, which is applied for the purposes of this part of the Clause and gives protection for the interests of the public and of statutory undertakers. We anticipate that in cases where it is clear that the stopping up will be permanent—where a permanent concrete runway has been built over the old road, for example—the Minister of Transport will apply the Town and Country Planning Act code of procedure, which will enable the Minister to provide permanent alternative facilities, including an alternative highway, at the expense of the Service or other Department responsible for the work necessitating the closure of the road.

I do not think I need say anything much about the remaining provisions of the Bill. Clause 4 enables it to be extended to the Colonies and other territories to which the Supplies and Services Acts already extend. The procedure is by Order in Council, as in the earlier Acts.

As the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained on 15th February in the Defence debate, there will have to be requisitioning of land and buildings not only for defence production but also for the accommodation and storage requirements of the Service and Civil Departments. This means that more use will have to made than recently of Defence Regulations 50, 51 and 85. Moreover, although the Under-Secretary of State for War indicated in the House on 20th November, 1947, that it was then hoped that it would not be necessary to use Defence Regulation 52 to obtain training rights over new areas, in the new situation which has now arisen it will be necessary to make some use of the Regulation in respect of new areas. Where the requisitioning of land is contemplated, the civilian authorities concerned are consulted. These consultations will continue, though we shall have to ensure that the machinery of consultation acts sufficiently speedily in urgent cases.

This is a short and modest Bill and the House will no doubt give it a Second Reading without too long a delay. Because we still have powers under Defence Regulations which we have had to retain in order to deal with our postwar economic problems, we do not need any sweeping new powers in this Bill, which shows how wise we were to keep the Supplies and Services Act going for five years and to make it renewable, although there was some controversy about it at the time. We are satisfied that if existing powers can be used for those new purposes, and if the power to close roads near defence establishments is restored, we shall possess the powers we need at the present moment to carry out our defence programme and play our part in the maintenance of world peace and security. That, shortly stated, is the case for the Bill, and I am hoping with confidence that the House will give it a Second Reading.

4.16 p.m.

Mr. McCorquodale (Epsom)

The right hon. Gentleman has introduced this relatively small Measure in a non-controversial way, and I hope to follow his example so far as I am able. In the Gracious Speech last autumn, the Government announced in a resounding phrase their intention to introduce legislation to regulate, subject of course to Parliamentary safeguards, such as they were, production, distribution and consumption; and to control prices and all the rest of it. The previous week the Lord President had announced in the House that at the appropriate time it would be right for Parliament to face up to introducing permanent legislation.

We had expected by now that we should have heard something about these plans so grandiloquently announced last autumn, but there is no sign in this Bill of such a scheme, and although I listened attentively to the right hon. Gentleman he did not give any hint of his intentions. This Bill has nothing to do with such proposals. It is designed to allow Defence Regulations that were introduced by the Conservatives and the Coalition Governments once more to be used for their original purposes, which many of us think is their only proper purpose, that of defence both at home and overseas. One is reminded, in passing, how often the wheel of life turns the full circle.

We remain strongly opposed in peacetime to the whole system by which the Government act by means of regulations of this sort and orders made under them. It is only for the defence of the country that they can be justified in our view. While we are not opposing the Second Reading of the Bill, as it is for defence purposes, I wish to make it crystal clear that we do not abate the opposition we have expressed—the opposition my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) expressed in regard to the 1947 Act and speakers in the debate which took place on the Gracious Speech last autumn—to any permanent extension of these powers over the economic life of the country. We again emphasise, what is surely a truism, that in a Parliamentary democracy the Government should proceed by specific Acts of Parliament and not by regulations, and that the reverse should be and is repugnant to real liberty-loving peoples everywhere. Though we are not today opposing the Second Reading of the Bill, there are one or two Amendments which we think necessary and which we shall press during the Committee stage.

I must comment very briefly on the chaotic state into which legislation on all these Defence Regulations has been plunged. I shall not try to state the legal position; I am not qualified to do so and some of my hon. Friends will deal with it later. But I must say that these Defence Regulations, introduced in 1939 and 1940 and due to expire in 1946, have been kept alive by the present Government in a whole plethora of further Acts of Parliament to such an extent that the jungle is so thick that any non-legal person is at his wits' end to find his way through it all.

The important Acts were those of 1945 and 1947. The 1945 Act terminated a great many of the defence purposes for which those Regulations had originally been made, and substituted demobilisation and resettlement. Then came 1947. The right hon. Gentleman has reminded us of the economic crisis into which this country was then plunged. We on this side of the House well remember that that was the time when the baleful star of the Minister of Town and Country Planning was in the ascendant over our economic and financial affairs. We regard that as one of the reasons why those unhappy times were experienced by this country.

We opposed, and still oppose, the use of these Defence Regulations permanently in the life of the community for such economic purposes. In those days the Government had a large majority and were able easily to impose their wishes in the House. Since then we have added some weight to our numbers on this side of the House. I might even go so far as to say that I myself returned from a short rustication in the country. The result was soon noticed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—not my own return of course, but the added weight of my hon. Friends, for I would remind the House that one of the first actions which this Government took after the General Election, under strong pressure from our side of the House, was to relinquish Regulation 58A and the direction and control of labour which was then operating in this country under it. I mention that because I shall have more to say on that point later in my remarks.

Finally, the whole conglomoration of Acts under which these Regulations are operated is now being kept alive from year to year. Under the original intentions of the Government they should have expired in 1950, and last autumn we allowed them to proceed for one more year. But I would remind the House of what my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) said in the debate on that occasion. He said: Even so, all this corpus has to he looked at and has to be pruned down, and we serve notice that in our view this has to he done within the next 12 months."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2518.] I gather that there are more than 100 of these Defence Regulations, ranging from the most important to the very trivial. If this Bill is passed there will then be nine different purposes for which these Regulations can be used, and I leave to the imagination of the more arithmetically minded Members of the House the numbers, combinations and permutations of uses of them which are possible.

To turn to the Clauses of the Bill, there are one or two points at least on which we shall require satisfaction in Committee. It is stated, in Clause 1 (1): The purposes specified in subsection (1) of section one of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, shall be deemed to include, and always to have included, the purposes.… Those purposes are then stated. Here we have the retrospective action which this Government seem to be so fond of bringing into their legislation, and which we on this side of the House at all events dislike. Why have they brought in this retrospective provision? The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, I must say, is most ingenuous. It says: The main purpose of this Bill is to make it clear that the Defence Regulations … can be used… not to give powers so that they can be used but "to make it clear" that they can be used.

It would appear from those words that some Ministers have in fact been using powers which they should not have been using, and that it is here proposed to absolve them in respect of their nefarious actions. That point needs looking into a little further. I am emboldened to say that because of the words which the Lord President of the Council himself used in the 1947 Debate, on the Second Reading of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act. Speaking from that Box, he must, I think—and I can only say "I think" as I was not here at the time—have used them with that air of rectitude and innocence which he can adopt with such skill at times. He used the following very remarkable words in relation to this very point. He was saying that on no account should Ministers overstep their powers in this way and what a bad thing it would be. His words were: We do not want Ministers to stretch the meaning of the law in the framing and administration of Defence Regulations. He went on to say that it would be unconstitutional—and I can almost hear him saying it—that it would be undesirable and thoroughly objectionable. Therefore, because of legal doubt, because we wanted Ministers to be able to say to themselves all the time, 'I am acting within the law,'…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th August. 1947; Vol. 441, c. 1796.] they proceeded with that Measure.

It now appears— it must appear from the fact that the Government want a retrospective cover for their actions—that some Ministers have been acting unconstitutionally, undesirably and indeed thoroughly objectionably. We shall require to know during the Committee Stage, if those words are to be left in the Bill, what Ministers have been behaving in this very odd way, whether the right hon. Gentleman has had them on the carpet and why this white sheet is required. That is an important point on which we hope we shall receive full satisfaction, and which we shall indeed seek to probe to the full when we reach the Committee Stage.

To turn to page 2 of the Bill we welcome, as the right hon. Gentleman has said the whole House would welcome, Clause 2 (2), which states: Nothing in the said Act or in this section shall be held to authorise the suppression or suspension of any newspaper, periodical, book or other publication. In my own interests I naturally welcome that provision, and I also welcome it in the interests of us all. I do not think that we wish to see these Defence Regulations used for purposes of that kind in a free country such as this. I welcome it all the more because we do find right hon. Gentlemen opposite expressing themselves from time to time fairly forcibly about some sections of the Press. We are glad to learn that right hon. Gentlemen do not wish to take the matter further.

I emphasise that aspect because we shall wish to introduce a third subsection relating to a similar matter, to provide that nothing in the said Act or the Clause shall be held to authorise the Government to re-impose Defence Regulation 58A, which provides for the direction of the control of labour. We wish that power to be taken out of Defence Regulations. Speaking on that very point, the Minister of Labour, in his speech in the Defence debate last week, said: I have discussed this matter already with the representatives of the trade unions and of the employers, and we have come to the conclusion that it would be premature to reach a decision about the direction of labour,…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 730–1.] That means to say that it is not ruled out altogether. Indeed, in the circumstances in which we live, he would be a rash man who said that it was.

On this side of the House, and I believe throughout the whole House, the direction and control of labour in peace-time are thoroughly disliked. If the Government do at any time think that it is absolutely necessary to adopt such powers, they should come down to the House and present a specific and limited Bill to that end. The Bill could be discussed on Second Reading, examined in Committee and amended if necessary, and rejected or adopted by Parliament in the light of the situation then existing. We do not approve of a procedure whereby Regulation 58A for the control of labour may be reintroduced by a signature given in a back room in the Ministry of Labour. It should be done with full consultation and in the full light of Parliamentary examination.

In this attitude we are fortified by pledges which were given during the debate on the Gracious Speech, both by the Lord Chancellor in another place and by the Minister of Town and Country Planning. The Minister gave a pledge, not exactly corresponding to what I have said but very similar. I think his words were to the effect that any Bill to introduce emergency legislation would not contain the power to direct labour. I hope that the Government will be able to accept in Committee an Amendment which I believe is in line with these promises. We attach the greatest possible importance to this matter.

Now may I comment for one moment upon Clause 2? This seems to me to contain a sensible procedure. In part it adopts the Town and Country Planning procedure. For the rest of it, we should be churlish if we criticised the desire of the Government. We all understand that they wish to have these powers. There may well be some Committee points on which we should like elucidation or further discussion. I have no doubt that some of my hon. Friends will be raising these points in the debate or during the Committee stage. I have no comment to make on the substance of these proposals except that I wonder whether it would be possible to stretch the 21-day procedure to a little longer in cases where it was not urgently necessary to get on with this work in a great hurry.

This is a little Bill. I emphasise that it is not a great Measure, but in so far as it is necessary for the proper defence of our way of life and for the peace of the world we certainly do not oppose it here. None the less, I emphasise that we remain quite unrepentant in our vigorous resistance to the whole system by which this country's economic life might be permanently regulated in this way. Our action on this occasion must not in any way be regarded as altering our attitude to any permanent legislation which the Government may at some later stage introduce on the subject.

4.34 p.m.

Mr. William Wells (Walsall)

I shall not follow the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) in his somewhat wistful regret that this was not made the occasion for a more ambitious Measure. I heard him, as I have heard other hon. Members on other occasions, refer to his opposition and that of the party of which he is a member to government by regulation. I have done so with a certain amount of scepticism. The party opposite enjoyed a very long period of power between the two wars. Its use of that power we have often discussed on its merits in this House, and I do not propose to discuss it again on this little Measure, but it certainly was not a period in which government by regulation grew conspicuously less.

If the electorate were ever sufficiently unwise to give hon. Gentlemen opposite an opportunity to put into practice the doctrines that have been formulated this afternoon, I very much doubt whether the result would be any different. Having regard to the perspicacity and wisdom of the right hon. Gentleman, I take it that he does not altogether share some of the more optimistic forecasts of his friends about the outcome of a General Election.

Mr. McCorquodale

The hon. Gentleman must not assume anything of the sort. We are only waiting for the chance.

Mr. Wells

The only conclusion I can draw is that the right hon. Gentleman is following the unhappy example of many leaders of his party in saying one thing when in opposition and something quite different when in office.

This Measure is a useful extension and clarification of the Supplies and Services Acts, which one might call the principal Acts. I listened with a little astonishment—if I may again refer to the very moderate and pleasant speech of the right hon. Gentleman—to some of his comments on the so-called retrospective sentence in Clause 1. It suggested to me that it might have escaped the attention of the right hon. Gentleman that military operations had been proceeding for some months in another part of the world. I feel sure that he would not wish, where actions may have been taken in order to expedite the conduct of those operations and might not have been within the strict letter of the law, to do anything to embarrass either the conduct of those operations or those who have acted in good faith in forwarding such purposes. We had better wait and see what the right hon. Gentleman and his hon and learned Friends have to say when we deal with the matter in Committee or elsewhere.

The main point on which I wish to address the House was rather on subsection (1, b) of Clause I which relates to preventing supplies or services being disposed of in a manner prejudicial to the defence of any part of His Majesty's dominions or any such territory as aforesaid or to peace and security in any part of the world or to any such measures as aforesaid. That is, no doubt, a very proper and necessary provision to make, but one must confess that its terms are extremely wide. They are terms whose wisdom when applied to an immediate pre-war situation one must appreciate. Indeed, it might have been better if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite—perhaps it passed through the minds of some of them when they read the Clause—had thought of some similar provisions in the months of 1939 before war broke out. The stockpiling of Nazi Germany might have been impeded to an appreciable extent.

I should like to obtain from the Government a firm assurance that the Clause will be used only to prevent obvious and substantial stock-piling on the part of potential enemies and that it will not be used as an instrument of policy to attempt to coerce countries with whose actions we may not be in present agreement. It would be fatal to yield to any temptation or to pressure, from whatever quarter it might come, to withhold supplies in any ordinary economic quantities and for ordinary economic purposes from areas simply because they are likely to be affected by Communism or to come under Communist control.

The long-term weapon against Communism is only in part military. One of the best weapons against Communism is to raise the standard of living in the countries which are prone to be influenced by Communist policy. This is not a proper occasion on which to raise what might be a kind of Foreign Affairs Debate on a side-wind—

Mr. Pickthorn (Carlton)

It is much easier to sail, on, actually.

Mr. Wells

I did not hear the hon. Member's interjection.

Mr. Pickthom

I was just giving the hon. Gentleman the technical information that a side-wind is actually much easier to sail on.

Mr. Wells

I am very grateful to the hon. Member. No doubt his views about side-winds will be communicated to the Admiralty.

Mr. Pickthom

They have taken to steam.

Mr. Wells

The point I have made is that on which I should like an assurance. I welcome the Bill as a sign that the Government are preparing in good time for any emergency which may arise, and I believe that this Measure is one of those best calculated to prevent such an emergency from becoming a reality.

4.44 p.m.

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

In the comparatively few references which the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. W. Wells) made to the Bill it was not particularly apparent whether he was for or against it. He preferred to succumb to the temptation to which his hon. Friends are always so susceptible and indulged in a disquisition on what I believe are generally described as "the years between the wars."

In so far as I may follow him in his suggestion that my hon. and right hon. Friends are not sincere in their attack on Government by regulation by reason of the fact that a lot of regulations were made between the wars, may I invite his attention to the fact that at no time during the years between the wars was the power of delegated legislation used—or should I say "abused"?—to the extent of carrying out major measures such as the direction of labour. The hon. Gentleman is rating rather low the intelligence of the House if he thinks the House is particularly impressed by the mere numerical enumeration of statutory instruments which completely disregarded their quality. What my hon. Friends have against His Majesty's Government is the abuse of perfectly necessary delegated powers for the purpose of carrying out major acts of policy which they dare not submit to the House.

The only other observation in which the hon. Member saw fit to indulge which might have some materiality to the Bill—that is a rather charitable interpretation of his speech—was his regret that there was no such provision as Clause 1 (1, b) of the Bill in force immediately preceding the outbreak of war in 1939. I would remind him of two things. First, we are then at peace, and, secondly, there were not transactions during that period comparable with the action of the Government which he supports in permitting a few years ago the sending of Rolls-Royce jet engines to Russia—

Mr. Ellis Smith

What was sent to Germany?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

If the hon. Member thinks that jet engines were sent to Germany, he is a certain number of years out.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Do not try to be so funny.

Mr. Albu (Edmonton)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Vickers advertised anti-aircraft guns in Germany before the war?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, at that time there was no question of Government Departments having to permit and license exports. The hon. Gentleman's knowledge of these subjects is such that he knows he cannot equate action taken or not taken at that time when there was no Government responsibility with action taken on the direct responsibility of a Minister of the Crown.

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

That is not even a lawyer's quibble.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I prefer such comments as that to the more pretentious but less effective ones he makes on his feet.

I am always more than usually suspicious when the Lord President of the Council proposes a Measure in the mood of jocose reasonableness which he adopted this afternoon. I always suspect, when he adopts that attitude, that he is anxious that the scrutiny of the House shall not be directed in too much detail upon the Measure he is bringing forward, and, astute Parliamentarian that he is, he generally has extremely good reasons for that. For example, he entirely passed over what was the real purpose of the Bill, on which on the face of the Bill itself there is contradiction. Hon. Members will see in the Explanatory Memorandum, in the words quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale), that: The main purpose of this Bill is to make it clear that the Defence Regulations which are continued in force by the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, can be used for the purposes set out in Clause 1 of the Bill… "To make it clear." However, if one looks at the first words of the Bill, one sees that it is a Bill to extend, for defence purposes and purposes relating to world peace and security, the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945 Therefore, while the Lord President referred in genial terms to "this little Bill," he did not bother to tell the House whether its real purpose is that stated in the Explanatory Memorandum or that in the opening words of the Bill itself.

It is a matter of some materiality and worth a passing reference by a right hon. Gentleman introducing a Government Measure to make it clear whether this is a request for further powers or merely a Measure brought forward for the avoidance of doubt. The Lord President was perhaps a little casual in his references to the constitutional punctilio of the Government which, in his view, alone made it necessary to bring forward this Bill. If that were the real and the only reason, why is it necessary for the Bill, when it goes to the hands of the skilled draughtsmen who advise His Majesty's Government in this matter, to be laid before this House as a Measure to extend those powers?

Whether inadvertently or not, the Bill accentuates to an undue degree the chaos and confusion with which the whole of this subject is at the moment surrounded. If the Bill becomes law it will enable Defence Regulations, themselves made under Statutes long since repealed, to be used for purposes set out in three separate Acts of Parliament, many of them in many degrees quite inconsistent with each other. For example, we are apparently to retain in force, at the same time as we add these new purposes, the purpose set out in Section 1 (b) of the 1945 Act to facilitate the demobilisation and resettlement of persons, to secure the orderly disposal of surplus material, and in I (c) to facilitate the readjustment of industry and commerce to the requirements of industry in time of peace.

The complete confusion which arises from the simultaneous exercise of powers for the purposes of re-armament and of disarmament, of mobilisation and demobilisation, can be quite easily illustrated if one looks at the curious fact that it is possible to authorise under this Bill the insertion of borax into margarine for the purposes of national defence and the keeping of dogs off allotments for the purposes of securing the peace of the world. That is a perfect example of the fantastic width of the powers with which His Majesty's Government are seeking to arm themselves when this Bill is read in conjunction with the other measures which this Government are keeping in force.

The confusion is the worse confounded when it is recalled that the powers which this House is asked today to give to the Government, and all the existing powers to be exercised in connection with those powers, are due to lapse on 10th December of the present year. It seems to me wholly unnecessary, when the Government have announced in tones of a certain degree of truculence that they intend to introduce a Measure giving them permanent powers of delegated legislation with a wide sweep over our economy, and when, if they are to do that, they needs must do it well before December of this year, that they then introduce this Measure now without one hint as to how it will relate to a subsequent Measure which will have to be on the Statute Book before this year is out.

Why was it not possible to add this to the Government Bill now said to be in course of preparation? I use the words "in course of preparation" because I noticed that the Lord President said cautiously that such a Bill "would" make permanent certain powers. Does that mean the Government have had second thoughts about that Measure? Does the introduction of this Bill now, read with that, mean that the Government have abandoned their intention to introduce a permanent Measure? If that is so, it is a reasonable justification for the presentation of this Bill to the House now. If, however, the Government have not abandoned their intention, if the difficulties which I understand they have had in drafting that Measure have not proved insuperable, it is intolerable that this Bill should be put before the House now, and that perhaps in a few weeks the Government should introduce another Measure covering the whole of this subject.

On the actual Clauses of the Bill there are several things which seem to me difficult to reconcile both with common sense and with what the Lord President said. My right hon. Friend referred to the retrospective provisions. What the House is asked to do is to give a blank authorisation of every excess use of power which may have taken place without this House being informed whether any have, in fact, taken place and, if so, what they are. The hon. Member for Walsall drew our attention to the fact that operations have been proceeding for a good many months. He said, with perfect truth, that neither my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom nor any of us would wish in any degree to handicap the efficient carrying on of those operations.

If that is the reason, what is the objection to Ministers coming to this House and saying, "We have exercised in the heat of the emergency, and to fight a campaign, powers which we have not got, and we ask the House to pass the necessary legislation indemnifying us"? Is there the slightest doubt that this House would give easy and non-controversial assent to confirm any action that a Minister had taken in good faith for the waging of a campaign in a distant theatre of war?

Mr. W. Wells

If the hon. Gentleman really wishes to make this point effectively, he must deal with the argument of the Lord President that in the view of the advisers of the Government previous legislation already provided that the Clauses which are now being enacted were really covered.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As I understand it, the effect of that intervention is that this Bill is not needed.

Mr. Wells


Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Either this Bill is needed so that some acts have to be indemnified, in which case this House should be told what those acts are; or, alternatively existing powers already cover this matter, in which case what is the purpose of this provision? If the hon. Gentleman desires to intervene again, I will happily give way.

Mr. Wells

It may have both meanings. It may be possible to say, "We consider that the previous legislation already provides for this but, for the removal of doubt, we now declare, therefore, that it does." Secondly, there may be the question of actions taken in an emergency since last June.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I do not know in what respect the hon. Gentleman is speaking, whether for His Majesty's Government or for the absent Lord President, when he uses the phrase "We consider." Let me put this to the occupants of the Treasury Bench: can we be told whether or not there are any acts taken by His Majesty's Government which this provision is designed to cover? Are there any Acts in which it is believed that excess of power has been exercised? If right hon. Gentlemen opposite are not prepared to come forward and tell this House what are the actions, or at any rate some of the actions which this provision is to cover, it is a gross abuse of the rights of this House that we should be asked to give a blank endorsement of acts which, if the hon. Member is right, may never have been committed.

This House would be more than sympathetic to Ministers whose consuming zeal for the national interest and for national defence had caused them to take effective measures in the interests of national defence. Indeed some of us would be happier if we could be informed of any such acts. It is quite another thing to say, "Well they may have, and therefore we will put this in." We must be told before a complete blank cheque, going right back to the beginning of this legislation, is introduced to cover acts taken in excess of powers.

The hon. Member for Walsall knows perfectly well from the study of the Bill, which I am sure he has made, that this provision does not deal merely with the last few months. The words are "deemed always to have been." It goes back to acts long before the Korean campaign began. Therefore it is an astonishingly wide provision for which even this Government, with its insatiable love for power, has asked. I, for one, would be quite unwilling to assent to any such proposal unless and until at least some of the acts which it is designed to cover are disclosed to this House.

The other issue is clear. Under this Measure the Government will be entitled to introduce direction of labour for the two purposes specified, and will be entitled also to maintain in force, or to make new regulations for these purposes along the lines of Statutory Instrument 1305 of 1940, the Compulsory Arbitration Provisions. It being clear beyond any doubt that that can be done for this purpose, we must surely press for an assurance from whichever right hon. Gentleman—I take it that it will be the Secretary of State for Air—who replies to the debate, as to whether or not it is intended to exercise those powers for either of these purposes. I go further and put the question explicitly: Is it intended to use the powers given by this Bill for the purpose of any further orders under Defence Regulation 58A or Defence Regulation 58AA? I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will answer this, because it is a matter which weighs heavily in the attitude which many of my hon. Friends will adopt towards the Bill.

Then there is the remarkable fact that in the latter part of this Measure the Lord President's genial assurances of his regard for the rights of the House and his interest in constitutional niceties, are shown up in all their naked inaccuracy. If hon. Members look at the Bill, they will see that neither in respect of the statutory instrument made in connection with the stopping up of a highway—that is, I think, under Clause 2 (12)—nor in the still more important provisions of Clause 4, by which it is possible not only to extend this Measure but to amend it in the process of such extension, is any provision made for any control by the House at all.

In the first place, if we are taking away, as we are doing in the highway Clause, the ordinary rights of individuals to go to a public inquiry, it surely would be right to provide some other protection for an individual who in time of peace—which is what we are concerned with now—is aggrieved by the diversion of a highway. It may be a serious matter for him, and it is wrong to cut out any access to this House. I concede that the need for speed would make the affirmative procedure inappropriate, but what is the objection to the negative procedure?

Clause 4 provides power to extend the Measure to Colonies and to amend it in the process. Again, as I understand it, there is no control whatsoever, and it surely is quite intolerable that we should be asked to give to the Government power not only to extend the Measure to territories to which the House has not decreed that it shall be extended, but to allow the Government to vary it in the process. That is conferring quite excessive powers. What is so extraordinary is that in his speech the Lord President did not put forward any particular necessity for doing so.

I ask the Secretary of State for Air to answer this question: What is the objection to providing that the Bill shall not be extended to a Colony or be amended in such extension without first going through the affirmative procedure? There is no real solid practical objection whatever. It is quite obviously wrong in principle that legislation of this importance should be applied to territories for which the House is responsible, without the House having the slightest opportunity to say Aye or No whether it approves of that course.

It seems that although the Government are trying to do in substance the right thing in trying to use these powers for the purpose of defence—in parenthesis, it is an illuminating illustration of the events of the last five and a half years that it apparently requires an Act of Parliament to enable the Government to use defence regulations for the purpose of national defence—they are trying to use these powers for the major purpose for which they are appropriate. But they are doing it in a way which causes the maximum of confusion, which will leave the whole law in this matter in a state of chaos, which leaves in force provisions which, if ever they had any importance, are now become obsolete, and which are inconsistent with each other and are difficult to follow. The Government are leaving equally in force the inadequate control which the House can exercise over their handling of these delegated powers. In this respect, as in so many others, the Government are running true to form—even when they try to do the right thing, they always seem to do it in the wrong way.

5.5 p.m.

Mr. Albu (Edmonton)

Let me at once set at rest the mind of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) by saying that I intend to support the Bill. It seemed to me that in their speeches the hon. Member and the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) were in some dilemma because of their opposition, in the debate on the Address in reply to the King's Speech, to the introduction of permanent legislation for the defence of the standard of living by an amended Supplies and Services Act.

The right hon. Member for Epsom said that he was quite prepared to have this Measure or one of this sort for the purpose of national defence, and implied, of course, that he was not prepared to have it for the defence of the standard of living and for such things as the balancing of our trade. But there is another difficulty into which hon. and right hon. Members opposite have got themselves. The Leader of the Opposition and others on the benches opposite, during the last few weeks, have been saying, "We told you so." They have been claiming that they have all along been in favour of much more stringent measures of re-armament and much earlier measures of enlarged defence expenditure and defence preparations.

Hon. Members opposite cannot have it both ways. Either at the time of the debate on the Address in reply to the King's Speech they were in favour of this sort of Measure, or they were not. If they were in favour of Measures of this sort, without which we could not have proceeded with the re-armament programme and further defence measures of the kind we are now carrying out, then they could not have been in favour of abolishing the existing Act. Therefore, it seems to me that there is some dishonesty in the arguments that are now being used from the other side.

It is rather extraordinary that the Opposition should now have discovered that it is necessary to have these Measures when they did not discover it at that time.

This finally disposes of the arguments which they have used, that they were so much wiser before the event than were the Government and that they themselves would have indulged in a much larger expansion of re-armament and defence expenditure than the Government have done.

This applies equally to the Opposition argument regarding the retrospective Clause of the Bill, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. W. Wells) has pointed out, obviously that Clause has been necessary, not only on account of the fighting that has been taking place, but also because of the preparations the Government have been making over many months for action to be taken by the Defence and Supply Ministers. The type of legislation which the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames wanted would, I should have thought, have meant a considerable holdup of the very rapid expansion of our defence expenditure and arrangements which we all agree are necessary.

Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)

I am interested in the argument of the hon. Member. Which regulations has he in mind which the Government have already used?

Mr. Albu

I do not know, and neither, I think, does the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. It may be that the Government have not used any. I am only saying that I think the Government are certainly right to cover themselves in this way in case the original Act would not have given them the legal power to take certain action, in view of the speed with which they have had to act in the last few months. The procedure which the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames wanted would have been much too burdensome.

I turn from the legal aspects of the Bill, with which I am not too well qualified to deal, to some of the ways in which I think the Bill will be operated and the situation in which it is being introduced. Both Opposition parties have had some experience of preparing the country for defence and for war. In each case, unfortunately, war came because our intentions in case of aggression were not clear. This time our intentions are perfectly clear. There is general agreement on both sides of the House and in the country that we should prevent further expansion of Russian power and of the power of Communist dominated countries.

Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)

The hon. Member says that our intentions in the past were not clear. Did we not give a guarantee for Poland's security and warn Germany that if she marched we would find ourselves compelled to declare war against her? Was that not absolutely clear?

Mr. Albu

We also gave a guarantee to Czechoslovakia. Why should our word have been taken at that time if we had broken it once? It may have been assumed that we would, in fact, have acted, but I still do not believe that our intentions were clear. Certainly, it has come out since that our intentions were not clear to the Germans at that time. But before the Russians understand our intentions, and also that we have no aggressive intention towards them, several years may have elapsed and these powers may have been required for some time. During that period the people of our country will be called on for an extraordinary measure of restraint which they have never had to exercise in peacetime before.

The situation with which we are now faced is a supreme test for a democratic nation. It has never had to be faced in this form before. Such a situation has never existed in such a form.

Mr. Drayson (Skipton)

We never had a Government like this.

Mr. Albu

It is obvious that the hon. Member cannot listen to a serious argument. I thought that in all I had to say I would carry the whole House with me, but if that does not include the hon. Member, I would like to hear his point of view. This is the first time in history that a country has made these preparations when it has been a full democracy and when we have the full practice of universal franchise. Let us not forget that universal franchise in this country is not much more than 20 years old and has never been exercised as it has been since the war. There has never been such a participation in political decision by the people as there is at the present time.

In addition, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Labour pointed out, we are entering this situation in a condition of full employment, a condition in which there is no reserve of labour to draw on, nor any body of workers under that compulsion which unemployment normally means. In March, 1940, already six months after the start of the last war, there was still more than a million persons who had not been called into use to participate in the war effort of that time.

Mr. Drayson


Mr. Albu

No, I cannot give way again as I want to develop my argument and the hon. Member's interruptions are not very helpful to debate.

Both in 1914 and in 1939 the preparations for war themselves provided some incentives to industry in the form of a rearmament boom with high profits and greater employment, and sometimes higher earnings. But today, with our economy fully employed, it can at the very best mean a standstill in the living conditions of our people and may very well mean some lowering of their standard of life. If there is no new incentive at present there are, equally, no sanctions except those which will be freely accepted by our people.

I suggest to right hon. and hon. Members opposite that no nation has ever before prepared to defend its way of life in such a situation. Therefore, it is vitally necessary that the whole population should be carried along with every step of Government policy, with every regulation that is introduced, which may affect the way of life of the people. Sometimes it seems to me that the Opposition forget these vital facts when they demand an increase of defence expenditure or a more rapid development of policy than the country is prepared to accept—

Mr. Drayson

And a General Election?

Mr. Albu

I did not think I was making a very controversial speech, but apparently the hon. Member does. I should have thought that the speech I was making would have been accepted by him. Apparently he does not accept the fact that there is a great necessity to carry the whole of the people with us in the very serious time through which we shall be passing in the next three or four years. If the people are to accept the tasks that will be laid on them by the powers given in this Measure, those powers must be utilised to the full to ensure a fair distribution of the burden and as much as possible to lighten the burden wherever it may fall.

I now turn to the sort of actions the Government ought to take under the powers given by this Measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. W. Wells) referred to the powers the Government have taken to ensure that materials are not exported to countries which might use them for purposes detrimental to our interests. We have to make sure that we have sufficient control over raw materials in whatever form they are. I heard a most extraordinary story today. A manufacturer of die-cast zinc pulleys found that his sales to the United States were increasing. He could not find out why that was so until he discovered that the pulleys were being bought by a scrap merchant in the United States, who was holding them for speculative purposes because the price of zinc was rising. I think that is a question which might be looked into.

My own view in regard to textiles is that we cannot get on very far without some form of clothes rationing. The shortage of textiles of all types seems not only serious but bound to be of very long duration. From time to time the Opposition, with justification, I think, has drawn attention to the situation that arises from the advertising of electrical and gas appliances and pointed out that while there is a shortage of fuel this cannot be defended. I am inclined to agree, but I think we should also consider putting a ban on the advertising of all products which consume scarce raw materials or labour.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that the weight of the defence programme, in the field of supplies, will fall on the engineering industry in its broadest sense. There is one field where there is a great opportunity to extend the output and increase the productivity of the engineering industry and that is in the field of simplification and standardisation. We have had many recent reports, the Lemon Committee, the Anglo-American Committee on Productivity, and, more recently, the Cunliffe Committee which, rightly, came out against giving the British Standards Institution the power to enforce standards. Nevertheless, such powers might be used under this Bill.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

The hon. Member is going rather beyond the discussion of the Bill and into too great detail.

Mr. Albu

I was only drawing attention to the powers which I thought the Government should exercise under this Measure.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If we did that we might go on for ever, might we not?

Mr. Albu

I am about to come to the end of my speech and I would only add that I hope the Government will not hesitate to use the powers they are taking in this Bill. Perhaps on some more suitable occasion I might give them the benefit of the views which, because of your remarks, Sir, I will not now give. Nevertheless, I hope these powers are not going to be used in a negative sense or a prohibitive way only but also positively for overcoming the interference with normal amenities which the defence programme inevitably entails.

5.19 p.m.

Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)

If I understood part of the argument of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) it ran something like this—that there was a difference between the present situation and the situation before the last war and the war before, because now there is full employment and there is no incentive for people to transfer to other employment. The only alternative to that situation is to give absolute authority to various Ministers in the Government. That is an important admission and that is the important point involved.

Whatever may be said about the introduction of the Bill by the Lord President of the Council, he introduced this Bill as a small one, a trivial Bill. Whatever else this Bill is, it certainly is not a small Bill, or a trivial one; it is a highly important Measure. It may be very necessary. That is another matter, but a Bill like this, apart from the arguments of hon. Members opposite, ought not to be necessary in this House except for the seriousness of the situation. No one agrees, surely, with giving the last powers to the Government, unless the seriousness of the situation demands it. That is the first argument for this Bill. To introduce a Bill, in those circumstances, as a "trivial" Bill is a gross misleading of the country.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill is a declaratory Bill. So far as he is concerned those powers are already contained in the 1945 and 1947 Acts. Therefore, this one is not necessary. A small subsection is put in the first Clause in order, apparently, to satisfy the Liberals. He says that there was no necessity for any Clause. That was already in the 1947 Act. Was the other part contained in the 1947 Act? That cannot be the explanation of the Bill. The explanation of the Bill is wider power, and hon. Members should ask themselves why the right hon. Gentleman describes that power, in the Title of the Bill, as a declaration, and in the Explanatory Memorandum as an explanation. Those are two important distinctions.

Will these wider powers give extended power to the Government to order the direction of labour in a specific way? That can be done under Clause 1 without any further authority from the House. Are we proposing lightly to transfer that power to the Government without discussion in the House? Has an emergency already arisen? Has such an emergency arisen that it is deemed necessary for these powers to be extended now? Are we satisfied about that?

In Clause 2 very wide and absolute powers are given to the Minister of Transport. He has to determine not only what is to happen, but whether an emergency has arisen, and there is no redress against his decision in any form. Not merely is there no redress against the facts of the situation but there is no means by which his opinion about the situation can be challenged. All the normal judicial procedure of this country is completely excluded. These are wide and absolute powers. They are as absolute as they are wide.

One circumstance alone would, in my view, justify Parliament in giving such absolute powers to the Government and that is if the safety of the Realm were in danger. Apart from that, there should be a complete and detailed check upon all the powers that we hand over to Government Departments and to Ministers of the Crown, whoever they may be. For that reason I say that the House should examine a Bill of this sort not in the spirit in which it was introduced by the Lord President of the Council, but in view of the gravity of the situation and in view of the seriousness of the terms of the Bill.

5.23 p.m.

Mr. Pickthorn (Carlton)

I would respectfully agree with what has just been said from the Liberal benches, and if it is not improper to offer advice to the Lord President, I feel bound to say that on this kind of topic his pompous manner is better than his facetious manner. This kind of narcissistic self-admiration about his own constitutionalism is not really a fair way to bring a thing of this sort before the House. We are all deeply conscious—

Mr. H. Morrison

Would the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) inform us whether he is now speaking in his pompous or his facetious manner?

Mr. Pickthorn

That will appear, I think, in the course of my remarks. Everybody is quite prepared to debate candidly about the necessity of these provisions, as long as there is candour from both sides. This is a deeply depressing moment in a very dreary history, and the House ought not to be invited to let it pass without serious consideration.

The Lord President of the Council will remember—I do not want to trespass on the copyright of the Father of the House, but it is not everybody in the House who will remember some of the history of this matter—but the Lord President will remember how the party opposite, in 1939, both before the war began and after it had begun, was extremely determined that no powers of this sort should be taken for anything except what could be shown to be directly for the prosecution of the war; and to come to an end the very moment the war was over. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen who have been here for 15 years that that is perfectly fair. Then, of course, they got into office and things became rather different. Then, besides, some of them started off writing books and pamphlets explaining that war legislation had given to the Executive unprecedented power which it might well use later in order to improve the general social conditions of our country. I could quote speeches and pamphlets from hon. Gentlemen opposite to that effect. I never thought them intellectually very honest myself, but that is what happened.

Then we got through the war and I will not attempt to lecture hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite on the history of the post-war Statutes, the 1945 Statutes and the later Statutes, and now this one. All I want to say about them is quite simple, and, I think, perfectly fair. It is that surely there has been time now to come to the position where the whole thing should be clarified and codified; when we might be given some opportunity of understanding what powers it is the Government are taking at any moment? I challenge hon. Gentlemen opposite: about this particular Bill, how many of them are sure it does not make direction of labour easier, and more likely or how many of them are sure that it makes direction of labour more difficult and less likely? How many would be quite certain which way to bet? I do not believe that a very large proportion of them would be quite certain about that.

I say this is a deeply distressing moment in the history of this legislation because see what it marks. It marks a new start in legislation of the kind which enabled war-time Governments to govern the country and to do what otherwise might have been very difficult things. Under that legislation we won the most complete strategic victory in history and we have not yet got out of it any peace. We have not got peace, but His Majesty's Government proceeded to continue this kind of delegated, indirect and sometimes retrospective legislation on the basis that it was necessary for the transition to peace. Now it is being continued on the basis that it is necessary for the transition, if not to war at least to a war situation, and a situation of complete war preparation. So it is a deeply distressing moment we are at, and Ministers really ought not to be over-jaunty about it.

If I may say one word about the retrospective argument, there is a sort of a sense in which the whole of Clause 1 (1) is retrospective, because it is all referring to and extending regulations that are already in existence. The specifically retrospective words are in line 7, and I ask the Lord President to consider this: we have had now more than one sort of tentative explanation of why this retrospection is necessary—if the learned Attorney-General could bear to leave the Lord President alone to listen to me just for one moment; we have had this kind of attempted explanation of why this retrospection is necessary from two of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters. He was not in the Chamber at the time—I do not blame him for that—but we have had these explanations.

The first was that the preparations for the Expeditionary Force for Korea could not have been legally done without these words. The other explanation was that there were many other things in connection with matters of supply where that might easily have happened. Surely the Lord President ought to consider whether we ought not to be told before this debate is over, some—I do not say necessarily all—of the questions it is hoped to settle by these words in line 7. We ought to be given something more specific than we have had yet before we pass these retrospective words.

Then, I want to ask a question about the subsection for controlling the export of goods to foreign countries. We all understand that that is very difficult, and, with respect, I do not think any good is done by party jeers about the matter. In conditions of peace, of course, all Governments as long as possible do not wish to interfere with the flow of trade. When the war starts and the peace stops, there are a lot of people who say, "Why did you allow scrap to go to Germany," or wherever it may be.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but we did not start it.

Mr. Pickthorn

I was not starting it. It is extremely difficult to see how the thing is best done, and I should have thought that we ought to have had someone from the Board of Trade or the Foreign Office today to try to indicate what is the sort of thing it is proposed to do under this provision and how it is proposed to do it.

My main objection to this Bill is the objection put by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris)—because it is continuing and continuing in an extremely muddled form, a kind of authorising of the Executive beyond what Executives have ever claimed before, and because the political arguments put up for it are such as to put no end to it.

The political argument put up is—"I, who happen to be in a majority, think that this Government can be trusted to use this thing in the public interest"; or "in a state of full employment where we cannot shift people about by changing wage differentials and so, therefore, we have to direct them, or direct the material so as indirectly to direct the people." Those are the arguments that were put up. If our country accepted this system in 1939 in case there was a war, through the six years of war because there was a war, and when the war was over, in order to facilitate the Government's attempt to get us back to peace—we have had this Government now for six years and they have not got us back to peace—that means that it gets more and more difficult to undo it. We have already gone so far in habituating our minds to this kind of Government that some of us begin to fear we can never shake it off.

That is a very serious matter, and even if things are not yet quite as bad as that—and they are not awfully far off it—it must be admitted by everybody, even the learned Attorney-General—except when he has just got it up for the purpose of a debate—that none of us can remember which regulation comes in which category and under which Statute. It is this kind of legislation by reference, regulation and retrospection that has reached such a pitch that—I will not say it is of such complexity because that is too respectable a word—that we get such a muddle that really none of us really understands it.

If every subject is presumed to know the law, then Governments must be presumed to do their best to make at least the main parts of the law knowable. The relation between Statutory Instrument and Statute has become one of the main parts of the law, and if this is now necessary, then something by way of codification and clarification has become necessary. I finish up by saying that the introduction of this Bill is deplorable and the manner of its introduction—the Lord President may decide whether what I am saying is pompous or facetious as he chooses—was intolerable.

5.35 p.m.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

I should like to reassure my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, if he needs reassuring, that the rebuke which he has just received from the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) need not worry him. Although my right hon. and learned Friend did not hear the early part of the hon. Member's speech, I heard it and I can tell him that it meant no more in its first half than it did in the last half, most of which he heard.

I much prefer the interesting speech of the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris), who spoke for the Liberal Party. I agree with him that big issues are involved in the Bill, and I think that the Lord President of the Council was right in complimenting the Liberals on having, in former legislation, secured the inclusion of a Clause, which safeguarded certain matters. They certainly deserved the compliment for their previous work. I wish to defend the Liberals, because there are many important Liberal principles which I support, and which have been inherited from my Radical forefathers. Those principles have been worked into the ideas for which the Labour Party stands.

I do not wish to indulge in the quarrel which has emerged in this debate about the larger issues of the extension of supplies and services. It is said that practically anything the Government want to do they can do under the terms of the Bill, and I am sure that under this Government we are more likely to get reasonable safeguards against such dangers and prospects than we would get if the Government were composed of Members sitting on the benches opposite.

I wish to ask a few questions about the issue that is raised by Clause 2, which deals with land and roads. I have been looking very carefully at this Clause, having in mind some of the problems which will face me in my own division as a result of re-armament, which is largely responsible for the Bill—though I shall not deal with the problem of rearmament now. That has become a separate issue. I may be reminded, however, that it is easy to forget what is going on in the Far East when talking about things that are under our noses, but I am compelled to examine closely what is to happen to people under the Clauses of the Bill.

The people in my division will be affected in one respect. They are in the habit of going to the railway station by a certain road day after day, on their way to work. If the Army or the R.A.F. find it necessary to include this road in an area for a new camp or a new R.A.F. station, the people who formerly walked one mile to the station may very well have to walk three. They will have time during their long walks to consider what this Bill means to them. In my division there is a great racecourse, and I have taken considerable part in getting it turned over to housing. I want to provide houses. I know that roads are planned for that purpose and that the War Office wants to lay its hands on the racecourse again in order to use the grandstands as storehouses. If the War Office gets its hands on this land, as it threatens to do, because public notice has been given, then probably even the roads necessary for the carting of bricks and mortar on to the land, so that houses may be built, will be closed.

It may be that they will be closed by the Minister of Transport. It will not be the "brass hats" who will do it. They will tell the Minister what he should do. That is mentioned in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. This Clause differs from the war-time provision in that it vests power in the Minister of Transport to stop up highways and requires him to give notice before he uses the power. That is all very well, but if these overriding considerations of re-armament and the events in the Far East, are of such a character that the Minister of Transport feels that he must stop up these roads then the people in my division will not get the houses which they so badly need. The great housing estate for which I have been hoping for the last five years will be hindered in its development by this Bill.

I have heard old Radicals talk about the fights they had about the use of roads and highways when military authorities, in past wars, interfered with public rights, until it is almost inbred in me, as it is in many of my hon. Friends, that the greatest care should be exercised whenever the military make demands of this sort. I know what has happened as a result of the closing of roads during the last war. It took the military authorities a long time to decide that roads that were no longer needed for war purposes should be reopened for public use. I know places in Yorkshire where beautiful by-roads, among the hills, were taken over for the storage of munitions. Years after the war was over, one was still debarred the right to walk, ride or run along any of those roads.

I know of roads over the Kentish Downs today where one would expect to have the right to go; but the military are still there with some broken-down shacks, with barbed wire and fences, and people may still not go about their lawful purposes. When war comes the military authorities seem to lose all sense of proportion on this question of the right use of roads and in the invasions they make against public use.

I hope that before we have finished with the Bill we shall carefully examine Clause 2. I hope we shall lay down far more explicitly than we seem to have been able to do so far that, if there he any legitimate use to which a road could be placed now, the Army and Air Force authorities shall not be allowed to go too easily to the Minister of Transport and use him for the purpose of putting an end to public rights and preventing necessary developments which the people want. Now that we have embarked on this full-scale race towards re-armament, I know that in my division it is with reference to legislation of this sort that the people will ultimately learn all that they have lost, and will lose, in the dreadful situation that now face us.

I do not argue against the Government facing, in the best way they can, the situation which confronts them; but I tell them that the greatest care ought to be exercised with this Bill, because of the threats which are involved against the public right. If necessary, Amendments should be introduced for purposes of definition, limitation and restriction before we can feel that we have done our duty as representatives of the people in this House.

5.47 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Bristol, North-West)

I found myself in agreement with everything the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), said when he emphasised the difficulty that always comes at the end of a war in the matter of restoring amenities, rights of way and the like. Before passing to the topic which I want to discuss, I would say that he need not go so far as the Kentish Downs to see a glaring example of what he has been describing. On Hampstead Heath, a large area which was a gun site is still enclosed and huts still exist; and that on an open space which in perpetuity was supposed to be at the disposal of the people.

The Lord President of the Council, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, gave the House a painstaking, historical survey. He pointed out that this is the last arrival, in a rather rapidly growing family, of Measures of this kind. I do not think that he would disagree with me if I were to venture the opinion that this Bill is a grand-daughter of D.O.R.A. which attained such objectionable prominence in the First World War. Its immediate parents arrived at the time of the outbreak of war in 1939 when, in some 12 days, the House passed through all stages 62 Acts of Parliament—I think the number was 62 though that may be slightly too high an estimate—it being understood that they would be examined later and were, in any case, for the period of the emergency.

The right hon. Gentleman and others, including the Secretary of State for Air, whom I see opposite, will recall that fatal Sunday, 3rd September, 1939, when the House met to the accompaniment of the first air raid siren of the war, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) used words which, I think, are worthy of repetition at this moment and which, I think, underline and emphasise the speech of the hon. Member for Ealing, North. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford said: Perhaps it might seem a paradox that a war undertaken in the name of liberty and right should require, as a necessary part of its processes, the surrender for the time being of so many of the dearly valued liberties and rights. In these last few days the House of Commons has been voting dozens of Bills which hand over to the Executive our most dearly valued traditional liberties. We are sure that these liberties will he in hands which will not abuse them, which will use them for no class or party interests, which will cherish and guard them, and we look forward to the day, surely and confidently we look forward to the day, when our liberties and rights will be restored to us, and when we shall be able to share them with the peoples to whom such blessings are unknown."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 3rd September, 1939: Vol. 351, c. 295–6.] The observations of my right hon. Friend were greeted with general cheers on both sides of the House on that occasion, but that has not been done. So far from the liberties and rights of the people being restored, when right hon. Gentlemen opposite were successful in the General Election of 1945 they lost very little time in making plain their intention to clamp on many of these shackles permanently, taking advantage of emergency legislation which was placed on the Statute Book for the period of the war. So, again, in the Gracious Speech to which we listened on 31st October last year, there was envisaged a Bill making permanent a great many of these wartime regulations.

The Lord President made it clear in his speech that this Measure lies in a kind of no man's land between the two sides of the House. My hon. Friends and myself on this side believe that the State exists for the benefit of the individual, whereas hon. Gentlemen opposite, on the other hand, believe that the individual exists for the benefit of the State. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] The permanent legislation which they hope one day to introduce will make that quite clear, but we, on this side, support the present Measure, in view of the situation with which we are now confronted.

The cold war has now become tepid, and may well become hot. Special powers would be necessary in such an eventuality, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) stressed —and I do not think it can be said too often—we utterly resist any intention that this Measure, or any of is successors, should become the foundation stone of a permanent structure of control and regimentation.

Clause 1 is reminiscent of a book by the late Mr. H. G. Wells, which he called "The Time Machine." In it he imagined a world where it was possible to travel very rapidly in either direction, into the future or into the past. This Clause has a very strong retrospective provision in it. That point has been dealt with cogently and eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), but it is none the less a point which requires stressing, and I would say to right hon. Gentlemen opposite that, in giving a Second Reading to this Bill without a division, in view of the emergency, we are placing an extremely sharp instrument in their hands, and I plead with them for this reason to use it with care. The wider the area of controls—and I wish this were not so, but it is—the wider the black market. We saw that in the period immediately following the end of the recent war, when those strange and shadowy figures flitted across the stage of the Lynskey Tribunal and were so ably unmasked by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General. A popular newspaper described it as the way in which the Socialist Government had created a land fit for Stanleys to "spiv" in. The longer and wider the controls, the wider the black market operations are liable to become.

Direction of labour by delegated legislation is abhorrent to us on these benches, as more than one of my right hon. Friends has already said. It turns the citizens of this country into numbers on a ministerial card index, instead of people with their own private lives to live, and we would like to see in any Bill which may be used to bring in direction of labour the machinery of appeal in the many cases of hardship and injustice which are inevitable when we are mobilising thousands and even millions of men.

I feel a little uneasy on the subject, in view of the speech made last Thursday by the Minister of Labour, which I am sure we all recognised as a particularly brilliant Parliamentary performance, even when judged by his standards. I have given the right hon. Gentleman notice that I was going to say a few critical words about him, and I make no complaint that he is not here, because we all know that he has serious duties to perform. The most striking moment of the right hon. Gentleman's winding-up speech, Parliamentary triumph as it undoubtedly was, came when, with sinister relish he rolled his tongue round the word "direction." He said: I am bound to say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman "— that was a reference to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), who preceded the right hon. Gentleman— that if it becomes necessary to control the engagement of labour it will also he necessary to discuss with the employers how far their activities also are to be restricted in employing workers in non-essential industries. There is such a matter as the direction of employers as well as the direction of labour. In cold print, that reads as if it was quite unobjectionable, but it was the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman declaimed it which suggested that he was about to ascend his dictatorial throne and how much he was going to enjoy it. A little later, with even greater satisfaction, he said this: I have to say something here which perhaps will not be so pleasant to some hon. Members. As hon. Members in all parts of the House know, the size of the Armed Forces fell below expectations because of the manpower position, and it has been found necessary to make a decision that the ' blanket' shall be removed from agriculture."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1951; Vol. 484, cc. 731–;2.]

Mr. Nabarro (Kidderminster)


Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

Lesser men have been removed from office for expressing such sentiments. What happened to a recent Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, who used exactly similar language about the agricultural industry?

Mr. Albu


Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

All of us hope that, in these difficult matters, the Minister of Labour will not find it necessary to use this control for directing men hither and thither. We all wish him success in his difficult post, and I hope that the Class Z men will not report for duty waving medical certificates and saying that they will fight whom when and where they like.

I emphasise to the Government that, in spite of the situation which the Lord President stressed to us as being the primary reason for bringing forward this Bill, the people are getting very tired of being pushed around and having their private lives controlled because the State has fallen down on its job. After all, Bills which are discussed in this House should feel the impact of opinion outside in the country, and I would say that this opinion is that controls have become intolerable. I say this in the presence of a representative of the Government Whips' Office, a Lord Commissioner of the Treasury, the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), who will know something about it.

It was particularly noticeable in the recent contest at West Bristol, where there was a sensational fall in the Socialist vote. [Interruption.] I am trying to point out, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that controls, with which this Bill deals, were a considerable issue in the West Bristol by-election, and that the Government would be wise to take heed of what happened there. I say that quite briefly, because I am anxious that the right hon. Gentleman should know what is going on.

Mr. Dodds (Dartford)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not mentioned groundnuts.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

I believe that groundnuts would be in order under the Clause dealing with the colonial territories, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is not in my mind.

I want to make this point as to the state of public opinion outside on this matter, because it was said that the withdrawal of the official blessing from the Government candidate was responsible for his poor showing. I can assure hon. Members opposite that that was not so. This issue of controls and régimentation was the primary cause of that result, and, indeed, it is the general opinion in the City of Bristol that had the Prime Minister sent a letter of support to Mr. Lawrance, that unhappy gentleman would have forfeited his deposit. Therefore, let the Government heed this state of affairs.

Looking round, I would say to hon. Members opposite that many of them are in danger of becoming time servers, awaiting their early release from public life, rather than representatives of their constituencies, and I would ask the Treasury Bench, in the friendliest manner, to take heed. For Socialism, the wind blows cold, not only in the West Country, but throughout our whole island, and the storm is rising.

6.1 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

I do not want to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Bristol, North-West (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) into the intricacies, which I think are out of order, of this Bill. Nor do I want to make any party point upon it. I merely want to draw the attention of the House to Clause 2 (1, c). I am concerned about the farming fraternity under this Bill, and I should like to know whether it is seriously assumed that 24 hours' notice would be sufficient to give a farmer that it might be necessary to divert a road through his field of wheat or other cereal —at a time like this a valuable commodity—which might thereby be lost to the community.

It seems a little ridiculous for the party opposite to put up this synthetic shadow boxing over our efforts to defend the country at the present moment. One moment we are accused of not trying wholeheartedly to defend the country, and the next moment, when we are trying to get legitimate powers, with appropriate safeguards, to act immediately, we have, at a critical period in the history of this little country, this kind of childish shadow boxing and the making of party speeches in preparation for General Election. Some hon. and gallant Members opposite shake their heads, but the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) played nothing but party politics with the issue of the defence of this country the other night, when he divided the House on the whole question of defence. They can still shake their heads, but that is what the country thinks.

I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House are agreed that the farming fraternity want a better guarantee than 24 hours' notice before certain powers are used for diverting roads across valuable land for defence purposes.

The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Arthur Henderson)

It might save my hon. Friend's time and that of the House if I pointed out to him that under this Bill it is only a question of stopping up highways, and not of taking land other than highways.

Mr. Davies

Exactly, but when driving up and down the country I have been accustomed to see such notices as "No one may stop here," and notices to the effect that land may not be used in areas where secret processes are taking place.

Mr. Ellis Smith

We have that in the area between Leek and Buxton.

Mr. Davies

That is so, and I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me.

The hon. and gallant Member for Bristol, North-West, made a point in which I am also concerned when he referred to the Colonies. I should like to know what protection the native populations in our Colonies have under this Bill if they want to protest against the diversion of their land for purposes of defence.

Such diversion might take place in a cocoa or rice growing area or in other important agricultural parts of a Colony. I am quite sure that some of us on both sides of the House feel that there should be a real safeguard, and that in some specific cases more consideration should be given to weighing the value to national defence as against the interests of colonial agriculture when any question of the diversion of roads or the consruction of defensive works arises.

I do not wish to delay the House any longer, and I merely put forward that point as one who comes from an agricultural area and who is also concerned with the welfare of the Colonies. I should be grateful for a crystal-clear answer to this question: What are the powers of Parliament if it is felt that this Measure is causing any frustration to individuals of the farming community in such circumstances?

Mr. McCorquodale

I should just like to say that we hope in Committee to be able, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, to put down Amendments to stipulate that these orders should be debated by this House and that the facility of praying against them, if necessary, should be available to hon. Members. We hope to get support for that from hon. Members opposite.

6.7 p.m.

Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington. South)

It is with very great personal regret that, within 11 months of coming back into this House, I find Parliament having to discuss a new Bill imposing controls and restrictions on the people of this country. I am bound to say that I regret that, but I think one must follow the advice given by the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale), and that we must vote in favour of this Bill, or, at any rate, let it go through without opposition. subject to amendment.

But I disagree both with the Lord President and with the right hon. Member for Epsom in thinking that this is not a major Measure. It is a major Measure which will most seriously affect the liberty of the subject and interfere very greatly with the freedom of trade. It is because the international situation is such as it is that we in this House have to accept the Bill, but when the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) talks about taking powers with safeguards, I am bound to say that very few safeguards are to be found in this Bill. They have got to be obtained in Committee.

I should like to remind the House of the history of this type of legislation. In the First World War, there were numerous phrases in the Defence of the Realm Regulations which enabled the subject, on important occasions, to take the matter to the court; but when the Regulations were brought before the House during the last war, there had been ample time for the bureaucrats to take care that every single one of the remedies allowed to the subject under the old Regulations was taken from him.

I was one of those who, in regard to the famous Defence Regulation 18B, fought in this House, together with hon. Members of the Liberal Party, in particular, and with some hon. Members on the other side—I think 10 of us were consulted on that occasion—in order to try to get some safeguards for the subject when this type of legislation is introduced. Of course, one knows it is very difficult, and that there are no safeguards in the Bill. The result is that in cases where most hardship is being caused, attempts to go to the court are quite hopeless, and a waste of time for the subject. But when the situation is as it is. I agree with an hon. Member opposite who said that he was sure the people could not withhold from the Government ample powers to deal with it in the way they think necessary.

I want to say a word, first of all, about the retrospective effect of the Bill, and secondly about Clause 1 (1, b). As regards retrospective effect, it is quite obvious that some of His Majesty's Ministers have had some advice from their legal advisers that probably what they have done or are proposing to do is covered by existing powers but that, on the other hand, there may be a doubt about it and if there is a doubt about it and they carry it out, some subject, to his great cost, will carry the matter to the court. If he succeeds, retrospective legislation will then be passed because, believe me, no Government in an emergency can afford to have a subject stop something being done which is vital to the interests of the country.

Therefore, although I abhor retrospective legislation as much as anybody in this House, if in fact there are doubts—and we must hear what those doubts are in due course—it is far better that they should be cleared up by us in this House at once before there is a series of actions in the courts which can bring nothing but cost to the subject who fights them. So much for retrospective legislation.

Now I come to what seems to me to be the enabling and extending powers given in this Bill under Clause 1 (1, b). I very much doubt whether there are existing powers which go to anything like the length of sub-paragraph (b) in preventing supplies or services being disposed of in a manner prejudicial to the defence of any part of His Majesty's dominions…. and covering all goods and all services. I agree that it is not direction of labour as far as services are concerned, but it seems to me that it goes to the length of preventing any of us from being employed or offering our services in a manner which His Majesty's Government or a Minister thinks is against the interests of the country. It has got very near to direction of labour. It is the negative side of direction of labour. It says, in effect, "You shall not go here or there and you shall not do this or that "and it may well result in one's having to do something the Government want.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman may remember that during his previous membership of this House in 1940 the then Prime Minister introduced a Measure which gave the Government complete control over everything in the country. We remember that it was used against labour but not used against certain people who put their vested interests before the welfare of the public.

Sir P. Spens

I cannot recollect the Measure to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but what we are now dealing with is this Bill. I want to point out that it goes extremely wide as regards services.

What is equally important at this juncture is the enormous power it gives to the Executive over the direction of goods and trade. I am not going to say that that may not be a good thing. I have had sent to me by airmail, which arrived some three hours ago from America, a leading article dated 16th February from a paper called "New York World- telegram." The heading of the article is "British Let Us down." It goes on to set out reports of the amount of rubber and materials, wool and steel, which it is alleged are being sent at present to Russia and China.

Mr. Harold Davies

Private enterprise, not the Labour Government.

Sir P. Spens

That does not matter for my argument Let me go on. The leading article includes this: How can we win a war when an ally—which we are backing—persists in selling much-needed raw materials to the enemy? The enemy include those whom we are fighting in Korea—the Chinese troops. That is the allegation in this leading article, and it is for that reason that I go to the length of saying that I am glad the Government are taking these powers. I believe that the fact that the Government are today asking this House to approve the Second Reading of a Bill which is going to enable them to prevent …supplies or services being disposed of in a manner prejudicial to the defence of any part of His Majesty's dominions or any such territory as aforesaid or to peace and security in any part of the world … is an answer to those allegations in the American paper. At any rate, it will show to the United States of America that this House is prepared in this emergency to give His Majesty's Government these powers. It will be for His Majesty's Government to make up their mind how they are going to use the powers. It is quite certain that these allegations across the Atlantic about what is going on at the present moment are causing a rift between the United States and this country. It is, among other reasons, because this Bill contains that Clause giving powers to the Government, which I hope will be wisely and properly used by them, that I am certainly not prepared to vote against the Second Reading.

6.17 p.m.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

I did not intend to intervene in this debate until I heard some of the speeches from the benches opposite. The hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn), who is a professor, I understand, and is given in this House to delivering to us fine professorial lectures, challenged us to tell him our opinion of direction of labour.

We were asked what the Bill seeks to do and what the Government are telling the country they intend to do under the Bill.

If the Government are dishonest and withhold necessary information from the public, we are told by the Opposition that we ought to have done this, that and the other. If the Government are honest and straightforward and bring in a Bill giving them almost unlimited power to do everything necessary in extreme emergency, we are wrong again, according to the Opposition. Not many days ago I saw Members of the Opposition troop into the Lobby to support vast expenditure on armaments to protect this country which is so dear to us all. The same people will get up and tell us that we ought not to do the best we possibly can to implement the spending of the money we have decided to devote to the protection of this country. I cannot understand their reasoning.

The Opposition talk about the direction of labour as if it were something which only they understood. We on this side have always been used to this direction of labour, not by the Minister of Labour but by a minister of finance who has said, "You shall go here and you shall not go there," because there was no work. The people on these benches know more about the economic direction of labour than do any hon. Members opposite.

On these benches we are prepared to face the necessity, if it arises, of telling our people in unmistakable terms that they shall be used wherever the Government decide that they shall be used in the interest of the safety of the nation. Surely that is fair enough. If it is right to make laws and direct young men to Korea and elsewhere, surely it cannot be wrong to direct men from the glamour industries—the "spivs" and others—into steel works to make munitions to enable those boys in Korea to do their job. What is wrong with direction of labour in those circumstances? I compliment the Government on their honesty in telling our people and the world at large that we are prepared to use all the means at our disposal to attain that end.

The hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), made a splendid case for this Bill. He read from a newspaper cutting, which arrived by airmail three hours ago, and which complained that we had let the Americans down. Let me tell the Americans in no uncertain terms that the men of Britain never let America down. We shed our blood and our wealth while they stood by wondering what was going on in the world. Let us make no mistake about that. The hon. and learned Gentleman made a perfect case for this Bill. Here was the American Press shouting from the house-tops that private enterprise in Britain was letting the world down, and that steel, copper and ferrous metals, at the instigation of private enterprise, were going to our potential enemies. Surely that in itself is a case for' this Bill.

We are told that this Bill will not go to a Division. The Opposition are far too wily and cute to go into the Lobby and say to the country, "We, the Tories, voted to send men to Korea, but we refuse to let the Government have the necessary powers to help people do things in the interests of our country."

6.22 p.m.

Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)

I should like to take up some of the words which have been spoken with such vehemence and feeling by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones). It is not that we on these benches are expressing any opinion at all about the direction of labour. We do ask, though, that if the Government want to introduce direction of labour they should bring into this House a separate Statute. We could then introduce Amendments to the Bill. This is a very important Measure, and we should like to see the Government justifying it in every possible way. We on these benches are quite open-minded. We do not want to see direction of labour entering through the back door by means of a Bill of this sort, which the Lord President described as a small Measure.

I should like to take up some of the statements which were made by the hon. Members for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) and Edmonton (Mr. Albu). Speaking for myself, I do not find any inconsistency in the clear view taken by my hon. Friends on this Bill. The hon. Member for Edmonton seemed to suggest that we did not know whether we were for it or against it. He also tried to put into our mouths the statement that we wanted much more expended on armaments. We are not in a position to know whether more or less should be spent on armaments. Our view has always been, and we still believe, that we are not getting value for the money which we are at present spending on armaments. We also feel that we are not getting action to back up the sweet words and the promises that are made from the Treasury Bench in respect of armaments. It is action that we want.

Broadly we support this Measure, but I think we are not being unrealistic if we view with some trepidation the retrospective provision in line 7 of Clause 1 (1). I was under the impression that the Board of Trade had over the past years already issued an extensive list of those things which can and which cannot be exported from this country. Are we now to understand that they were out of order and were not acting within the law by issuing that list? Are we, therefore, to give them a blanket "O.K." on all previous actions? It is a strange state of affairs, because that list has been accepted by industry who have always kept to it as rigorously as possible.

There is one other small point to which I should like to refer; it was touched on by the hon. Member for Leek. I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is to reply later is not here: however, I have given him notice that I should mention this point. The hon. Member said that farmers would be in some difficulty when roads were closed at short notice We all know full well that with heavier and faster aircraft, longer runways are needed. Longer runways may mean the closing of roads, but one point which has not yet been clarified is whether we are to compensate farmers or owners of small businesses like garages, or anybody whose livelihood is affected as a result of the closing of these roads.

It is a small point, but it is the sort of point which should be clarified, because there may be a person who has rehabilitated his business after the last war, when probably the same road was closed, and if the road is again closed he will be put out of business. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman replies to the debate, I hope he will deal with this matter. I should like to know whether reasonable compensation will be paid to those people whose livelihood has been taken away by the closing of these roads.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. Gibson (Clapham)

I do not propose to detain the House for long, because it is clear that the majority of hon. Members endorse this Bill; but one statement has been made to which a reply should be given. The hon. and gallant Member for Bristol, North-West (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) said that he believed that the State existed for the individual, and that the more controls we had, the less freedom there would be to the individual. That is completely false. When we had no controls of any kind, there was considerable suffering and misery and lack of liberty among millions of people in the country.

It is significant that even in America it has now been decided to introduce controls, particularly in relation to the materials like those with which most of this Bill is concerned—the raw materials of the munitions industry. Judging from one's experience in two wars, it is obvious that if there is no strict and rigid control, not only will the materials not find their way into the factories where they are most needed, but, what is even worse, there will be gross exploitation of the needs of the nation. That occurred to a large extent during the last two wars.

The Government will not get the overwhelming and enthusiastic support of the ordinary workers in the factories if, coupled with the control of the supply and issue of raw materials, there is not a firm control over the amount of additional profits which are made out of the production of munitions during the next year or two. I cannot see in this Bill any reference to the possibility of additional controls in that direction, but I hope that the Supplies and Services Act, 1947, provides the necessary powers and that they will be used extensively.

I should like to say a word about the direction of labour, which hon. Members opposite have constantly introduced into these discussions. Nobody likes the direction of labour if it can possibly be avoided, but I am sure that if the ordinary workmen in the trade unions of this country are given the facts they will rally to the support of this or any other Government if we become involved in a war, as they did in 1939 and in the earlier war. But if direction is to come—I hope it will not —it ought not to come as it has come before, merely by the issuing of an order by this House, without the fullest con- sultation, discussion and agreement with the organised trade union movement. I refer to that because, in the quotations which were made from the speech of the Minister of Labour, I thought that a completely false emphasis was given to the remarks he made. My right hon. Friend made it quite clear that he has already begun discussions with the National Advisory Council who advise him on labour and industrial matters, not on the necessity for control of labour in the way we have had it in the past, but on the necessity for a positive approach by both sides of industry towards increasing output and organising labour in the factories on the correct basis.

I hope that whatever is done will be done only after the trade unic ns of the country have been given the widest opportunity of discussion and the widest opportunity to reach agreement, and that the final proposals will already have been agreed by the trade unions before they come to this House. It does not fellow that this House will necessarily accept them, but at any rate we ought to be assured that the organised workers of the country, without whom no such programme as this can be completed, are given the fullest possible opportunity of discussing the Government's proposals and plans and that their agreement is sought before the final plan is introduced.

It has been suggested, in a reference which seemed to me to have little to do with the Bill, that public opinion was weakening the basis upon which this Government rests. I wondered what that meant. I wondered whether the hon. Gentleman in question was referring to a statement in the Press last Sunday to the effect that there are people in the country who are deliberately burning more fuel and more electricity than they need for the purpose of embarrassing the Government. I wondered whether he was lending support to the statement made by the president of that egregious organisation called the Housewives' League, who said that in March they would discuss in the council of their organisation the question of extending this campaign. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Hon. Members must talk to the people who made those statements; they were not made by me. If that is the kind of public opinion to which the hon. Member referred and which hon. Gentlemen opposite think is likely to influence anybody on these benches, then they reflect very poorly the real public opinion of the country.

I hope the Government will stick to their guns on this matter. I do not believe that the majority of people in the country are opposed to the proposals which are introduced for increasing controls and for securing that whatever is done is done in the interests of the great masses of the people and not merely, as so often in the past, in the interests of comparatively few. If that is assured, I am certain that the Bill, and any other proposals which may be necessary to ensure that the programme is carried through successfully, will be supported by the overwhelming majority of the people.

6.34 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I do not want to detain the House for long, but there are one or two points to which I should like to make brief reference. First, it should be noted that this is a Bill to extend the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945. I gather from the speeches that have been made so far from the Opposition benches that the Opposition propose to support that extension of the 1945 Act. That, no doubt, is good news; it removes one element of controversy from our national life. But it is as well to remind the Opposition that if they had had their way there would have been no Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, to extend. They are, therefore, in the somewhat inconsistent position of being now unanimously in favour of extending what formerly they unanimously opposed, even in its limited form.

These are the facts; there may be explanations of them, but I think the facts themselves are so far beyond dispute. Indeed, I think I understand the explanation. The explanation is clearly implicit and sometimes explicit in some of the speeches which have been made today and in many of the speeches which were made on each of the previous occasions when the Government sought such powers and were given such powers, in the teeth of the most strenuous opposition from the other side of the House. It is because this extension of these powers is in contemplation of war.

I do not say for a moment that right hon. or hon. Gentlemen opposite desire that the circumstances which they think would justify the use of these powers should ever occur. I believe that charge is sometimes made, and I think it is unfairly made. I am sure there is nobody on the other side of the House who would be any more gratified at the thought of another war occurring than would hon. Members on this side of the House. The difference is the difference of emphasis and the difference of policy, and it is possible to say what I have just said and still believe, as I do believe, that if there were a change of Government the remaining hope of preserving the peace of the world would quickly vanish, whereas with this Government in power there remains the hope that peace may be preserved. But that is not the point I want to make in this connection. My point is one which would be accepted, I think, by most hon. Members opposite as a fair statement of their view. They think that powers of this kind are justified only in war or in preparation for a war which might occur. They have opposed the powers so far because, as they have frequently said, we were living in peace.

But between 1945 and 1951 this country was living through a world economic crisis in which we had our own share of the burden—and a very heavy share of the burden—and in which, if we had not succeeded, we should have been in no position to make any use of this Measure. The fact that we are in a position to make use of this Measure, or to play our part in such emergency as we all hope may never occur, is due to the economic triumphs of the past five years, and to them alone. If we were in the economic position which existed in 1945. of what use would a Bill like this be to us? The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) seems to be vastly amused, but I confess I do not know what there is to be amused about. I think I was stating a plain statement of fact—that if it had not been for the vast economic achievements of the past five years—

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

"Triumphs" was the word the hon. Gentleman used.

Mr. Silverman

If it had not been for the triumphs of the past five years, we should be in no position to make any use of the Bill. If the hon. Member is amused at my use of the word "triumphs," I hope he will tell me what word he thinks would be more appropriate to describe the change between a position in 1945 when we were, utterly and completely, industrially, economically and financially bankrupt, and a position five years later in which, for the first time in a quarter of a century, we are paying our way in the world.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. Gentleman is good enough to challenge me. May I say this? I should not use the word "triumph" to describe a state of affairs in which the people of this country have available to them less meat, less coal, less electricity, and a worse housing situation than ever before.

Mr. Silverman

I do not want at this time to debate with the hon. Gentleman any of those points. I think I should be ruled out of order if I attempted to do so. But I think he is wrong in saying, except in the case of meat, that the people of this country have available to them less of the other things that he mentioned than before. In fact, in the case of all of them except meat, there is vastly more consumed in this country than at any other time in its history.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

How can the hon. Gentleman say that there is more coal today than when we were producing 269 million tons?

Mr. Speaker

This is the Supplies and Services (Defence Purposes) Bill, and I think we had better come back to it.

Mr. Silverman

Without debating or arguing these other things, I would point out that the fact is that we are producing and consuming nearly 250,000 tons of coal more every year than at our previous highest record.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Not producing.

Mr. Silverman

The hon. Gentleman must really look it up to see.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd (Birmingham, King's Norton)

It is not true that we are producing more coal than before the war.

Mr. Silverman

The right hon. Gentleman thought it worth while to intervene to make that remark, although he knows that Mr. Speaker has just ruled that we cannot argue the matter. We will leave the facts to speak for themselves, but we are undoubtedly consuming more of all the things mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, with the possible exception of meat, and but for the intervention of the Opposition we could have overcome that difficulty by now. However, I do not want to be diverted further, for it does not advance the debate and it does not advance the question to which I was addressing myself. I was dealing with other things.

Suppose, however, that the hon. Gentleman were as right in his facts as I think he is wrong, he would surely be the first to agree that that does not in any way detract from the fact, which he admits, and which I stated before he made his intervention, that we have in five years changed our position from one of utter and complete bankruptcy in 1945—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]—Well, they are Lord Woolton's words when he was Minister of Reconstruction in the Caretaker Government. Now, by the beginning of this year, for the first time for more than a quarter of a century, we are actually paying our way in the world. I used the word "triumphs," and I invited the hon. Gentleman, who questioned the word, to tell me what word he thought more appropriate. He neglected that opportunity, and I do not propose to give him another.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has twice repeated this point about our economic position. Would he not agree that it has been largely due to Marshall Aid, backed up by some loans and gifts from our Dominions, and that it was this assistance which helped us to gain the position where we have stockpiled dollars instead of stockpiling raw materials?

Mr. Silverman

I purposely refrained from discussing the question of responsibility, praise, blame, or any other question of that kind. I was stating the plain fact that there has been achieved what I still describe as this economic triumph in the past five years; and I take it that that is not disputed by anybody except the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, who would, of course, dispute anything I said for the mere fun of it, irrespective of the merits.

The point I was making with regard to this Bill is that none of this triumph could possibly have been achieved if the Opposition had had their way and deprived the Government of their powers in the 1945 Act. An essential part of what we have been able to do is attributable to the fact that the Government have had these powers which the Opposition would have denied them. Whatever may be said about Marshall Aid and dollars and all the rest of it, a great many other countries have had more Marshall Aid and more dollars than we have had in the last five years. In proportion to our population, we have given more to other countries than we have received during that period, and in the years before the war our income from our American investments was greater than any Marshall Aid we received—

Mr. Speaker

I think it is time we came back to the Bill.

Mr. Silverman

Therefore, I repeat that what we have achieved is indeed a triumphant vindication of the policy in economic affairs of the Government—and that in spite of the fact that the Opposition sought to reject the original Act which now they wish to extend. I say that the purposes we have achieved by these measures during these five years were as much a national necessity as the purposes now contemplated.

But before I sit down I want to say one other thing. We are not yet at war. So many hon. Members on the other side talk as though either we were at war already or war was inevitable so that we must take our measures for it today because it might happen tomorrow. Anyone who takes that view takes his own responsibility for it, and he is entitled to take that view if he thinks it the right one to take, but I, for one—and I think most Members on this side of the House —certainly do not regard the state of the world today, unsatisfactory as it is, as being a state of war. Certainly not. And we certainly have not given up the hope that, with the constructive, imaginative leadership, which this Government can and, I hope, will give, the world can be led out of its present situation, and international peace made secure and international security achieved.

I think that the Bill is too widely drawn for the purposes that we have in view, unless it is accepted that war has become a virtual inevitability. I draw attention to one phrase in Clause 1 (1, a and b). I have every sympathy with what the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) had to say about the advisability of clearing up doubts about the meaning, extent and scope of a Measure of this kind while we still have possession of it in this House and before we lose possession of it in this House and it becomes arguable elsewhere. These words are very wide indeed. Subsection 1 (a) says providing or securing supplies and services … and subsection 1 (b) speaks of preventing supplies or services being disposed of … In both cases the supplies and services are spoken of not merely as being …required for the defence of any part of His Majesty's dominions or any territory under His Majesty's protection or in which he has jurisdiction… but the Clause goes on—and these words, I think, really must be wholly unprecedented in the whole legislative history of this country—to give the Government power to make orders or to delegate legislation—for what purpose other than those I have mentioned?— …for the maintenance or restoration of peace and security in any part of the world … That seems to me to be a very wide measure of delegated legislation.

Like everybody else in the House, I agree that delegated legislation is unavoidable in modern conditions. I dislike it in some of its forms, perhaps much less than hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite do. There are differences of opinion, of emphasis, of degree and of preference as to the kind of subject—or the extent to which in any subject on which there should be delegated legislation, but I think it is a very tall order indeed to give a Government power by delegated legislation to do anything they like with supplies and with services for the maintenance or restoration of peace and security in any part of the world. The denial of raw materials to the Soviet Union might be important to reach peace and security, but are His Majesty's Government under this Bill taking power by delegated legislation to provide for that? Of course not. It is an absurd suggestion to make, and my objection to those words is precisely that they are wide enough to cover so absurd a suggestion as that and a wide variety of equally absurd suggestions, which no doubt will occur to many hon. Members. I think that these words will have to be looked at in Committee with great care to sea that they do not go so wide as to destroy the essence of the very thing that we are all hoping to preserve.

6.52 p.m.

Mr. Drayson (Skipton)

In these critical times I am reasonably satisfied that the additional powers which this Bill seeks to give to the Government are necessary. Nevertheless, during the remaining stages of the Bill we shall seek to introduce certain safeguards, even perhaps territorial safeguards such as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has just indicated. What has disturbed me most this afternoon has been the jaunty and flippant way in which the Lord President introduced the Bill. It has already been pointed out that from the very manner in which he introduced the Bill one could not help feeling that he had something to conceal and was trying to get away with another "fast one."

There were a number of revealing passages in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. For example, he told us that defence and re-armament were "coming more and more into the centre of the picture. "There are many people who feel that defence and re-armament should already be in the centre of the picture, and should have been there for some time, and that if we were attaching the same amount of importance to the rearmament programme as is being attached to it by our friends the Americans the state of the world would be, far more satisfactory than it is.

The Lord President appears to have found in present day conditions a justification for the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, which has been continued from time to time., and he said how wise the Government were to have continued it. Perhaps he was wise, because he, knows as well as anybody that any country that has to put up with a Socialist Government for as long as five years is bound to be an open invitation to Communist aggression.

Another thing that surprises me about the Bill is the title of Clause 1, which says that the Act of 1945 is to include defence and the maintenance of world peace, as though that had not been the concern of His Majesty's Government during the last five years. They have been far too busy introducing "Socialism in our time" to pay attention to what was going on in the world around them. A great deal has been said this afternoon about the re-armament programme and the attitude of the Conservative Party towards the Government on that issue. For myself, I have no confidence in the Government's ability to carry out this programme efficiently or adequately. We have done nothing to hinder them in the steps they propose to take, and we shall continue to give them the benefit of our advice, but our confidence in their ability to do the job properly, and the confidence of the people in the Government's ability to fulfil this important task, are far from what the Government may imagine.

I am glad to see from Clause 1 (1, b) that the Government have at last brought in a legislative provision to protect themselves against their own folly of having sent war materials—jet aircraft and other important supplies—to our potential enemies up to now, and that at least they now have this Clause to prevent those disastrous transactions being repeated. That is all I wish to say about the Bill at present. We shall deal with it ruthlessly in the Committee and remaining stages. I conclude by repeating that I have no confidence in the Government to whom these powers are being given.

6.57 p.m.

Mr. Booth (Bolton, East)

I support the Bill, but probably in a different frame of mind from that of any hon. Member who has spoken so far. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) supported the Bill in his usual boisterous way, and took the view that it ought to have been introduced a long time ago. I say, with all due deference, that I cannot see how any hon. Member who supports the rearmament programme can do anything else but support the Bill; it is an inevitable concomitant of the defence programme. It is, of course, an infringement of civil liberties; it is intended to be. It will curtail the liberty of the subject; but that is part of war.

As one who has been in a war, I know that one of the curses of the First World War was the slogan "Business as usual." There cannot be business as usual during a war, and it is about time some people realised it. I know the difficulties of men in the field when the ordinary life of the nation is not geared up for war purposes.

If we are to have soldiers we must have them trained. The War Office descended upon Lancashire and came to the beauty spot of the county, Anglezarke, one of the nicest parts of the country. I am from Bolton and am a member of a local authority, and I was one of those who opposed the War Office taking this ground for training troops. I do not know whether it was eloquence, or whether it was just sticking to it, but we got them away from Anglezarke and they went to another part of Lancashire which we suggested, Hailstorm Hill, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. J. Hale).

We then sat back and thought we had done our job very well. But the people at Rochdale mobilised themselves, and the War Office had the same old business of trying to persuade the people around Rochdale that if we are to have soldiers we must be able to train them. But Rochdale won the day, too. Lancashire was so good that it beat the War Office twice in succession. There is no part of Lancashire and no section of the public that, willingly and enthusiastically, will co-operate with the War Office in finding training grounds for soldiers who have to be trained in the modern world which has not yet learnt that war is a bad business for all concerned—that there are no winners in war, only losers.

We cannot do any other than support the Bill, but I do not support it for the same reasons as those given by the hon. Member for Rotherham and the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens). One of the things about modern war, and the only good thing about it, is that it puts everyone in the front line. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, that is a sad thing. In the old days, when we went to war with the Boer Republic, we sent the men off from Southampton and went back to the Oval to watch the Surrey cricket team play another team. It is different today. The whole of the economic resources of the nation and all the liberties of the people of this realm will have to become absolutely secondary to a war effort.

When I hear the Minister of Labour talking about the direction of labour and, if the necessity arises, the direction of other things, who am I to say "nay," who is any Member of the House, or any member of the community, to say "nay"? If the country is committed to war all things must give way to it. We will sacrifice the smaller liberties for the greater liberties. I regret that there is no other course but for me to support this Bill, because if war comes to this country again. which God forbid, no let or hindrance or pretence of personal feeling or personal aggrandisement should be allowed to stand in the way of it being fought in the quickest and most humane manner.

7.3 p.m.

Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)

Without pledging myself to every word of the speech of the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Booth), when it comes to be analysed in cold print, let me assure him that in what he said he caught the spirit and reaction of all quarters of the House, and that we were very glad to hear his words.

I have one personal apology to make—that I was not present when the Lord President of the Council introduced the Bill. I communicated my sorrow to him, and he was able to assuage it by telling me that circumstances beyond his control placed him in the fortunate position of not having to listen to my speech, but my apology still stands.

I think that the important thing which has arisen in this debate arose from the speech of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu), to which I listened with great care and attention. The hon. Gentleman stressed—and it is a thing that cannot be stressed too much—that we have to face the problem of putting a Parliamentary democracy in a state of defence which will have the result of deterring a potential aggressor. The difference of emphasis between us is in the hon. Gentleman's next step in his argument, that in such circumstances it is necessary to concentrate power in the Executive and diminish the power of the House to control the Executive. We agree that the Executive must have power to do what is necessary, but it is a very serious abrogation of the very essence of Parliamentary democracy if we diminish Parliamentary control.

I put this to the hon. Gentleman because I am anxious to get his intellectual consideration of the point. We all hope that we may be successful in preventing war. That is the unanimous desire of the House; but we all know that it may be a long-term course of action which will secure that result, and it is a very serious matter indeed if, in envisaging a longterm course of action, we are prepared to accept the trend expressed in this Bill, which is to add to the two great evils of modern Parliamentary Government—legislation by reference and delegated legislation—without producing the proper safeguards of Parliamentary control. That is the real difference. That is the point which I think we ought to consider in as non-party a way as we can, because it is a serious problem of how we are to work out the methods which we are to adopt and decide the road which we are to take.

Mr. Albu

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has exaggerated the argument I was using. I was at pains to point out the difficulties with which we were faced in the circumstances. I did not say that I was particularly in favour of a large degree of delegated legislation. I was supporting the Bill in the same way as the right hon. and learned Gentleman is supporting it.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I do not want to make a cheap point, but I do want hon. Members in all parts of the House to consider this problem, because I believe that a great deal of the working of modern democracy depends upon getting the proper solution to it. I do not want to go too wide, Mr. Speaker, but that is the basic problem.

If we look at the position with which we are faced today, we cannot be satisfied with it. We have 100 defence regulations on the books, and, in addition, 16 subsidiary codes. That is a tremendous mass of backroom legislation which is not made in this House and which is only subject to the procedure of Prayer, which is very difficult to work. That is only the beginning. All these regulations have orders made under them, and practically every order has licences or permits depending upon it. Very little of that gets any Parliamentary control at all. That would be a situation which would require the attention of the House of Commons did it stop there; but after this Bill there may be three different Acts of Parliament which have to be looked at before anyone can find out for what purposes the Minister has exercised these powers.

We start with the 1945 Act, which deals with demobilisation and resettlement and the adjustment of industry for times of peace. We then come to the 1947 Act, which was introduced as a result of the dollar crisis for the purpose of expanding our exports and increasing our imports. Again, its general purposes were in very wide terms, against which I animadverted when it was introduced. We are now adding a third purpose, that of defence. It means that we have three contradictory purposes for these Acts being on the Statute Book, which is not a very tidy or proper way of dealing with the problem. In addition, the time-limits for regulations under two of the acts have expired, and these are being continued by yet a third. The House ought to be critical of this way of doing its work.

I do not mind what debating points hon. Members may make of this, but I would not advise my hon. Friends to vote against the Bill in view of the importance of defence—that is something we all recognise. However, we want assurances on the subject. To give a rather lighthearted example to show the somewhat wonderland position into which we have got, under which of these Acts and regulations would the Minister have power to lop off an inch from utility braces? I wish to make our view perfectly clear, because it is futile, having stated the problem, not to indicate how it ought to be dealt with.

The Government must examine not only the legislation but the regulations. The regulations can be put into three categories. In the first category we find those which can be revoked straightaway. For example, there are those regulations that have become redundant because of legislation which has been passed. Regulation 55A has become redundant because of the Statistics of Trade Act, and Regulations 62, 62A and 66 have become redundant because of the Agriculture Act. All of us could find many other regulations which are no longer necessary.

Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

In view of the fact that delegated legislation goes back to 1870, it would mean that a great deal of clearing up would have to be done. It is no good just tackling the immediate problem.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

The hon. Member has misunderstood my point. I am dealing with regulations which have been made since 1939. I am saying that they ought to be revoked and pruned, and I am putting them into three categories.

The first category, as I have said, is those which can be revoked. The second is those regulations which can be covered by non-contentious legislation. I will give two examples of this category—the registration of clubs and the regulation dealing with the number of Parliamentary Secretaries. These regulations could be dealt with by legislation, especially at the moment when there is no pressure of legislation, nor is there likely to be.

The third category concerns those regulations which have to be retained. These regulations should be retained on the basis that there is an opportunity each year to decide whether or not they should be continued. That would give Parliamentary control. I agree that this is not an easy job, but I have tried to study it, as the House will realise from the examples I have given. I would say this to the hon. Member for Edmonton. It is no easy job to work a Parliamentary democracy. It is far easier to govern with a heterogeneous bag of powers supported by heterogeneous Acts which can be used for any purpose that is desired. But that is not the way we shall achieve respect for what we all want, although we have different views as to how it shall be used. That is one of the reasons why we do not support this Bill with any pleasure. However, we have no hesitation where our duty lies.

Let me now deal with the question of retrospective powers. The House of Commons ought to be slow to give powers that amount to an indemnity for an ultra vires act on the part of the Minister without knowing what the ultra vires act is and why the Minister did it. There may be something beyond the memory of man but I cannot think of any Government coming to the House of Commons for an indemnity for something it does not know about—it is part of the argument of Members opposite that they do not know whether it has happened or not. We are being asked to give a blank cheque without knowing the reasons for it, which is something we ought to look into. It must be remembered that if one Government gets away with it other Governments will try to do the same thing when the time comes.

May I say one word about direction of labour? This is not the time to discuss whether it is right or practicable, but what is quite clear it that the Bill permits Regulation 58A, which deals with the direction of labour, to be applied for defence purposes. Are hon. Members opposite satisfied that this is the method of dealing with so serious a subject? Personally, I do not think that direction of labour should be part of our permanent peace-time legislation. There may be controversy about that, but I do not think there will be any controversy on the point that direction of labour in time of peace should not be introduced unless it is shown to be essential to our re-armament and to our national security.

I feel that if it is to be introduced it ought to be the subject of legislation, which can be examined in detail. It is as important a subject as National Service and the Armed Forces. Indeed, I bracket them together as being too important for back-room legislation. I hope I have shown why my hon. Friends and I approach this Bill with great seriousness. We have examined its implications and, while we do not refuse it a Second Reading, these points, which I have summed up, should be carefully considered by the Government. We shall do our best to ensure that they are considered in Committee.

I make an appeal to hon. Members in all parts of the House to see if we can show a dual purpose in our efforts. First, we should show that Parliamentary democracy can meet all the necessities of defence; second, we should show everyone in the world that Parliamentary democracy is the form which will provide not only economic comfort and national security, but moral progress, tolerance and understanding of the individual by the State and of the State by the individual, thus making it acceptable as the one hope of the world.

7.25 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Arthur Henderson)

I am sure both sides of the House will agree that we have just listened to a speech of a most constructive nature, and I can go further and say without fear of contradiction that a large part of the sentiments upon which the speech was based would receive a wide measure of agreement in all quarters of the House. We in the House of Commons believe that this House, with all its weaknesses, is an example to every other country in the world. We have been born to, and brought up in, the tradition of Parliamentary democracy. Speaking for myself, I agree with the reference made by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), to the dangers of delegated powers. However, we have to accept them very largely as the products of two world wars, and perhaps because of the complexity of modern life. Therefore, we would agree that we must seek to maintain by proper safeguards the essence of Parliamentary control.

Tonight we are discussing a particular Bill, but before dealing with some of the points raised I might make one reference to the statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the appalling number of Defence Regulations which still seem to be in existence. There is a large number, but that number today is very much less than it was five years ago. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that there has been a regular pruning of Defence Regulations, and the last series of revocations was only last year at the time when the Supplies and Services Act was renewed for a further 12 months.

The custom in a winding-up speech is to deal with some of the arguments and points made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and this I shall proceed to do. The right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) was the first speaker who referred to the retrospective nature of the Bill. The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) seemed to think that the Government were anxious to afford protection to Ministers who were responsible for certain acts, and he cited as one example the export of jet aircraft. Whatever may be said on that subject, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it does not require any Act of indemnity to cover that particular executive action. Whether it was right or wrong is a matter of opinion, but it is within the powers of any particular Minister.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman who wound up for the Opposition seemed to think we were anxious to protect Ministers. I can assure him that we have no reason to believe that any Minister has done anything which requires an Act of indemnity. The Government may have done things that hon. Members opposite consider bad but they have also done a good many things during the last six years which we think extremely good. However that may be, there is no hidden purpose in this Bill seeking to protect any individual Minister or a number of Ministers.

Mr. McCorquodale

If there is no reason, why the Bill?

Mr. Henderson

There is nothing in the Bill which is in the nature of an indemnity. The right hon. Gentleman has had much the same experience as I have had. He has had much to do with Bills and the drafting of them. He knows quite well that if we had left out the words in line 7, "and always to have included," there might have been some doubt whether actions which we think it was right to take were covered.

The Lord President of the Council summed up the position in his speech when he said that everybody recognised that these powers might have to be used in order to speed up the defence programme. He explained that it was probable that if we were to adapt our interpretation of the law we could do nearly everything needed under the existing provisions of the Supplies and Services Act, but that in the view of the Government the right course was to obtain express Parliamentary sanction and not to depend upon Acts of Parliament which were primarily directed to other matters.

Then he cited the example of the Korean operation, and said that the Minister of Transport had been able to charter all the ships he required, but that if difficulties had arisen we should have had to consider whether it was permissible to requisition ships for such purposes. Therefore, in order to remove any possible doubt, these words "and always to have included" were inserted in Clause 1. There are many precedents for these words to be included in order to remove any element of doubt. I can put it in another way. If these words were left out, I certainly do not believe—and so I am advised—that there could have been any question of any Minister having done something which he was not authorised to do. There are lots of precedents where other Governments have thought fit to include these words when they were clarifying the law, and indeed to some extent extending it.

Mr. Pickthorn

I do not want to be tiresome about this, but does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not see that where what you are arguing about is a matter of universally accepted principle, such as, I take it everyone agrees, retrospection is, to bring in precedents really counts against you, because the more there are precedents for it, the more the principle is going away and you are getting the opposite principle.

Mr. S. Silverman

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a great difference between retrospective legislation and declaratory legislation, in the sense that retrospective legislation seeks to alter the law as it was before, whereas the present Bill is not retrospective but declaratory, in that it declares what the law was?

Mr. Henderson

That puts the position better than I could have put it myself. [Interruption.] I think it does.

I want to be quite frank with the House, because I think there is a feeling in the minds of hon. Members that we have some specific cases of acts by the Executive which we know of, and which we hope will be the subject of indemnity as result of the passing of the Bill. That is not the position. The hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) puts the point about bad precedents giving rise to bad principles. All I can say is that there is nothing new in inserting in a Bill the words to which I have referred.

The hon. and learned Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) raised the question of the direction of labour. The hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) also referred to it. The hon. and learned Member for Kingston-upon- Thames asked me—

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am not learned.

Mr. Henderson

That is the shadow of coming events. He asked the direct question whether we intended to direct labour. I can only refer him to the speech by the Minister of Labour last week in which he stated the policy of the Government on this point.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I cannot have put my question as specifically as I intended. What I intended to ask, and what I thought I did ask, was whether the Government intended to direct labour under the powers of the Bill.

Mr. Henderson

The Government have not decided to direct labour at all. The Minister of Labour indicated last week that if the Government were intending to direct labour, there was no need for them to use this Bill, as they already have powers under—I think it is—Regulations 58A and 58AA. I think this answers the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen. There is no question of direction of labour under the Bill.

Mr. Hopkin Morris

Accepting what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, that the Government already have powers, I would ask why it is necessary to put them into the Bill.

Mr. Henderson

They are not in the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill which indicates, or makes any direct or indirect reference to, the question of directing labour.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am sorry to interrupt again, but the point is surely that the Bill would enable the Government to direct labour for the two purposes specified by the Bill, over and above the purposes for which it can direct labour under the Regulations. If the Government decided to introduce direction of labour, do they propose to use the Bill or to follow what in my opinion is the proper method of specific legislation?

Mr. Henderson

In the event of the Government deciding to direct labour—and I must enter this caveat that there is no question of the Government doing any such thing—all I can say is that they have powers under the Regulations to do so in any circumstances or spheres that they think necessary.

Mr. Pickthorn

Under the Bill the Government would have power to do it for a new set of purposes. We desire to know whether, if the Government did desire to do it for that set of purposes, they would think proper to do it by the Bill or to do it in specific legislation.

Mr. Henderson

The purposes in the Bill are included in the larger over-all purposes under which the Government now have power to direct labour.

Mr. Gibson

When the Government have made up their minds to direct labour, before they do it, or before they bring it before the House, will they have effective discussions with the trade union movement?

Mr. Henderson

I should have thought that that was almost an unnecessary question for the hon. Member to address to a Member of the Government which he supports. He may take it from history that the Government always seek to co-operate with the leaders of industry on both sides, when necessary.

The next question was about Clause 4. The right hon. Gentleman wanted to know why it was that we were doing it by Order in Council and whether this should not be done by affirmative or negative Resolution. At the risk of incurring the displeasure of the hon. Member for Carlton, I must again refer to precedents, going as far back as 1939. The extension of the 1939 Act relating to Colonial Territories was not subjected to direct Parliamentary control but to the same method as is adopted by the Bill. That has been followed in a number of Acts since 1939.

I want to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), who seems, after a very eloquent speech, to have disappeared, about his fears of an iniquitous Government depriving him or his constituents of a right and making them walk three miles instead of one mile. It is a fair point. The public are entitled to be given some assurance on this very important part of the Bill. We have sought to provide that the Minister of Transport must be satisfied that the case arising under Clause 2 is sound for defence purposes and that road users—after all, the Minister of Transport is a civilian Minister and can, perhaps, take a more objective or less partisan view of requests coming from the Service Departments than can Service Ministers—will not be deprived of the use of the road until an alternative road is available.

As far as the Service Departments are concerned, the argument of military necessity, so far as we can avoid it, will not be used in order to effect closure as being urgently necessary where the plans are known sufficiently far in advance to enable a peace-time procedure for permanent closure to be employed, provided that it is clear that permanent closure will be necessary. I do not know to what extent this is an assurance to hon. Members who are concerned about the point, but we are certainly well aware of the importance of not allowing Departments to ride roughshod over the existing facilities, and it will only be on a clear understanding and clear demonstration to the Minister of Transport that the road in question urgently requires to be closed for defence purposes that the more urgent procedure under the Bill will be followed.

The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), raised the question of compensation. I am quite sure that he does not expect me to say here and now that in the cases to which he referred compensation is likely to be paid. He will have further opportunities of raising the matter. I should, however, like to comment that if in every case during the last 10 years compensation had been paid to those who unfortunately suffered from the effect of Executive action taken for war purposes, I am very much afraid that the National Debt, large as it is, would be very much larger today.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman look at this again before the Committee stage? If he can pay compensation for war damage, I cannot see why a person who has been put totally out of business by a road being closed should not also have compensation. It seems a fair point.

Mr. Henderson

I think that the hon. Member knows that I will certainly look at his arguments and see that they are considered by other Ministers who are interested. I cannot go beyond that.

The debate has shown, although it is a sad commentary upon the present world situation that we should have to ask the House for this Bill, that, in spite of the differences which have occasionally been forthcoming in the heat of debate, there is common agreement among all parties in the House that we are wise to take these precautionary measures. They are a challenge to no one; they are an act of precaution justified by the present situation. I confidently ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.