HC Deb 27 July 1951 vol 491 cc823-41

11.30 a.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Frank Soskice)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 27, to leave out from "Act)," to "and." in line 30.

This is an Amendment paving the way for the subsequent Amendment which appears to line 45, and in moving it perhaps I should explain the objective of the substantive Amendment. It is to change the operation of what was described on Second Reading as the omnibus clause. For reasons which I thought adequate, we caused to be inserted into the text of the Bill words which have the effect of constituting an omnibus Clause—a sweeping up Clause which brought within the scope of the Bill any orders which we might discover hereafter, but which were not set out in the Schedule, and which our present research has not brought to light.

Hon. Members opposite expressed doubts as to whether the justification I had put forward for the omnibus words in the form at present in the Bill was adequate. I thought the justification adequate or I should not have put the words in the Bill, but I frankly recognise, as I said in the Second Reading debate, that there can be two views about this.

The House obviously wants me cogently to justify the insertion of words to cover these orders not specified in the Schedule. Hon. Members have made it clear that in their view the justification I gave was not adequate, and we have thought again and have tried to improve the wording. The Amendment on the Order Paper paves the way to the subsequent Amendment which appears later, to line 45, and which is the effect of our further thinking.

It produces this result. If it should transpire that the research which we have hitherto devoted to the subject has not brought to light some order—which is not in the Schedule to the Bill—that order should not be included within the scope of the indemnity unless the House, having considered that order, decides by affirmative Resolution that the order should be included in the scope of the Bill.

We thought it right, and indeed in the public interest, that we should not have to go back to ask the House for a further indemnity Act to deal with some order of which we were unaware. This is a kind of half-way measure. We provide by this Amendment that should such an order come to light it will not be necessary for a further Bill to be passed, but it will be necessary for a debate to take place in the House as to whether indemnity should be afforded in respect of that order. That will be a debate on an affirmative and not a negative Resolution. I submit to the Committee that the Amendment meets the objections which were urged, in particular, by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter).

Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman, whose lucidity is matched only by his modesty, described this Amendment as a half-way house, going about half way to meet the point raised on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter).

In my opinion, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has gone more than half way to meet the point made on Second Reading because, as I understand it—and I am not versed in the legal technicalities of this matter—what he now proposes is that before the omnibus, as he described it, which is designed by the Bill goes on to the road, each and every prospective passenger in it has to be separately approved by both Houses. That being the case, it seems to me that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has met the substance of the point raised during Second Reading, and I recommend my hon. Friends behind me to, accept his Amendment with gratitude.

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

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, I raised the question of the omnibus provision on Second Reading, and I therefore feel that it would be ungrateful and discourteous if I did not rise for a moment to acknowledge his action in going, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake) has said, more than half-way to meet the point then raised. I think this solution amounts to a reasonable compromise between the two points of view. I am particularly glad that the affirmative procedure has been invoked, especially in view of the fact that the negative procedure has been somewhat devalued in recent months by the vagaries of the Leader of the House.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

May I also thank the Government, as one who is not a lawyer but who took some part in the Second Reading debate purely from the point of view of the House of Commons rather than the point of view of the intricate legal phrases upon which so many of my predecessors have touched. We are passing a Bill to grant mass indemnity for the failures of the Government to carry out our procedure and, as the Home Secretary knows only too well, we are dealing with what back benchers who are not lawyers dislike in this Clause.

If further acts of omission are found to have been committed by the Government, the order involved must be laid before the House. That is a simple procedure and none of us—certainly I myself would not wish to do so—wishes to delay the House in insisting that a further Bill be passed for some order discovered later. It would be absurd to have another Bill in such a case. It is almost certain that more orders will turn up, because there is no limit to what has been going on here. I thank the Government sincerely for having met the main objection to the Bill, certainly as far as some of us are concerned.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is going part of the distance, and only part of the distance, to deal with the issue raised on Second Reading. In replying to the debate on that occasion, the Solicitor-General replied to everybody's point except mine. Indeed, I said: He has gone all round the world, but he has not got as far as East Croydon."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, 1951; Vol. 490, c. 2042.] We were told on Second Reading that all these orders have been valid all the time and that they were enforceable in law, and it was therefore urged by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northants. South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) on that occasion that from that point of view the Bill was not necessary.

If any further orders are made and the Department forget to lay them or lay them improperly, they come all the time within the Indemnity Bill. As I said the other night, that is a monstrous abuse in respect of the whole principle of delegated legislation and I would urge in future that when an order is not laid, or is improperly laid, then it shall lapse within a certain period of time. What that period should be is a matter for discussion and convenience. My own view is that when an order is made a certificate should be issued by Mr. Speaker or someone acting on his behalf to the effect that he is satisfied—

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Gentleman is going a long way from the Amendment.

Sir H. Williams

I agree, but I was thinking also about procedure. There ought to be some procedure. This only deals with mistakes which have been made, but I am concerned with the future. I know hon. and right hon. Members opposite are always looking backwards, but I want to look forward and make sure that in future the citizens of this country will be properly treated and that when an order is signed by a Minister the instruction given will be obeyed.

This is a case of disobedience of instructions for which there is no penalty. The Government are indemnifying themselves for the past and taking no precautions for the future, and for that reason the Amendment does not give the answer we want. I am afraid that any Amendment of mine to do so would be out of order now, but I hope the Minister concerned will examine the Statutory Instruments Act with a view to introducing an amending Bill at a very early date.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 2, line 32, leave out from "Orders," to "are," in line 33.

In line 38, leave out from "Orders," to "operated," in line 39.

In line 42, leave out from the beginning, to "shall."—[The Attorney-General.]

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I beg to move, in page 2, line 45, at the end, to add: Provided that no Order specified in the Schedules to this Act shall remain in force after the passing of this Act unless within fourteen days of the coming into force of this Act such Order is duly laid before Parliament. As the Committee will appreciate, this Amendment is not in the form in which I originally put it down. As originally put down, it would have dealt both with the orders now in force which are in the Schedules of the Bill and with orders brought into the Bill by the omnibus Clause to which the Attorney-General referred a moment ago in another context. In its present form, which it owes no doubt to an intelligent anticipation of what the Attorney-General was going to do on the previous Amendment, it relates solely to those orders which are in one or other of the Schedules of the Bill and which are still in force.

What it does, in effect, is to provide that they shall not continue in force unless within 14 days they are laid before both Houses and are subject therefore under the ordinary provision of the law, if desired, to the negative procedure. As far as the orders not in the Bill are concerned, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has gone further than this Amendment, and it was for that reason that it was not necessary from our point of view for this Amendment to deal with those at all. This Amendment now deals with matters within a comparatively narrow compass.

On Second Reading, the Solicitor-General told us that in fact five of the orders in the Schedule were still in force and consequently this Amendment would only operate in respect of those five orders. If I may, in order to prevent any misunderstanding, repeat what I said a moment ago, its effect on those five orders would be to ensure that they were laid afresh if they were to continue in force at all.

The Solicitor-General, in a very clear exposition of the Government's view, when replying for the Government on Second Reading, urged that this was not necessary by direct reference to the five orders concerned. His observations, reported in column 2039 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 24th July, I think can be summarised to this effect—that of the five orders concerned, two have in fact been relaid and one of them certainly debated after relaying, whereas with respect to the other three, all Board of Trade orders, both the orders and the Schedules to which they relate have been laid, though laid in connection, not with their present context, but in connection with different Schedules or different orders as the case may be.

I think that is a fair summary of what the Solicitor-General said. Therefore, the point between us is now really very restricted, and I think I can summarise the arguments very briefly. In the first place, it still seems to me right that where there has been a defect in laying in respect of an order which is still in force, it is proper to insist upon a new and proper laying, and that therefore we should insist upon so doing even though it may seem to hon. Members not to go much beyond a formality. I do not put the argument higher than that.

11.45 a.m.

There is a second argument of perhaps greater practical value. It is this. Hon. Members who have undergone the effort of trying to trace what the law of this country is, as enacted by statutory instruments, know what an appalling wild-goose chase that sometimes is. [Interruption.] If, as my hon. Friend says, it is the goose that lays a golden egg, it is a very devalued egg.

Sir H. Williams

It is an addled egg.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It is very difficult to trace what the law is from the bound volumes of statutory instruments, and it seems to me that if these five orders with which we are now concerned are laid again, together with the appropriate related Schedules to which they now apply, then at any rate so far as those orders are concerned, the task of people who desire to find out what the present law is will be to some extent easier. I do not put the argument higher than that.

As against that, there really is not any practical inconvenience as far as I can see from the Government side—all the Orders and Schedules being in force at the moment are obviously in their final and, no doubt, proper form. All that is involved is the formal process of laying them again, which as far as I am aware consists in delivering two copies to the Library where they are put away in a box. But they will go into the ordinary weekly list of statutory instru- ments and no doubt in due course will be printed in the bound volumes of statutory instruments. I think this will be a tidier solution to the somewhat unsatisfactory position in respect of orders which the Bill—

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

If the hon. Member will forgive me, would it really help to have one series of instruments printed twice, once in the volume for 1942 and again in the volume for 1951, without some necessary explanation appended? Would it not really add to the confusion instead of simplifying matters?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am sorry, it is my fault. I cannot have made myself clear, otherwise the hon. Member would have apprehended what I was trying to say. What we are concerned with is to secure that what are now the present—to use a neutral term—provisions should appear in the volumes of statutory instruments.

What has happened with both the orders and schedules with which we are concerned is that they have appeared before but not linked up with each other. They have appeared linked up with different spouses. The effect of our proposal would be that they would now appear together with their correct and proper spouses. That is not a matter of world-shaking importance, but it would be somewhat more convenient, particularly for busy practitioners like the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. L. Hale) himself. I do not put it beyond that.

The Attorney-General

The previous set of Amendments with which we dealt related to matters of substance, and the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has himself conceded, as I understand it, that it would not be inaccurate to regard this as no more than a matter of form.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

A little more than that.

The Attorney-General

Well, practically no more than a matter of form, even if one adorns it with the relationship as between spouses, with which the hon. Gentleman garnished his description. I think that if he looks at the matter again the hon. Gentleman will see that there is no real reason to justify this proposed change.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale) said, what one would be doing would be to add complications to what would really be little more than an empty form. My reason for saying that is this. So far as the Board of Trade are concerned there are four Orders set out in the Schedule which are still in force. As far as the Ministry of Supply is concerned there is one, but that is the one which was the subject of Mr. Speaker's Ruling, and it was re-laid together with the related schedule, so that that cannot come into the picture.

As to the four which are still in the Schedule, which were made by the Board of Trade and which are still operative, the situation is this. In each case the related schedule, the non-laying of which vitiated the laying of the order, has been subsequently replaced by an amending order which has been properly laid with the new related schedule. Therefore, I am not quite sure how one would comply with what the Amendment proposes to enact when we have to re-lay the original order together with the subsequent order which has already been properly laid. There could not be any point in that, and I am not sure if Mr. Speaker would allow such a debate upon it.

I will give examples to show what has been done in that respect. Perhaps I may give the numbers of the orders. In the case of Order No. 216, 1951—that is the first of the orders which is still valid—the Related Schedules which were not laid with that Order were subsequently replaced by Statutory Instrument No. 1100, 1951, which substituted a new third Schedule for that in the Schedule to Order No. 216. That latter Instrument, No. 1100, is perfectly properly laid with the Related Schedules to which it refers in the Schedule to that Order.

That is true of all the related schedules, the failure to lay which brought about the necessity for this Bill, with one exception, and that is a Schedule which I can identify as 6L—one of the Schedules referred to in Order No. 216, which has already been laid with orders which have been debated in the House. It has been laid with Order No. 216, 1951, which was debated on 3rd April, and it was laid with Order No. 1100 which was debated on 17th July.

The same considerations apply to each of the other orders which are still operative. For example, Order No. 1855 was not properly laid because the Related Schedule was not laid with it. The same is true of Order No. 81, 1951, and Order No. 249, 1951. They were followed by Order No. 395, 1951, and 661, 1951, and those two Orders were laid with the Related Schedules which those Orders substituted for the Related Schedules laid with the previous ones.

I urge upon the Committee that to go through this formality would constitute no more than an empty proceeding, if indeed it were possible for a debate to arise upon an order laid together with a subsequent order in that form. Laying it alone without the subsequent order would really be a pointless procedure. There would be no possible ground for that. Therefore. I urge the Committee to say that the Bill, so far as the changes proposed by hon. Members opposite are concerned, is satisfactory without adding to it this needless complication.

We have endeavoured to meet points of substance. It is not as if the fault were on one side of the Committee. Members on both sides are participants in the failure in this case. I am sure that our common purpose and design is that, there being a failure disclosed, having investigated it and having decided that indemnity should be accorded, we have now got the matter in proper form and it would not be improved by adding what is a needless complication which cannot serve any useful service.

Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)

The Attorney-General said that this Amendment would create complications, but I hardly think anybody who has listened to what has been said could conceive that the situation could be more complicated than it has been in the past, with related schedules sometimes attached and sometimes not attached to the parent documents. It would have been better if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had been prepared to make a clean job of this matter by laying in proper form those orders and related schedules which should have been laid together.

A difficulty arises in the matter of identification, which has been discussed on Prayers on two occasions, and I do not wish to go into the matter again now. I am sure that the Attorney-General will appreciate that there is the difficulty that a number of these documents, sometimes called related schedules and sometimes called by other names, are not identified with the documents upon which they must now rely for their validity.

As the Attorney-General has said, they have now been laid, in most cases at least, with some order, but as a rule when one looks at the heading of a related schedule one finds that it is described as being issued for the purposes of some entirely different order. Without going further into that, I am sure the Attorney-General will appreciate that from the point of view of anybody who wants to ascertain exactly what is the law at the moment, and who comes across documents which are laid with an order but are apparently not related and certainly do not purport to be related to it, that must create considerable confusion.

If the Attorney-General would follow the course advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter)—and, after all, it is only a matter of four orders—and if we had those documents related in proper form, it would make the position rather easier. I hope the Attorney-General will give a little further thought to this not very far-reaching matter.

Mr. C. Williams

We have now had two very interesting and clear speeches on this matter from this side of the Committee. We have also had a long speech from the Attorney-General, and one or two interruptions. As a layman, I am rather uncertain in my mind, but on the whole, having listened to all the arguments, it seems to me that it might be best to meet this very small point. My reason for saying so is this. None of these documents go back very far. They are all related, as I think the Attorney-General said, to 1950 and 1951. In other words, none of them are the iniquities of bygone Governments. They are things of today. There are only three or four of them.

12 noon.

If this Amendment were accepted, it would enable everyone to know what these documents are and to see them in their complete modern form. I do not think there is a very great deal in it, and I shall not have any hard feelings towards the right hon. and learned Gentleman if he does not accept it. But I think we have been very kindly and well disposed towards him during the whole of this Bill. I certainly have been exceedingly kind to him, and I think that every one of my right hon. and hon. Friends have been the same. I see the right hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head. He cannot deny—

The Attorney-General

I was not questioning that matter. I was just thinking of the hon. Gentleman's arguments, and, perhaps, involuntarily shaking my head as a sort of negation of the general effect of it, and not of the particular detail.

Mr. Williams

I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman has at any rate confirmed the fact that my kindness is universal. Indeed, I think that in the past my attitude has been more kindly than it ought to have been considering all the facts.

But to get back to the Amendment, I would ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to think again on this matter because it cannot do much harm, and there have been really no arguments against it very much except his own. For that reason, I think it would add to the simplification of the position if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would accept it.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am bound, to say that I did not find the right hon. and learned Gentleman as persuasive as I generally find him. Indeed, his first and main argument, that it would be difficult even to select the documents which might have to be laid if this provision were put into the Bill, seemed to me to give a more vivid illustration of the chaos into which we have got on this whole subject than anything which has been said from this side of the Committee. After all, we are only asking that those acts of delegated legislation which the Government desire still to keep in effect should be collected together and put in a box in the Library. But when we have the principal Law Officer of the Crown coming forward and saying it would be difficult even to do that, difficult, as I understand it, to select from the files of his Department those particular documents which are still part of the law of this land, that seems to me an assumption of a chaotic position which it ought surely to be the duty of any Government to clear up as quickly as possible.

His other argument that if these documents were laid the Chair might decide that certain of them could not be discussed if anyone put down a Motion for annulment, does not seem to me to arise at this stage at all. It was never the essence of my argument that the House would wish to debate them, and I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman would concede that I put more weight on the clarifying effect of having them in their up-to-date form in the Statutory Instruments.

In view of the limited number of orders, this is not a very great matter, nor one on which one would be justified in taking up more of the time of the Committee. But, as I am not convinced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument, and as to ask leave to withdrawn the Amendment might lead the Committee to infer that one was convinced, I cannot take that course. I think it follows logically from what I have said that it would be foolish to press this matter to a Division, but, at the same time, I do not propose to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

The Attorney-General

I beg to move, in page 2, line 45, at the end, to add: (3) The preceding subsections shall have effect as to any instrument made before the passing of this Act other than the said Orders, being an instrument to which those subsections are extended by an Order in Council made after a draft thereof has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament, as respects any omission to lay before Parliament in accordance with a requirement corresponding to the said requirement mentioned in those subsections any Related Schedule or other document by reference to which that instrument operated and which ought to have been so laid, with the substitution for the reference in subsection (1) to the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Supply of a reference to the authority by whom the instrument was made. (4) References in this Act to the Orders specified in Part II of the First Schedule to this Act include references to the Directions therein specified.

This is purely a drafting Amendment.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As we have discussed the main body of this Amendment on the previous one, I do not propose to say very much, except that I do not think that any reference was made to subsection (4) of this Amendment. As I understand from reading it, this Amendment is a general drafting improvement to the Bill. But I may very well be wrong about that, and I think it would be of assistance if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would say what its intention is.

The Attorney-General

I am sorry; I should certainly have done that. As I said, this is a purely drafting Amendment. It is simply to make clear that the expression "Directions", which is used in various passages in the First Schedule harmonises with the earlier description of the instruments we are discussing. If hon. Members will look at Part II of the Schedule, line 20, they will see the word "Directions." As I say, as a pure matter of drafting, that does not, as it were, harmonise with the earlier description.

I am not sure that the Amendment is absolutely essential, but it certainly improves the Bill as a matter of drafting. We want to make it clear that "Directions" are included.

Amendment agreed to.

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

Sir H. Williams

I put a point earlier on—as I did the other night to the Solicitor-General, who seemed a little shy—to the Attorney-General, who also seemed to be shy. I do not think it right that an addled egg should be made fertile, as it were, in this way. That is what the Government are doing by this Bill, which obviously some hon. Members opposite have not read. I think the Government ought to give some undertaking that they will investigate the whole procedure so that an order which is not properly laid, or not laid at all, should cease to have effect after a certain date. I should be grateful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would give an indication that the Government are examining that position.

The Attorney-General

I am afraid I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any undertaking on that point. Quite naturally, the Government watch the operation of any important statute like the Statutory Instruments Act, 1946. As to orders not being in operation after a certain date, that would need very careful watching and might lead to great public inconvenience. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the operation of the statutes is watched, but I cannot go further and give any specific undertaking at the present moment to make a change.

Sir H. Williams

I think that is most unsatisfactory. We have had one definite statement by the Solicitor-General that although 183 of these orders were improperly laid, they were, nevertheless, good law. If they were good law, then we did not need this Bill. If they were bad law, then we did need this Bill. The right hon. and learned Attorney-General now tells us that this crime may be committed in future, and that the Government are not going to take any steps to safeguard the position. That, I think, is a deplorable state of affairs.

Question put, and agreed to.

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

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

First and Second Schedules agreed to. Preamble agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments as amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."[The Attorney-General.]

12.10 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

I do not want to delay the House very long, but I wish to point out one thing. In this Bill we have indemnified Members of the Government against mistakes made. The right hon. and learned Gentleman points to this side of the House, but if he will look at the First Schedule he will see there listed a number of orders which were laid originally in the time of the Coalition Government, when the present Prime Minister held office. Moreover, they were laid in time of war.

It was very rarely that mistakes of this kind were made even in time of war and time of great danger, even compared with the number of mistakes made in times of peace since, when the Law Officers have had plenty of time for their work. I would not have brought in that remark except for the interjection of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and what was said on Second Reading.

I wish this indemnity Bill to be a full one, and passed with a full sense of what we think is right. So far as I am concerned, I should not wish it to be in any way niggardly, and nor would my party. There must be very large numbers of people who have been prosecuted under these orders.

Leaving aside the argument whether the orders were or were not technically legal, the fact remains that we now have to have a whole Act of Parliament to make them right. Still we have done nothing whatever to help the people who have been prosecuted under the improperly laid orders, and to remove from their names the stigma that they were prosecuted under those orders. Some of those people must have been fined or imprisoned.

The Government really must realise that mistakes of this kind about these sorts of orders, even although, in theory, they are legal, are really of a serious nature. After all, I repeat, a whole new Act of Parliament is required to make them right.

Although I welcome the Bill, I would add that this Bill in every one of its contents shows one thing only too clearly, and that is that we ought to have a very drastic clearing up of the whole of this position of these sorts of orders. It is not especially the fault of this or any other Government, but we have gradually got into a position where there are so many orders that it is almost humanly impossible for an individual or even a group of individuals to keep up with them. This Bill is an illustration of our difficulties in this position. It illustrates also the need in the immediate future, whatever Government may be in power, for very drastic steps to be taken to reorganise the whole of our orders, such as we are dealing with in this Bill.

12.13 p.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

It is with great pleasure that I welcome this Bill. I do so because it gives me the reassurance I have long been wanting. We have now a Bill which indicates quite clearly that the lawyers have lost control of the controls, so that they require to come to the House of Commons to secure further control over that control which they have lost. This Bill is evidence of that fact, with which I have long been familiar, and which the House now, in fact, sees. This is a failure—these 183 wrongly, incorrectly laid orders constitute failures—of the efforts of the Government to control the multifarious things to which they try to give their attention.

Does anyone seriously believe that much good has come from these orders? The first one listed in the Bill is the Knitting Yarns (Maximum Prices) Order, 1942. Is yarn more abundant than it was in 1942? Is it cheaper than it was in 1942? Is it better than it was in 1942? In fact, control has been useless and valueless from the beginning, and is now and ever shall be. Apparently the Attorney-General, who has lost control of these controls, is to come again at no distant date and ask the House for further control of the controls which today are being controlled for the first time.

12.14 p.m.

Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I should like to support what has been said by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) and the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), because, whatever else this Bill shows, it emphatically does show what an extraordinary state the procedure with regard to these orders is now in.

It must be a matter of concern to all parties that we have now the spectacle of the House of Commons indemnifying Ministers against 183 illegal acts, and even now we do not know how many more they may have committed. The ordinary person in this country who may commit illegal acts as innocently as Ministers is not in the position to come to the House of Commons to have an indemnity Bill of this sort passed, and I do suggest that if this sort of thing continues it will bring our law into a certain amount of ridicule if not contempt. The hon. Member for Torquay drew attention to the fact that there may be people who have been condemned under these orders and who may feel a sense of injustice.

I would only add that, of course, this Bill applies not only to Ministers but, rightly, to everyone whose duty it is to secure compliance with the orders, and I do suggest that this House should have some regard to the various people at all levels who have to work these orders and similar orders. We do not even now know whether all of them are legal or not. If this state of affairs continues I suggest that, at any rate, all the civil servants, magistrates, and so on, will have to look in the future at orders very carefully to make sure whether the House of Commons has done its duty or not. They will have a very heavy extra burden put upon them. I would join with others who have suggested that this House should have a review of this position.

12.16 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Obviously this Bill is necessary, and obviously it is right that it should be passed, but I hope that from its passing three valuable gains will be achieved. In the first place, I hope that it will become apparent even to the Government that the present state of the system of delegated legislation requires urgent and immediate review; second, that Departments of State will realise that they exercise powers of delegated legislation subject to strict limitation, and that they will take more trouble than some of them have in the past to exercise those powers within the limits imposed by this House.

Thirdly, I hope that hon. Members in all quarters of the House will see that it is one of the important duties of this House to control the exercise of delegated legislation by Government Departments, and that some hon. Members will rid themselves of the illusion that if a Statutory Instrument is made by a Government Department there can be nothing wrong with it and that there is something rather querulous or tiresome about those hon. Members who raise doubts about it. I hope that hon. Members opposite may in the very near future have the pleasure of performing those duties from the opposite benches.

12.18 p.m.

Mr. Pannell (Leeds, West)

I think there is a certain amount of humbug in the protestations from the benches opposite. One would think from what hon. Gentlemen opposite say that there had never been previously an indemnity Bill. There was an indemnity Bill during the time of the last Parliament in which the present Foreign Secretary was involved. However, I suppose that the worst case of an indemnity Bill was that required in the case of the late Sir Douglas Hogg, an ex-Attorney-General who had to be indemnified for sending any amount of innocent men from their homes in the middle of the night.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I do not think that that indemnity Bill is before the House at the moment.

Mr. Pannell

I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. But I have made my point. In this case we are dealing with something extraordinarily subtle, and concerning no fewer than 183 orders. It it so subtle that even I did not understand the speech of the Attorney-General the other night, and he usually makes the most difficult thing plain, and I know that my difficulty is shared by hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, and, indeed, hon. Members on the opposite side of the House have been even more incomprehensible than my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

That is going rather far.

Mr. Pannell

It is really a case of much ado about nothing, because nobody suggested when the orders were laid that they were not properly laid. This is really one of those quibbles in which lawyers delight, and we are considering it now at a time of world crisis and with announcements of portentous things from day to day. I am only a layman—thank goodness—but in my view this is a great waste of time.

12.20 p.m.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I hall not detain the House for more than a minute, and I may even succeed in making myself comprehensible to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell). I, like him, have the advantage of not being a lawyer, but it seems to me that when a mistake is made it is always instructive to see just how the mistake came to be made.

If I am right, on this occasion the mistake arose like this. These related schedules have always been arranged, so far as possible, in a way which was convenient to shopkeepers and people who had to make use of them; but I am not sure that quite so much trouble has been taken in the past to make it easy for hon. Members of this House to keep track of these related schedules.

I feel that this Bill and the debates we have had on it will do nothing but good if, as a result, a little more car is taken to enable hon. Members to keep track of these related schedules as they are published. It is very important that we should be able to keep track of them easily, because we never know when some important point may suddenly arise on some related schedule, even if a large number of apparently similar related schedules have been accepted as routine, If, as a result of this Bill, it is made easier for hon. Members to keep track of these related schedules our discussions will certainly not have been a waste of time.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.