§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Colonel Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]
§ Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 24 to 27.
The object of this Amendment is to leave out the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1939. The Home Secretary will remember that yesterday we were saying that really he ought to have considered a great many things before he came here, but it would, I think, be unfair of us to say to him that really he ought to have considered all the possibilities of maintaining or not maintaining all the legislation contained in the Schedule.
I think it fair to the Committee to say quite frankly that if we are not able to convince the right hon. and learned Gentleman by the arguments we intend to put in this matter, we shall not attempt to divide the Committee against him on it. However, I think it is right to take the opportunity of just putting before the Committee what are the arguments in favour of removing this Act which, in 1188 my submission, performs no useful function at the moment, and which may well serve as an irritant in the relations between England and Ireland.
The Act was originally passed to deal with the various bomb outrages that occurred in 1939. Its passage was secured by a promise from the then Home Secretary, Lord Templewood, which he put in these words:the assurance from me that these powers will not be exercised a day longer than they are actually required."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1939; Vol. 350, c. 1598.]It is a very long time since that day, and I should like the Home Secretary to look into the question whether these powers are really still required. What the Act in fact does is to provide, first, that there can be expulsions; that anyone can be expelled from Britain, either an Irish citizen or a British citizen who has not been living here continuously for 20 years. Secondly, it provides that anyone who is likely to harbour such people as might be expelled must be registered, or the Home Secretary can require them to register, and thirdly, that in fact people who are out of the country can have a prohibition order served on them which prevents them ever returning again.
I think that probably the views of my hon. Friends, or a great many of them, were those expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood), who was then sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, speaking on behalf of the party of which I have the honour to be a member. He said then, speaking on 24th July, 1939:I think every hon. Member regrets the events which have created a situation calling for new powers on the part of the Executive. I should like to express my view emphatically, and irrespective of the political motives behind the I.R.A. campaign, that terrorist methods will achieve nothing. I do not believe that in these days the people of this country, having witnessed the use of terrorism abroad, will ever have solutions of political problems forced upon them against their will. I imagine that I part company with many hon. Members when I say that I desire to see a kind of united Ireland, which would not perhaps commend itself to the majority of hon. Members, but the way in which a minority have chosen to attain those ends will, I believe, defeat their own objects. As we know now, there are more rational ways of solving our current problems than by violence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1939; Vol. 350, c. 1057.]I think that those are the views which would be endorsed very largely, certainly 1189 on this side of the House. If I may say so I do not think this extends only to bomb outrages of the sort that we all deplored when they took place in 1939.
I think many people place far too much reliance on the terrorising effect of bombs generally. In the world today, there are far too many people who think that their political ends can be attained with the display or threat of universal violence. If we can perform any service in regard to the Irish question, it surely should be, above everything, that we should all attempt to exercise moderation.
It is because we have here an Act which is directly suggested to deal with violence which may arise from Irish affairs that we have got a position where Ireland is singled out in some peculiar and particular way. Whatever the appropriateness of it may have been in 1939, it is strange in a way that we are not continuing an Act to deal with German violence, or with violence from all sorts of other quarters. I would say this to hon. Members on the other side of the House for their serious attention, that even at the time at which this Act was passed some of my right hon. Friends had the gravest doubts about it. Our party as a whole decided that they would support it, but a number of very distinguished members of the party and other hon. Members in the House at that time voted against them—among others Sir Stafford Cripps.
When we came to the Committee stage, even hon. Members of the party opposite had grave doubts about some of the provisions. The Committee stage took place on the day on which there had occurred an actual bomb outrage in King's Cross—a very severe bomb outrage—and I would not be doing justice to the feelings that were expressed on both sides of the House if I did not refer to the remarks on that occasion of the right hon. Gentleman who is now President of the Board of Trade. Despite whatever the feelings were, he did come out and take a stand which I think hon. Members on both sides can most sincerely commend.
He pointed out that because we happened to be legislating in the middle of an outrage of that sort we should not allow such ideas to outweigh our sense of justice, and we should not be rushed into legislation merely by the outrage which had taken place at that moment. Dealing with the evils of the Bill, he said: 1190One hon. Member behind me reminds me of what happened at King's Cross today, and that is a good example, but that a bomb has exploded in King's Cross is no reason why hon. Members should not give the most careful consideration to a Measure of this kind. My right hon. Friend was assuming that the people who are brought within the scope of the Bill are potential terrorists, but it is not potential terrorists alone who come within its scope. You, Sir Dennis"—Sir Dennis Herbert was the Chairman at that time—and I are brought within the scope of the Bill, like any other member of the public. If I go to an Underground station with my suitcase and put it down for a moment and pick up another by mistake, and go to the British Museum, and then a ticking noise is heard coming from the suitcase and I am arrested, I am within the scope of the Bill just the same as anybody else, and am subject to its provisiens."—[OFFCIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1939; Vol. 350, c. 1519.]The right hon. Gentleman voted with those Labour Members and Liberal Members who voted against various proposed Amendments to the Bill.
So far as I can see—and I think probably the Home Secretary should be able to give us further information—from periodical reports, certainly over the last year or so there have been, in fact, no expulsions and no steps taken in regard to the Bill.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present. House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Bing
You and I, Sir Charles, will view with regret that, when a matter of such importance as this is being discussed in the House, when so serious an issue of civil liberty arises, so few Members are tempted to remain to hear the debate.
I was just dealing with the various numbers of people to whom the Bill at present applies. There are some 190 expulsion orders existing at the moment, some 29 registrations, and some 71 prohibition orders.
If I may pay a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), when he was Home Secretary he did take steps and did require this Act because he was engaged in a policy of releasing under conditions the various people who were imprisoned under the Act. He did take, I think, extremely effective and extremely generous action in regard to those cases. Of course, it was necessary then to have the Bill still so that, if necessary, prohibition orders 1191 could be served on people who were released before their sentences had expired, so that they could be kept out of the country.
Now no further reason seems to exist for the continuation of the Act. I do not know whether the Home Secretary thinks that some transitional provisions might be necessary to keep in force existing prohibition and exclusion Orders. I would say this about prohibition and exclusion Orders generally, that if maintained indefinitely they can produce the most extraordinary results. It so happened that when Mr. De Valera was President of the League of Nations, as it was then, it was discovered with some embarrassment by the Home Office that he could go everywhere in the world except into any part of the United Kingdom, in respect of which an exclusion order existed against him. The Act under which that exclusion order was made was held up by one hon. Member as the type of legislation we ought to pass in the House. I think that example is quite sufficient to show that this, in fact, should not he so.
The reason for raising the question of this Bill goes deeper than the pure technicalities of the issue. In these days of wars and rumours of wars, the least we can do is to look round in these islands, which are joined together geographically, if by nothing else, and attempt to improve the relations of those of us who live in the one or the other. Therefore, may I refer the Committee to one more speech made on this matter, and made by someone held in very high regard on this side, who expressed far better than I can, in one of his last speeches in Parliament, what is possibly the view of my hon. Friends on these matters. The late Mr. George Lansbury speaking in the House, said:I realise that we must maintain law and order and protect the citizens from this sort of outrage that is taking place, but there is always some deep-seated reason that makes men risk life and liberty in this manner. It was the same with the women suffrage movement and it is the same in India. I would implore the Committee not to be satisfied with passing this legislation.…I should like to appeal to the Government and to my hon. Friends to make a determined effort by trying to do what is the only thing that can be done, namely, to get Northern and Southern Irelanders together to discuss how they can remove these grievances in the most sensible manner, by 1192 becoming decent Irishmen one towards another."—[OFFCIAL. REPORT, 26th July, 1939; Vol. 350, c. 1539.]I raise this matter in the hope that the Home Secretary will see his way now or in the near future to remove from the Statute Book this Act, which serves no very useful purpose, and which by its presence is an impediment to those good relations between Ireland and this country which we all, irrespective of party, hope to see.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
I take the view that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing), who put this Amendment on the Order Paper, has done considerable service. I think that it will be agreed in all parts of the Committee that it is deplorable to single out acts done in connection with Irish affairs, when there are so many people in different parts of the world who have real or imaginary grievances, and who are not made the subject of special cases. We want to continue to do what we can to improve relations between Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, and I submit that the keeping intact of pin-pricking legislation like this does no service to that admirable cause.
It is just possible that successive Home Secretaries—I do not know about this—have had grounds for maintaining in force powers to prohibit persons entering into this country whose past activities are known to them. I would give due weight to considerations of that kind, but this Act does a great deal more than that. It gives powers of expulsion and powers of registration. It seems strange to me that, after all these years, the British Government should want power to expel people who have, in many cases, presumably, been a long time in this country, and who have kept fairly quiet, or people who have come in, in respect of whom it was not thought necessary to put into effect any prohibition order.
I do not like the wording of this Act, and I take this opportunity, as the matter is under discussion, of mentioning certain features of it which affect this issue of civil liberties with which parties on both sides of the House are so rightly and greatly concerned. It is a vital principle in that field that if there is to be an offence with penalties for it, that the offence should be clearly and specifically 1193 defined. I ask the Committee, in that connection, to consider the expression used in the Act:Acts of violence designed to influence public opinion.How can one tell, with all respect, whether a matter of violence is designed to influence public opinion?
It seems to be a most perfect example of an expression in a statute which makes it extremely difficult to ascertain whether or not an offence has been committed. The truth is, of course, I suggest, that if action were taken under this Act it would be taken because it was believed that violence was intended. That would be the test. Of course, it would be. I suggest that it is hypocrisy to suggest anything else, and that that provision in the Act is an undesirable provision.
I should have thought that terrorist acts were very seldom designed to influence policy. I should have thought that they were more often a case of revenge, or of irresponsible or destructive acts, and it would be extremely difficult to deduce from them any attempt or design to influence public opinion. It is difficult enough for a court to establish to its satisfaction that an act of violence has been designed to influence public opinion; and, that being so, how much more difficult is it for a constable to decide that an offence is being committed?
Yet he is given power under this Act, I discover, to arrest without warrant if he suspects that there is an intention to commit an offence. He must satisfy himself that a design has been formed by somebody to influence opinion by a violent act, and then he can arrest without warrant. How is he to do that? A justice of the peace, in the same way, may grant a search warrant if he satisfies himself that these complex and vague elements of the offence are present.
A person subject to an expulsion order under this Act can, within 48 hours, send written objection to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State is then empowered to nominate someone to interview the objector and to report. The person whom the Secretary of State can nominate can be anyone under the Act, as long as he is not a police officer or an officer of a Government Department. That seems to me to be too wide a discretion for the Statute to confer in a matter of this kind.
1194 In a period of tension between the Irish Republic and this country, it may well be that a special statutory provision of this kind is defensible; but, to the satisfaction of us all, this is not a period of tension; it is a period, I think, of growing understanding and growing good will. I think that if this Measure has any effect it is the effect of harming the development of that increasingly satisfactory relationship.
§ Mr. J. Beattie (Belfast, West)
It is not my intention to controvert the Act which is now under discussion, and which tries to impose conditions on citizens of the Republic or on Irishmen and Irishwomen of the six counties of that nation. I would only say that this Act was the result of some cause, and that that cause was created by a Government over here.
There have been differences in the minds of Irishmen and Irishwomen, but this Act is passed to cover up England's wrongdoing to the country to which I belong. All the outrages that happened in 1939 were not applauded by Irish people. We do not wish harm to any country, nor do we wish to destroy it. What we want is the acceptance of Ireland as a world nation which contains human beings competent and capable of regulating their own destiny.
I appreciate the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine), about the people of the Republic of Ireland, but I would remind him and the Committee that this Act applies to the whole of the people of Ireland. It is not confined to those who come from the 26 Counties, and it is worth noting that most of the outrages with which this Act dealt were performed by people from the six north-eastern counties of Ireland. I question very much whether two of the people arrested in connection with those outrages belonged to Southern Ireland. The six counties of Northern Ireland send nine Unionist representatives to support the Tory Government here, and it was from that area that those came who were arrested for the 1939 outrages.
If we are ever going to get outstanding questions between Ireland and this nation settled the first steps to be taken must be the clearing away of all those contentious and oppressive Acts of Parliaments and Regulations that from year to year are placed on the Statute Book with the deliberate intention of keeping Irishmen and women subservient to an overruling authority in this country—a pro- 1195 cess which they will not tolerate. If this Government and the people of this kingdom want to be friends with the Irish nation, I recommend them to accept the advice and counsel of those of my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee, whose sympathies with Ireland are well known.
On the other hand, if the Government and people of this kingdom want to continue the disturbances and upheavals with Ireland, which, from time to time, have taken place in the past, they will continue in operation these laws which we are discussing now, as well as certain others which I cannot mention because it would not be in order, but which we on this side of the Committee are asking should be discontinued.
§ Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Beattie), is speaking as though the Members on this side of the Committee were entirely responsible for this legislation. I hope he appreciates that the Government which was supported by hon. Members opposite renewed this Act each year they were in office.
§ Mr. Beattie
I am not speaking about this side of the Committee or that side of the Committee being responsible, but it has to be remembered that the Government side of the Committee has more responsibility for the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, than this side of the Committee. The party which sits on this side of the Committee opposed the Government of Ireland Act, 1920.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Beattie), is getting a little wide on this Amendment. It is quite a narrow Amendment.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Beattie
I hope you will pardon me, Sir Charles, but the interjection from the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) compelled me to show that the Labour Party had no part in putting the 1920 Act on the Statute Book. They have done many other things since then. but that is another matter.
I make an appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary. Many good men from Ireland and many people who have made their home in England have suffered through this Act. Some of them were brought to the bar of justice some of them interned in the prisons of Britain, and if a commission 1196 had been set up and the true facts of the case revealed those people might never have been put into British prisons. I want to see friendship developed between this nation and the Irish nation. This nation can work with Ireland and be helpful in every way, and Ireland can also contribute something towards the great cause of the peace of the world.
Ireland is anxious and willing to take her place with the Western Powers in support of the peace of the world, but how is she ever going to do so if the Government of this nation continue Acts of this kind on the Statute Book from year to year? That is not the right way to court friendship with the Irish people. In my opinion, this nation follows a difficult path in trying to build up friendship with Ireland.
I could say much more on this subject, but it would be outside the scope of this Amendment, and I am asked to confine myself to it. But I can say this. I speak for Ireland and the Irish working classes and, indeed, the Irish people as a whole. I am the only Member representing Irish Labour who has ever sat here. I am here for the one purpose of trying to ventilate the grievances of the Irish people, and at the same time educating members of this Committee and the English people generally as to the real position in Ireland. A false position has been presented to this Committee over a number of years by those from Northern Ireland who sit on the other side of the Committee. They have misrepresented Irish interests.
I feel that a responsibility rests upon the Tory Government to try to do something to heal the wounds between the two nations, because they were partners in inflicting those wounds on Ireland. Friendship with Ireland can be brought about if the Conservative Party are prepared to give her her soverign and independent rights, thus allowing her to be a nation and to take her rightful place in the building up of the defences of the western world in the interests of world peace.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
This Act was one that was passed at a time of very considerable trouble in this country and it is quite wrong for hon. Members to speak about the persons who were dealt with under it as if they were supporters at that time of the Government of Southern Ireland.
§ Mr. Ede
They were not even supporters of the Tory Government of Northern Ireland, but the kind of people who are supporters of no government at all. This is one of the difficulties that confronts every Home Secretary who has had to deal with this subject since 1939. When I took office some six and a quarter years ago, there were a number of persons still in English prisons who had been sentenced to very long terms of imprisonment indeed at the time of the trouble in 1939. I was approached by Members of this Committee who, on occasions, brought with them members of the Dail, and I was urged to take a lenient course with regard to these men and to exercise the Royal prerogative for the remission of their sentences. I was assured that if I did this it would be the last remaining difficulty between the Irish people and the British Government.
After very considerable thought, it seemed to me that the temper and the time in which we were then living justified the recommendation of such remissions. Preparatory to the recommendations, I asked each of the prisoners if he would give an undertaking that if such a recommendation were made he would, on release, not indulge in the practices for which he had received his sentence. All but two of them agreed, but the two were quite frank in saying that if they were released they could not give such an undertaking.
§ Mr. Beattie
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether it is not the fact that one who was for five years a Member of this House, in the person of Mr. Cahir Healy, was interned, through the 1198 machinations of the Tories of Northern Ireland?
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. J. Beattie) was listened to in peace. He should give the same consideration to other hon. Gentlemen.
§ Mr. Ede
I was not concerned with Mr. Healy. My only regret is that he does not come here to enliven our proceedings and to vote in the Lobby which I am sure he would vote in.
Two of those people declined to give the undertaking. I do not know whether they got lonely or not in their splendid isolation, but in the end they gave the undertaking, and every one of those people was released. I think I acted in accordance with the feeling on both sides of the House and in the country when that arrangement was made. If there is one thing that we in this Committee desire it is that no cause for ill-feeling shall remain which can legitimately be removed. That was the position.
We have to face this fact: There are a number of people not supporters of any legitimate party in Ireland that proposes to bring about reforms by ordinary constitutional means in Ireland or elsewhere, who are the subject of these expulsions and prohibitions. I am not at all sure that the present Government of the Irish Republic would not be very relieved if we allowed these people to come here instead of excluding them from our shores, for certainly I know they are the subject of grave anxiety to that Government.
This is purely a practical measure, and I am sure that every party in this Committee would be only too glad if we could take the step of not having these orders of expulsion or prohibition against any individuals. I am sure that most of us desire that persons of good will should be allowed to come to this country as freely as possible. The difficulty that confronted me all the while I was in office was that there are some people who do not come within that category. 1199 From time to time, requests have been made that one or other of these individuals should be allowed to come here. I recollect one man—this seemed to me to be a very Irish thing to happen—who wanted to come here because he was anxious to visit his mother-in-law.
In some cases of particular requests made by particular individuals that whatever orders existed against them should be waived or annulled, inquiries have resulted in our finding it possible to withdraw either the prohibition or the expulsion, and the person has been allowed to come. Sometimes he only wanted to come for a short time. Some have wanted to come back here and settle, without any undertaking as to the date on which they should remove themselves. On the whole, satisfactory arrangements were capable of being made during the past six years.
In view of what has been said, it was desirable that it should be made clear exactly what the difficulties are that confront Governments in this matter. I can only say for myself that if the present Government felt it was possible, having regard to the national interest, to remove this Act from the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and bring it to an end, I should only be too gratified; but one has to realise that one is dealing with a small number of people—not all the people against whom the existing orders are in force—whose attitude towards public affairs is such that they have to be the object of special measures directed against them.
I am bound to say that I could have hoped that the action that was taken in ameliorating the conditions of the men who were in gaol when I took office, and relieving some people from the prohibition and expulsion orders that had been made against them, would meet with a better response from the Government of Southern Ireland, and that that Government would not have felt it necessary, after such evidence of good will, to cut the painter, to withdraw themselves from the British Commonwealth and to do other things which, to my mind—
§ Mr. Beattie
They did not cut themselves from the British Commonwealth. You cut them from the British Commonwealth.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Beattie
On a point of order, Sir Charles. Is it right and proper for the right hon. Gentleman to say during his statement that the 26 counties cut themselves off from the British Commonwealth, when he knows that it was an Act of this House against Ireland and that while Ireland is a divided nation she cannot take her rightful position among the nations of the world?
§ The Chairman
That is not a point of order. The hon. Member has made his speech, and I hope he will now keep quiet.
§ Mr. Ede
I do not think I need deal with that interruption at all. I merely stated a fact. I was brought up as a Gladstonian Home Ruler, and I still believe that if Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bills had been accepted by Parliament a lot of the troubles that we now have would not have arisen. But I am bound to say that the first duty of this House is to protect the people of this country and that some of the people who are the objects of the Measure now before us are people who, in the public interest, ought to be excluded from this country or, if they are admitted, ought to be admitted under terms that will enable us to secure their good behaviour.
§ Mr. Irvine
I should like to put a question to my right hon. Friend before he sits down. I gather from what he has said that in certain circumstances expulsion and prohibition orders were waived in answer to specific requests by people in Ireland. Can he tell me whether any trouble or difficulty ensued when such orders were waived and the people entered this country?
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
When I saw the Amendment on the Order Paper I wondered why it had been placed there, and I examined the Act as best I could in the short time available. All the discussion has been about Ireland and people coming into this country from Ireland, but the Act is not entirely limited to such people. It defines the penalties to be imposed upon not only men who come from 1201 Ireland, but also upon men who may have lived in this country all their lives. The question is one not merely of the relationship between Irish people and ourselves, but of whether the Act is justifiable and, if it is not, why it should remain on the Statute Book.
As I read the Act—unfortunately, it was the first time that I had read it—it seems to me that there must have been almost a state of panic when it was drafted and passed. No doubt the primary principle embodied in the Act has a great and fine object and most of us will agree that we are not prepared to allow violence to be committed with the object of influencing public opinion; but when we are drafting an Act of that kind for the purpose of imposing justifiable penalties for the offences which are committed it ought to be so drafted that it will bear examination by reasonable people.
The Act gives a power to the Secretary of State if he is reasonably satisfied. That is one of the primary principles of the Act; when action has to be taken under the Act all that is required is the reasonable satisfaction of the Secretary of State. I have pointed out that the Act applies not only to Irishmen coming to this country but also to men who have never been in Ireland. If such men for some reason or another implicate themselves in the offences under the Act they may be penalised for so doing and may have to submit to registration orders. Irishmen have to submit to expulsion orders. There is no line of demarcation here. The Act does not say that it shall apply to Irishmen who have left Ireland within a given period the idea being that their whole political output is largely governed by Irish opinion. It applies to anyone in this country.
We may have an Irishman who has been living in this country for 18 or 19 years and he may have been married for 16 years and have four, five or six children who are being brought up under English influences. One of the worst features of the Act is that the Secretary of State can take hold of such a man if he has been implicated in these offences and expel him, although it may be that the man's connections in Ireland are very thin, he may have no personal friends there and he may have no place to go to when he arrives in Ireland.
If that be a true interpretation of the Act, it is a miserable exhibition of the 1202 work of this House in dealing with such matters. It does not matter to me whether it was a Labour Government, a coalition Government or any other kind of Government which passed the Act. Things are done by both parties which on occasion can only be exposed by Opposition parties. That is one of the good things about an Opposition. It seems to me a disgrace that under this Act we can bring into operation an expulsion order against an Irishman who has been voting in Parliamentary elections here, has brought up an English family and may be a public figure in our English life or in his own locality.
The Act was brought into being at a critical period when the circumstances may well have appeared frightful, but my examination of the Act leads me to regard it as an exhibition of frantic legislation which does not at all guard the liberties of our people. It seems to me that there ought to be adequate penalties under other legislation for dealing with such offences as these, and that men against whom there are suspicions ought to be given the time and opportunity for proper defence so that they are not barred from their public activities without adequate examination of their case and without justice being done.
We do not need to go into the Irish question. This is not a question of Irish history; it is a question of the Act as it actually is and as it is actually written, and whether the penalties laid down are justifiable and should remain on the Statute Book continuously, or whether there is a very strong case for examining the Act and modifying it and bringing it into harmony with our so-called democratic Constitution and our so-called beliefs in liberty and democracy.
To me, the Act in all its entirety is a defiance of democracy. It is a defiance of liberty. The penalties are misplaced. They have not been considered, and they want to be renewed in a different form if they have to be renewed at all. That is why I have given these views, and not because of the relationships that exist, which I deplore. I deplore past history in Ireland, but to me the Act does not bear a reasonable investigation, and it ought to be considered and examined and something new and better put in its place.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
The point at issue is really a very short one. It may well be that in the year 1939, in the circumstances 1203 then existing, it was a very reasonable thing to pass this Act of Parliament. We heard from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), that there was considerable opposition then; but let it be conceded that the Act was then a very wise Measure. We are now in the year 1951. The emergency has passed. Whether it was a question of the war period or of trouble with Ireland, at any rate that state of affairs has passed; and the real point we ought to consider is whether we are justified in keeping on the Statute Book an Act of this character.
We ought to remember that the Act certainly is a violation of the ordinary rights of the Englishman. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay), referred to the Act as if it was limited to Irishmen, but I hope that the Members of the Committee will realise that the Act is not so restricted. It applies to Englishmen who have not for 20 years before what is complained of lived here or, in the case of someone who is under 20 years of age, who has not lived the whole of his lifetime in this country. Therefore, clearly the Act applies to Englishmen.
What we have here, therefore, is a direct restriction on the rights of an Englishman in regard to his personal liberty. Here we have an Act of Parliament, couched in the vaguest language, which gives the Secretary of State the right, if he so thinks fit, to interfere with the liberty of the subject in that way. Why not let the penalties of our criminal law apply in the ordinary way?
I would point out a further fact. In the ordinary way, of course, every Englishman—for that matter, every person who is arrested in this country—has the right to apply for a writ ofhabeas corpus, and the matter can then be discussed in the courts and it can then be ascertained whether he is properly imprisoned or his liberty rightly curtailed. Under the provisions of this Act, the Secretary of State has the right, if he so thinks fit, to make an expulsion order. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate that in such a case the courts would not have the right to inquire into the matter if the Secretary of State simply states that he 1204 has inquired into it and is satisfied that it is proper, an order should be made.
I suggest to the Committee that in the years that have followed since 1939, a very different state of affairs exists. When we are considering this interference with the right of the subject, it is of importance that the most careful investigation should be made, and that we ought to look very carefully to see what necessity exists for keeping this Measure upon the Statute Book.
There has been a great deal of criticism. I do not know what possible plea is put forward for the retention of this measure. We heard from my right hon. Friend the late Home Secretary that there were instances where orders of detention had been made and where, upon investigation and when undertakens were given, the persons in prison were liberated. But really that does not touch the matter at all.
Where is there today justification for the right given to the Secretary of State in these cases to make an order of this kind? I venture to suggest that this is one of those cases where the Committee, in looking at this matter, ought to form the conclusion that there is no case whatever for the retention of this Measure. Looking at it in that way, it is one of those Acts restricting the right and liberty of the subject which certainly ought to be done away with as quickly as possible.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)
I appreciate the feeling that exists in all parts of the Committee against any intrusion on the rule of law, but I think that most of us would consider such an intrusion at least worthy of consideration in the case of the deliberate infliction of fortuitous suffering on innocent and irrelevant people. I remember so well among all the films I have seen one which was directed by Mr. Hitchcock, which dealt with that. Almost at the closing shot was of a little boy who, as a messenger boy, had to carry the infernal machine. After probably nearly a quarter of a century, that section of the film remains in my mind.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The hon. Member's sense of humour is a great asset to the House in general, but I am using the film to illustrate a particularly cruel and cowardly form of crime inflicted on innocent and irrelevant people. There are times when the hon. Member's sense of humour does not taste as sweet as at other times.
I was saying that that is the sort of thing which caused the introduction of the Act. I remind the Committee, and especially the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), that the original Act was to continue in operation for two years and was continued until the end of 1941, I think, by a Defence Regulation, but that from that time it has been continued for a year at a time by the Expiring Laws Continuance Acts of the last 10 years.
I listened with the greatest care to the speeches of the hon. and learned Member and of the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), waiting for them to come to the point when they showed an acute change of circumstances between the conditions that obtained last year and obtain today. I did not hear that from either of the hon. and learned Members.
§ Mr. Bing
I thought I had made it clear that in the views of some of us who have taken an interest in this matter there was an argument for retaining the Act so long as there remained in prison any people upon whom it might be necessary, upon their release, to serve an exclusion order; because otherwise, of course there would be no need, if they were released ahead of time, as some of us were pressing the Home Secretary so to do, to make certain that they left the country. Once they had all left prison, however, that argument in favour of the Act was removed, and the difficulty we were in was that we could not, on the one hand, press the Home Secretary to release them ahead of time and, at the same time, remove from him the power of removing them out of the country when he had done so.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
According to my information, that was about three years ago. There were two left, but the majority have been released. The hon. and learned Member moved this Amendment in a most fair and reasonable attitude of mind. I was dealing for the 1206 moment with the last two speeches and, although I am not saying they were unfair and unreasonable, they were pitched on a rather stronger note. I think it a fair point to say that the conditions which existed a year ago exist today, or at least I waited to hear from both hon. Members whether there has been any change, and I waited in vain.
I wish to come to the purposes of the Act. On the basis that the kinds of crime I have described may happen, there is an argument in favour of prevention rather than prosecution and imprisonment after they have happened, and I have explained why I think that argument appeals to the moral sense of the majority—I do not exclude a certain minority—the majority of the people of this country.
The hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) took up a point of drafting with which I wish to deal. He said that the fact that the Act was designed to prevent:the commission in Great Britain of acts of violence designed to influence public opinion…was a weakness in the matter. I paid attention, as I always do, to what he said, but I confess I did not appreciate the difficulty of that matter. The Secretary of State has to consider the two points, first, whether crimes of violence are likely to occur and, second, what is the motive of the crime. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced lawyer and knows as well as I do that in many cases it is not necessary to prove motive at all, but that it makes it easier to secure a conviction. In this case it would make it easier for the Secretary of State to operate, and what I could not understand from the otherwise lucid argument of the hon. Member was why an additional duty placed on the Home Secretary should make the Act worse in its administration.
As I think there has been some confusion among some hon. Members, I would point out the three powers which are given. The hon. Member pointed them out, but it may be that some hon. Members did not hear his speech. The first is the expulsion order, and that applies to any person whom the Secretary of State is reasonably satisfied has been concerned:in the preparation or instigation of such acts of violence…or is knowingly harbouring any other person so concerned.…That applies, as has been pointed out, to those who have not lived here for 1207 20 years, or for their whole life, if they are under 20 years of age. The second power, which is the general power, is a registration order requiring any such person to register with the police and to comply with certain requirements as to reporting. If a Secretary of State has had reasonable cause to believe that these persons have been engagedin the preparation or instigation of such acts of violenceas I have described, I find it difficult to understand moral indignation at the requirement that they should be registered. There certainly cannot be any factual basis for that indignation, because actually no registration order is now in operation and only 29 have ever been made.
§ Mr. Weitzman
If in fact the person has committed a crime of some kind, why should not the ordinary rules of criminal law apply to him; why should it be necessary to go beyond that?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I have dealt with that point. I think that when we have a succession, and if we are threatened with a succession, of the kind of crimes—I am sorry to repeat my own definition, but that is the kind one has in mind—which involve the deliberate infliction of fortuitous injury on innocent and irrelevant people—if that is a danger to the community, I think it is one of the few things which makes worthy of consideration whether we do not require stronger machinery than the ordinary law. That was certainly the position which was accepted on both sides of the House in 1939, and it was the position to which the hon. and learned Gentleman acceded from 1945 until this year because, as far as I know, this is the first time he has raised any objection to the continuance of this Act.
§ Mr. McKayrose—
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am sorry, but was interrupted in the middle of explaining the way in which the Act operated. May I finish that, and then I shall be glad to give way. The third power is the prohibition orders prohibiting from entering or being in Great Britain a person in respect of whom the Secretary of State is satisfied that he desires to enter for these purposes.
Those are the powers. I think the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Beattie), 1208 gave the impression to the House that people were in prison under this Act. They cannot be imprisoned under this Act, and no one has been imprisoned under this Act. I want to make that quite clear.
§ Mr. Beattie
May I put that point again? They were interned, if that is the proper term—Irishmen were interned by the Home Secretary of that time.
§ Mr. McKay
The primary factor in the whole of the Act is that if the Secretary of State is satisfied that, say, an Englishman has been helping to instigate this violent action, he can be registered, photographed and measured and put under police supervision. I suggest that if the Home Secretary suspects a man like that it would be better to have him thoroughly tried and the whole thing investigated properly before the penalties are put on him.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
There are two points; the first is the one raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, West, who asks, were they not interned under this Act? They were not; there is no power to intern under the Act, as there is no power to imprison. I want to make that clear because, as I thought, the hon. Member was under a misapprehension as to the scope of the Act with which we are dealing.
The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) simply comes back to the same point with which I have tried to deal. I do not want to repeat myself again. I feel it is a question of moral choice for us all. I feel the extensive use of this type of crime, the perpetrator of which is willing that its victims should be innocent and irrelevant, justifies the consideration of going beyond the ordinary powers to deal with it.
That is a matter on which we have to form our opinions according to our conscience. I have no doubt about my opinions. I do not think that I can help the Committee more than by putting it in that way. I think that the opinion which I have expressed is one which the majority of people hold, but everyone is entitled to his view. I am simply putting the view which I think is commensurate and necessary for the national safety.
I was about to deal with the use that has been made of the Act. I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentle- 1209 man gave that fully. It is rather interesting. One hundred and ninety expulsion orders were made, most of them in the period shortly after the Act was brought into force, and of these 69 are no longer in force. As I said, 29 registration orders were made, and none of them are in force. Seventy-one prohibition orders were made, and seven of those are no longer in force, 64 being in force. So there have been a considerable number of revocations of expulsion orders. A number of prohibition orders were made when the I.R.A. people were released.
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not mean, and I do not wish, to deal with a particular case. I do not think that it arose under this Act and I will not go back on it. I do not think we need pursue it. The difficulty I am in at the moment is that I am perfectly prepared, as I said yesterday, in a different context, to consider a problem of this kind, but I am not the sort of person to say that I am prepared to consider it merely as a way of stifling discussion. It is much fairer that I should put the difficulties that I see so that hon. Members may appreciate what is in my mind.
During the last year there have been outrages in Ireland which make it clear that the use of violence as a means to political ends still appeals to what I am sure is a small minority. The hon. Member for Edge Hill raised the question of a state of tension between this country and the Irish Republic. I agree so strongly with the hon. Gentleman that that does not come into the picture. We are not dealing with inter-Governmental difficulties; we are dealing with the existence of a small minority who think that this action is justified for political ends.
The fact that a bomb has been exploded near the British Embassy in Dublin, that bombs were thrown at police stations in Belfast, that military material was taken from barracks in Northern Ireland—machine guns, automatic weapons, rifles and ammunition for the proclaimed purpose of putting them in the hands of those who were ready to attack British lives, does give one furiously to think. The fact that there has been a bomb outrage in the immediate past obviously gives anyone who has the responsibility which I have as to the continuance of this Act something which he must consider.
1210 May I appeal to the hon. Member for Belfast, West and to the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) that when they go and talk to their friends they urge the difficulty which this kind of action of extremists causes, and that they use whatever influence they have to prevent this extreme action and give us a chance of improving the approach.
I know that we have many matters of difference which will come out in debate but I hope that hon. Gentlemen will believe that I have been sincere. I have so often said that; the right hon. Gentleman and I have taken part in a considerable number of debates in which the burden of our song has been to try to forget old difficulties. I say no more than this: let us try to eradicate the possibility of the return of this kind of crime and let us all do our best to help in that connection.
§ Mr. Beattie
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has asked me to make an appeal. I am prepared to accept his invitation, provided he carries out a request of mine that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and those associated with him as the Government of Great Britain repeal the Government of Ireland Act and take a plebiscite of the people.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I can accept no condition of that kind in response of an appeal of mine to prevent what I regard as cowardly and fortuitous voilence of this sort.
§ Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham, South)
On a point of order. Are we to understand from the exordium of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) that this Debate is now ended?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Further to that point of order. I thought, Mr. Hopkin Morris, that the hon. and learned Gentleman wished to intervene in my speech.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I have given way to everyone who has wished to raise a 1211 point, so perhaps the Committee will bear with me if I just say one or two words more.
I have explained the position and I have explained my difficulties. I have asked hon. Gentlemen to co-operate in getting rid of those difficulties. I would add that just as all action hitherto has been taken so as to make the functioning of the Act less heavy whenever that has been possible, so the need for the Act itself will be considered from year to year, and as soon as we are satisfied—I speak of course for the Government—that it is no longer necessary it will be allowed to lapse. But I felt it was only right and sincere to put the difficulty I see, and to invite such help as I can get to remove it.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
I wish to deal with one point which the Home Secretary has made and with one which I thought he was going to make and did not. He said that the circumstances this year are no different from those of last year, and he went on to make the logical point that if we did not press for the abolition of this Act last year, why do we press for it this year. Surely one circumstance has changed—the circumstance of time. We are all one year older than we were last year. These Regulations are a year older, and as the years go on they become less necessary. Therefore the argument in favour of the abolition is obviously much greater now than it was last year.
My hon. Friends on this side of the Committee who have spoken have made the point that it is undesirable, and a cause of friction, that the Irish alone should be singled out for this kind of treatment. Outrages are occurring against us in many other parts of the world, but I do not hear of expulsion orders against Egyptians, for example. Why do we single out the Irish?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
With regard to the first point raised by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), is a good pointpro tanto but it is not conclusive, when we have had outrages, such as have been mentioned, during the last year. That is why I have made an appeal to everyone to do his best to help in getting it removed. The hon. Member knows that we have had these experiences. As I said— I hope as unprovocatively as I could—we have the reasons which I have frankly stated for the con- 1212 tinuance of it. It is because of the story which I have mentioned, and the unfortunate fact that that story has been brought up to date in relation to this matter, that this statute remains. I think the answer is, let us try to have a period which will give the ground for doing without it, without going back as we so easily can into the old troubles.
§ Mr. Norman Smith
No hon. Member of this Committee would doubt the sincerity of the Home Secretary. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked us to believe that he is sincere, but there is no need for him to ask that. He is held in high regard by all hon. Members. I think that the trouble is not the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman. I have listened carefully to his speech and he still persists in the memory of what happened in 1939—what he described in wonderful English as the "infliction of fortuitous injury on innocent and irrelevant people."
I agree that that was a very dreadful thing and it is impossible to speak in terms too condemnatory of the sort of thing that happened in 1939. But cannot we forget that? I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman—and if I did not esteem him highly I would not make to him the political present which I am going to make—that something has happened since last year which will enable him to tip the balance on the side of the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). There was an intervention from the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) who threw across the Committee the taunt that, after all, for six years the Labour Government had continued this particular Measure in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. It is true that we did, but I think there was very good reason, having regard to the political complexion of Northern Ireland —the Unionist and, I regret to say, the Conservative sentiment there.
If my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), when he was Home Secretary, had decided to leave this Measure out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, it would have been open to a degree of suspicion and misrepresentation throughout the Six Counties which might well have had a very serious effect. But there has been a change since then, and if the Home Secretary wishes to know what that change is, it is that 1213 we have now a Conservative Government. The Conservative Party have a very heavy responsibility—[Interruption]—and nobody knows that better than the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Major Markham)—in this matter of Ireland. I have a different point of view from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch.
I am a staunch Unionist, because I think that when Southern Ireland claims the right to remain neutral in England's wars, England would be foolish to part with the Border. Having said that, I would say that I am also a man of liberal views—with a small "1." I feel that if the Home Secretary would do the magnaminous thing—he is big enough to take the responsibility of a thing like this, and no one in the House will let him down if afterwards it is found there has been a mistake—and agree to my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment and leave the Measure out of the Bill, there would not be in Northern Ireland the suspicion and misrepresentation arising in this connection that there would have been if such an action had been taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields when he was Home Secretary in a Labour Government.
I put it to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he could do this, and there is every reason why he should. After all, if a thing of this kind were done, good will would be created throughout the whole of the 32 counties, and I hope he will do it. He is welcome to any political kudos which might arise from doing this thing. What we want is the liberal and decent thing to be done. I put it to him that there is, even now, time for him to reconsider the matter; to depart from his previous attitude and to accept the Amendment in the spirit in which it has been moved.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I had not intended to take any part in this debate and I do so only because of the possibility of misunderstanding following what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), with every word of which I am in complete agreement, although I did not make an interjection.
There is one point of substance in this matter—and I do not use it to embarrass the Government. I quite realise that this matter is one for consideration. I think 1214 all my hon. Friends realise that it may be necessary to continue some of the limited powers in respect of orders already made if they cannot be continued by any other means.
This was a Measure introduced at a time when there was a good deal of justifiable apprehension and fear and possibly some measure of hysteria. I do not use that word in any contemptuous sense. It was a very grave position. People were naturally very worried and it was necessary to do something. But on the most specific undertaking by the then Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, this was a Measure to deal with that emergency only and was for the duration of that emergency. It is impossible for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say now that the theft of some guns from a barracks in Northern Ireland a few months ago is anything to do with the emergency of 1939 or the Irish Republican Army as then constituted, or the outrages then committed.
My right hon. Friend has referred to what has happened in the last year or two. It is important that we should get that in the right perspective. Those were gross, wicked and grave crimes and I accept every word that the right hon. Gentleman has said about them. They were unprovoked and caused great hardship and suffering to people wholly unconcerned in any political matters; they were reckless, violent and indefensible. The only thing which may be said in favour of them is that, from a pathological and psychological point of view, the people who committed those brutal crimes undoubtedly did it from what they considered ideological grounds, however unacceptable it is that people can do such things from an ideological point of view.
Therefore, when we were in power from 1945 to 1951 some hon. Members on this side of the Committee urged my right hon. Friend that the time had come when those few prisoners who still remained in custody as a result of these offences might well have a remission of the remainder of their sentences. My right hon. Friend behaved with the greatest magnanimity. I think that he a little over-stated the pledges given or the promises made, or even the expectations we envisaged about settling the whole Irish question. I should have thought that the Irish question was so complicated that none of us would have prophesied that it was capable of 1215 settlement by an act of great magnanimity like this.
§ Mr. Hale
I did not suggest that my right hon. Friend had joined the astrological section of the Sunday Press. I said that he had given a résumé of the sort of promises made by people who negotiated with him then, of whom I was one.
Certainly, what we said was that this would make a genuine contribution to Irish understanding. I believe that it did. I sincerely believe that the magnanimity of my right hon. Friend in this matter was emulated by the British people in that these releases were accepted without any responsible protest and were accepted in the spirit in which they were given. It was a remarkable tribute to the British people that there were no sustained protests from any responsible quarter, in spite of the fact that there were many relatives still surviving who had been injured by these crimes
I have no doubt whatever that throughout the 26 counties there were many people who viewed all this with a sense of relief and felt, "Well, here is another bitter chapter that is closed." I say with real sincerity that, whatever may have happened about Dominion status and about the Crown, I believe that there is a better understanding between the people of the 26 counties and the people of this country now than there has been at any time during the wretched history of the last 150 years and the wretched history of all these Acts of repression that have existed over this period.
I regret very much the step taken by the Irish Government of that day. It was a step which I think was taken without any adequate consultation with the Irish people, and a step that is still regretted by a very large section of the people of Southern Ireland.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary has presented his case with complete fairness and I am sure he has won still more the respect of the Committee by the way in which he has handled this Amendment. None of us 1216 wishes to embarrass him by pressing him at this moment. I am sure that I am speaking for all my colleagues when I say that. Of course, we realise that the matter needs consideration, but I hope that he will realise, too, that the very wording of the first Section of this Act is really an affront to the Irish people.
This phrase is directed to the Irish people and we are renewing it in this Parliament year by year—for dealing with possible outrages committed by people to influence political views on Irish affairs. The terms of the Act are something like that. I think that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee will agree that if we can get that off the Statute Book the position will be so much the better.
I think that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee will agree that, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, "There are certain of these criminals whom I have had to exclude and whom I intend to continue, by some means, to exclude", he should be given the power to do that; but I suggest that he does not need power to do any more than that. I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember—and I say this with great respect—that the President of the Board of Trade himself made a most generous contribution to the debate in 1939. He supported a Liberal Amendment designed to limit in some way the powers and to give the right of appeal.
It is greatly to his credit that he did that on the very day when a bomb explosion had occurred at one of the main line stations in London. On that very day there were Liberal, Labour and Conservative Members who were still willing to say that, because we cherish our liberties, we must not pass an Act in terms which contravene our own conception of liberty. So today I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, realising that he has had no time for consideration and that this matter needs a lot of thought and discussion, that really this Act ought to go as soon as possible and that some more limited powers should be substituted for it, if he comes to the conclusion that he needs those limited powers.
While the Home Secretary was speaking, I went to the Library for a few seconds to fetch out what I hoped I could find, and what I could not completely find —a document which I know is familiar 1217 to him. One of the greatest lawyers who ever adorned this House and one of the greatest Irishmen who graduated from the profession to which I belong—indeed, most of the really successful barristers start as solicitors—was Sir Charles Russell, who became Lord Russell of Killowen. He made a speech which has become of historic significance and in which, in almost every word, he managed to show that there was an English point of view and an Irish point of view and that the hopes of all the people were that these views should ultimately be reconciled.
I could not find in the Library the speech of Sir Charles Russell, but from his autobiography I take his concluding words which I would say, with real sincerity—because I feel very deeply about this matter—outline the task that we have got to set ourselves. We must not be diverted from it merely because there are occasionally some blithering idiots on either side of the Channel. The Irish Government are no more responsible for the occasional outrages than we are. We are negotiating with the representatives of an important people with a great history. Lord Russell said:It will set earnest minds…thinking for themselves upon this question. It will soften ancient prejudices. It will hasten the day of true union and of real reconciliation between the people of Ireland and the people of Great Britain and with the advent of that union and reconciliation will be dispelled for ever the cloud…that has long rested on the history of a noble race and dimmed the glory of a mighty Empire.
§ Mr. Bingrose—
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Southgate)
On a point of order. The hon. and learned Gentleman has spoken before, and I have not yet spoken.
§ Mr. Baxter
In response to that courtesy, I shall speak very briefly. It may surprise the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), to learn that I took some small part in helping to secure the release of the Irish prisoners. At the time many arguments were advanced that it was a very dangerous 1218 step to take. I took the opposite view and I have never regretted what I did.
Today the Home Secretary has a chance to do something which will bring credit to himself and to the House of Commons. I prefer to think of this as a House of Commons matter rather than a question for one side or the other. There is so much cruelty and repression in the world. Every day comes news of some further loss of personal liberty. Here is a chance for us to say to the outside world that here is a repressive Measure, justifiably repressive at the time, which we now withdraw.
The danger is that that would provoke some more violence such as we saw before, but the experience of mankind shows that while we have to use strong measures during an emergency, in the end public opinion itself is the strongest deterrent against crime. It seems, too, that with the passing of the years there is a chance to say that we are coming to the end of the unhappy story of Ireland.
I have a very close friendship with the Home Secretary and a very high regard for him. Indeed, we have been most fortunate in our last two Home Secretaries, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), and the present holder of the office. I should like to think that his name would be associated with this wise action. I am perfectly certain that my right hon. and learned Friend may have some information at his disposal which the rest of us do not possess—that sort of warning or information which makes it difficult to come to a decision.
That is all I have to say to the Committee. I do not believe that the supporters of the Government should be merely automatic Members of the House and stand for approval of whatever is done. In the end, the House of Commons makes demands on the Executive, and, as this is a non-party matter, I therefore hope my right hon. and learned Friend will not think that this is an attempt to embarrass him, but rather one to strengthen his arm, so far as I can. I think this is a moment when he could almost take the first important action in the high office which he holds, and as a result of which his name would be blessed among English-speaking people, regardless of what lilt or accent they speak.
§ Mr. Bing
Before I ask the Committee —if we cannot reach agreement on this matter— to agree that the Amendment be withdrawn, I again express the hope that the Home Secretary will again consider, not only the words I have spoken but those which have been spoken, far more effectively in Irish form and eloquence by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Beattie).
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman would look again at the arguments put forward for the retention of this Act, he would see that it was suggested by my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench that if we let the prisoners out of prison it would lead to the end of our difficulties. I took some small part in these negotiations, but I have never been a party to any such promise, and, if I may say so with all respect to my right hon. Friend, I think he was extremely naïve if he thought that such a thing was possible.
The release of prisoners and the repeal of this Act are not going to end, in one day's work, a history of hundreds of years of differences and misunderstandings. But what we can do is create public opinion, and I think that this is one of the Measures which can be dealt with in this way. Times do alter circumstances.
Nothing could have been more wrong or improper than that a body of people should drill and arm and try to overthrow by armed force the decisions of Parliament. Nothing could be more wrong than that, and yet, let us suppose that we had made a law against such actions. Should we then have continued it for 12 years? If we had done so, the whole of the Conservative Front Bench in 1925 would have been excluded from Parliament, because these were the people who were drilling in Northern Ireland. Therefore, to say that, because one thing happened 12 years ago, we should go on in that way is entirely wrong, and is an unstable point of view.
Secondly, the Home Secretary, before giving matters to the Committee as facts, ought to check his information. He said that there was a bomb outrage recently in Belfast. [HON. MEMBERS: "In Dublin."] And in Belfast. What is the truth? Somebody put out a story that there had been a bomb outrage, and this story, after having been used for its propaganda value, was officially denied later. That is the sort of thing that really ought not to be said, and there has been a 1220 great habit of saying this sort of thing in regard to Irish affairs when, I am glad to say, similar irresponsibility is not shown in other matters.
The Home Secretary made an appeal to me and to some of my hon. Friends on this side to use our influence for moderation. I hope I have always done that, and I hope he will do so equally, because in the election campaign which has just ended the name of the King was used in order to solicit votes for the other side in a way which was grossly offensive to the majority of the religious people in a particular area. A certain gentleman, speaking from a platform, ended his speech in support of a Conservative candidate with the words "God save the King, and to hell with the Pope." It is that sort of statement which, just as much as anything else, arouses ill feeling and stirs people to desperate deeds.
If there is to be an appeal for moderation, let the right hon. and learned Gentleman at least make his appeal to his own side and to some of his hon. Friends. In so far as I have any influence, I shall use it in that direction. I do not believe that by throwing bombs at people you make them change their opinions, any more than I believe that by dropping bombs on people you change their opinions. I take that view very strongly, and anything I can do to discourage terrorism in any form I will do. Let the right hon. and learned Gentleman turn to his own side and appeal to his own supporters to avoid that type of provocative remark which is the sort of thing that leads men into desperate endeavours.
Finally, let the right hon. and learned Gentleman try this one test. I know that he has read the debate that took place when this Measure was introduced. Let him look through that debate for a single argument advanced for continuing this Measure, and let him think that, if that were the only argument before the House at the time the Bill was introduced, whether that Bill would ever have been carried. The danger we are in is that a Measure which has been carried for some particular reason is often retained for other reasons of convenience which have nothing whatever to do with the original reasons for passing the Bill, and that is a very bad principle indeed.
§ Mr. Bing
My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), says "Hear, hear," and I should like to remind the House that he was born in Egypt. Supposing that we had a similar sort of Measure applying; how easy it would be just to exclude my hon. Friend on that sort of ground. We have only to look at that sort of example to see how foolish and stupid such general legislation would be.
Such is the long history of disturbances between this country and Ireland that we cannot look at things with reference to the Irish with a proper sense of proportion. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields deplored the fact that the Irish Republic had left the Commonwealth. So do I, but it so happens that they were parties to the Statute of Westminster, which gave them the opportunity of making that decision. I think they made a bad decision. Surely we ought not to introduce into the argument the question whether some independent member of the Commonwealth has behaved wisely or foolishly. Let us judge the matter on its merits. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is able to accept the Amendment—
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I cannot accept the Amendment. I shall give grave consideration to all that has been said today, and I should like to say that in my view this debate has maintained a very high level. It is a debate which any Home Secretary should take into consideration, and I can assure the Committee that the present Home Secretary will certainly take it into consideration.
§ Mr. Alan McKibbin (Belfast, East)
May I say, in regard to what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing), concerning a statement made in the recent West Belfast election. that the man who made that statement is a young member of the Ulster Government who has not been long in politics. After making the statement which was quoted by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Ulster Unionist Party dissociated themselves from it, as did Ulster Mem- 1222 bers of the Imperial Parliament here. The man who made the statement himself apologised for it yesterday. I think that it is just as well that hon. Members should know that.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I beg to move, in page 4, to leave out lines 18 to 21.
If these lines were incorporated in the Bill, it would literally have the effect of deleting from the Bill the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act. I should like at the outset to make it quite plain that, when I am moving the exclusion of these lines from the Schedule, I am not wishing that Act to be excluded. I am most anxious, of course, that in some form the Act should be continued, but this is the only opportunity we have of suggesting improvements which we think ought to be made in it.
The principle which I think is accepted by all hon. Members is that so long as there is a shortage of housing accommodation, some form of tribunal of this kind is necessary. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not endeavour to marshal arguments against me over the necessity of maintaining these tribunals, because I accept that fact at once. I want to make it perfectly clear that my object is to take such opportunities as are open to us of expressing our views on particular Measures.
I certainly would not wish to see the 1946 Act, particularly as extended by the 1949 Act, removed from the Statute Book unless and until some amending legislation were put in its place. I find it necessary to make that point perfectly clear because, although I moved an exactly similar Amendment last year and on that occasion said at the outset much the same as I am saying today—that I approved of the principle and wanted some better legislation to cover the point—that did not prevent the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), from endeavouring to persuade the Committee that I was, in fact, merely asking for the repeal of the Act and wanted a vacuum in its place. That was not the case. I have no desire for a repeal of this legislation, but I think we ought to take this opportunity of considering how it can be improved.
1223 The particular point to which I want to address myself is on the question of an appeal to the courts of law. As I have said, I moved a similar Amendment last year when my party were in opposition, and I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will realise that although we have changed sides, I do not feel I can cease to hold the views I then held. I feel that, although I sit behind the Government on this occasion, I am bound to put forward a matter of principle about which I feel strongly, and I desire to do nothing more than to suggest the particular improvement which I think can be made in this legislation—the provision for an appeal to the courts.
There are other improvements with which I dealt last year, and I do not think it necessary to go over the ground again. One of the matters much canvassed then was whether these tribunals should have a legal member. There was and has been a very considerable argument for that. As time goes on, however, the case for that argument becomes weaker, because the members of the tribunals become more experienced in this particular field, and it may be that the case for a legal member is not as strong now as when the tribunals were first set up. They now have their particular form of procedure which makes it not so necessary for a legal member to be appointed. But that is a matter which at some time or another should be taken into account.
The matter of an appeal to the courts is, I believe, of first-class importance as involving a question of principle. Nowadays there are in this country a great number of tribunals, and under our modern legislation there is bound to be a number which are not courts of law in the ordinary sense. I think it very desirable that the courts of law should have jurisdiction over these tribunals. That is a matter of principle to which my party has committed itself. In our party manifesto during the Election it was stated that many of the tribunals were haphazard. It went on to say:The practice of these tribunals must be brought into line with the best principles of justice…Justice must be publicly administered, and reasoned decisions given. Appeals on matters of law must go to the courts.That I believe to be a very important principle, and one which we in the House should take every step to secure.
1224 The strongest argument, of course, is that such an appeal has the effect of standardising the law. As this legislation stands at the moment, there are no criteria set out in the Acts of Parliament, neither in the 1946 Act nor the 1949 Act which gives extended powers to the tribunals, and no standards set up by which the tribunals are to be guided. They are completely free to come to any decision which may be utterly irrational. An appeal to a court of law, of course, has the effect of canalising the law so that the higher court is able to give guidance to the lower courts by which they then all become bound. That is the desirable effect of standardising the criteria which have to be accepted by the different courts.
At the moment, one decision based on one principle may be given by one tribunal, and in an adjoining area a completely contrary decision may be given by another tribunal. This could not happen if there were an appeal to the court and the court were able to set a standard by which all the tribunals should be guided.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I am particularly interested in the point which the hon. and learned Gentleman is making, but will he give some indication as to the court to which he suggests there should be an appeal, because that may make a difference to the reply?
§ Mr. Marlowe
That is more a matter of machinery; I am dealing with the principle. Probably the best court to which to make an appeal would be the county court or the High Court, but I do not think that is so important as the principle. The important thing is to have an appeal which has the effect which I have already advocated and which gives, I think, the litigant greater confidence in the tribunals themselves.
It is very undesirable that people should have disputes settled by tribunals which have not the backing of courts of law. As I said, quite obviously we cannot get away from the situation owing to the complicated questions which arise today, and we cannot get away from the fact that we have to have disputes settled by tribunals of one kind or another. But, ultimately, the citizen ought to have the right of resort to the court. That is really all I am asking in this matter. The fact that a man may have to go to a 1225 tribunal in the first instance does not matter if he is sure that ultimately he can take his case to the courts.
There is not the faintest doubt that the present arrangement sometimes results in injustice, or, which is just as bad, in leaving the litigant under a sense of injustice. I shall not weary the Committee again with the case to which I referred last year except to summarise it. It was a case which got to the courts on jurisdiction. That is the only way cases can get to the courts. If a tribunal has acted without having jurisdiction to do so, then the courts can intervene. But there is no appeal to the courts even on a question of law. About one of the cases which did get to the courts on the question of jurisdiction, the Lord Chief Justice said:This case was, in fact, conducted in the tribunal by a standard of justice which would not be tolerated by a court of law.It is deplorable that we have a situation in which decisions are being made that affect the rights of parties under a system which the Lord Chief Justice of England has himself described as one which ought not to be tolerated in a court of law. The remedy for that is, of course, to give the right of appeal to the court in the way I suggest.
As I say, I do not want to take up the time of the Committee in canvassing all the arguments on this matter which I put forward last year. I still feel the same about it, nor would I be justified in taking any other action than I have taken this year merely because my party has changed its position in the House. I finish by repeating what I said at the start, that I am sure there is no difference between us over the necessity for some kind of tribunal. I think we all want to find the best tribunal, and I feel that if some such method as I have suggested is adopted that can be done.
§ Mr. Janner
May I say at once that I appreciate the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe); and I suppose anyone who has been connected in any way with legal procedure would have some kind of regard for that point. I purposely asked the hon. and learned Gentleman what court he suggested should hear the appeal, because there is a reason why today I might possibly be able to favour some kind of appeal which I was not in 1226 a position to do when this matter was raised before.
My reason for that is that the Socialist Government gave the opportunity to the man whose means were not sufficient to enable him to carry on his own appeal. They gave him that opportunity by introducing an Act which enabled him to obtain assistance. But unfortunately that assistance does not extend to the county court. Therefore, if the question were one of sending a decision to a county court for appeal, the same point to which I have referred in previous speeches in this Chamber would apply with equal force today.
§ Mr. Marlowe
Legal aid did extend to the county court, but the hon. Member's right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross) refused to exercise the powers he possessed.
§ Mr. Janner
That is just a debating point. The hon. and learned Member for Hove knows very well it does not apply at the present time to the county court. Consequently, if a person sought the relief to which he referred it would be essential for him to spend a considerable amount of money to have the appeal heard and these courts would have brought before them constantly cases in which the landlord would be the appellant, the tenant not being in a position to take the case to appeal at all.
If, on the other hand, the hon. and learned Member for Hove suggested there might be some consideration of taking the appeal to the High Court another difficulty arises as he knows; because it is a rather heavy machinery and it might be a question of using a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. But for my part, under certain circumstances, I might be prepared to support a view of that description.
I am glad that the hon. and learned Member has raised this whole matter by way of his Amendment. It gives one an opportunity of saying something about the Act itself and of pointing out some of the difficulties which exist in consequence of the fact that the Act is not as good as it might be, though perhaps in a different direction from the one the hon. and learned Member has in mind. For example, only a few days ago a case was heard in the Divisional court, namely, 1227 the King versus Folkestone Rent Tribunalex pante Sharkey. I am quite certain that the finding of the court in that case was not consistent with the point of view that was held by hon. Members of this House when the provision with regard to notice to quit not having been given before reference to the tribunal was brought into effect.
My recollection is that it was intended by the 1949 Act, which extended the 1946 Act, to enable persons to refer their tenancies to the rent tribunals not only before the service of a notice to quit upon them by the landlords, but also after the notice had been given. I know, of course, that once an Act is passed one cannot refer to the intentions of hon. Members expressed in the course of a debate. But I am quite sure that if any of those here who were concerned with the debates in relation to these matters will search their memories, they will recollect that ultimately the result that was achieved was intended to enable a person to apply to the rent tribunals irrespective of whether notice to quit had been given beforehand or not. That is a difficulty which should be remedied, If it were possible to remedy it under this Bill I should be happy to put down an Amendment to that effect, but I know that that would not be in order.
There is a further point. The rent tribunals find considerable difficulty in getting all the people who would want to bring their cases before them to do so. There are two reasons for this. First of all, in spite of the fact that a certain amount of publicity has been given to this Act and other Rent Restrictions Acts, the average man in the street is not aware of his rights and remedies under them. I am quite certain that other hon. Members of this Committee have had the same experience as I have had, of applications being made to them for help in relation to excessive rents and to threats of ejectment which we would have thought the whole community knew it was possible to have remedied by rent tribunals or by county courts.
But that is not so; and I am somewhat surprised that local authorities throughout the country who have the right and duty to give full publicity to the provisions of the Acts do not in the main take advantage of that right and do not exer- 1228 cise that duty which I consider, and I am sure many other hon. Members of the Committee consider, rests upon them. I do not agree with the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Hove regarding the personnel of the tribunals. It has been my experience that most of the tribunals—I think I would go so far as to say all the tribunals of which I have had any knowledge, and particularly the tribunal in my own constituency—have been extremely capable and have been quite competent to do what this Act requires them to do.
The figures in respect of the cases which have been referred to the tribunals under the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, reveal a state of affairs that would startle the country if people were to sit down to examine them. Let me give a few illustrations from the tribunal which deals with applications from my own constituency. The number of cases which have been referred to the tribunals by tenants is 485. As I have said before, the Chairman himself has told me he is certain that there would have been a much larger number of applications to them if people had known the law and what their rights were under these Acts.
There have been 485 cases submitted by the lessees, 25 by the lessors and only one by the local authority. That is not altogether satisfactory. There was a total of 511. Of these 117 were withdrawn, 336 were decided and five were awaiting decision. There were 15 cases dismissed. 284 in which the rent was reduced and only 36 in which the rent was approved. I think that what is more important to note is the fact that 25 per cent. was the mean percentage reduction in the rentals after they had been submitted to these tribunals.
The Act requires that a reasonable rent has to be decided in respect of each of the cases submitted, and it is a very serious matter that on the average throughout the proceedings of this tribunal the result has been a reduction of 25 per cent. This means that not only are there a large number of people charging higher rents than they should after taking all the circumstances into consideration, but that the overcharge was 25 per cent. in the Leicester district alone.
1229 There are even worse cases than this; for example, in Bradford and in St. Pancras the rentals were reduced by 40 per cent. The total number of cases which have come before tribunals in which the rent has been reduced were 31,595 and the mean percentage of reduction was 29 per cent. That indicates that to this day— I have given the figures up to September of this year—there is a need not only for continuing this Act and the 1949 Act, which of course extends some of the provisions of this Act, but that there is a very great need for publicity to be given to people in the country in relation to their rights on the one hand and, on the other hand, to the duties of local authorities, landlords and others under this Act.
I hope that the Government will not accept a suggestion, which I admit has not been put in this form, for the removal of the Act itself, and that they will introduce an extension of this Measure which will remove the ambiguities and difficulties that exist, and in particular will grant the right which this Committee and previous Committees really intended should be included in the Acts, that when a notice has been given this should not prevent a tenant who has been and is being charged an unreasonable rent—there is no fear with regard to a person who is charged a reasonable rent; that is provided for in the Act itself—from taking his case to the courts, in consequence of the fact that he either overlooked or did not know that a notice to quit had not to be given before his case could be heard.
I hope this Act will be retained, and I also hope that the threat that there will be Amendments to this and other Rent Acts, in which the Government are going to permit higher rentals to be charged, will fall in the same way as other threats which were contained in the numerous pledges made by the Conservative Party in the course of the Election.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I think the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) has done a service to the Committee by raising this question, and, if I may say so, I am the more, grateful to him by reason of the fact that, although I have not listened to all his speeches, this is the first speech of his that I have heard in which he did not 1230 find it necessary to be personally offensive to anybody.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not be seduced by this suggestion that an appeal from a rent tribunal to a legal tribunal should be instituted. There is nobody who believes more strongly than I do that where any question of the liberty of the subject is involved, there must be a proper appellate jurisdiction to preserve and defend that liberty. But to attempt to impose a legal tribunal in an appellate function over an arbitration tribunal operating informally has, I think, always been a failure. There used to be appeals to legal tribunals under the Arbitration Acts. This was found quite unsatisfactory, and appeals to legal tribunals where there has been arbitration are now, almost without exception—there are a few exceptions—eliminated.
The reasons are these. If we are to have an appellate jurisdiction, then in the original jurisdiction we must give the trial a form. This involves a number of considerations. On the one hand, the claimant will have to put his claim into some form of writing, and the defence will have to he drawn up. It will be necessary to draw an issue. Then there will have to be some form of reporting in order to put the decision into a form in which it can be passed on to somebody to examine. Unless professional people are engaged, that involves a complete mess in practice. My profession sounds easy, but, in fact, years of experience are required to get issues into that straight form in which they can be passed to another tribunal.
If we are to have the sort of informal round-the-table investigation which we have now, in which a fair rent is arrived at by a commonsense man who is not a lawyer, it works perfectly satisfactorily in practice; but immediately one tries to have an appellate jurisdiction overlooking it, all sorts of muddles are created thereby.
My next point is that this Act requires strengthening. The shortage of furnished accommodation, instead of having become less, as was contemplated when this Measure was originally introduced, has become progressively more severe. I know it is the experience of my constituents—as I think it is in every other constituency—that there is an appalling difficulty in finding furnished accommo- 1231 dation, particularly when there are children. I know that in Northampton for quite long periods there have been men with their families in what used to be called the workhouse—it is called something different now—earning over £10 a week, simply because of the impossibility of getting any furnished accommodation at all.
That being the situation, it will be clear to hon. Members what an opportunity there is for exploitation. We can understand anybody's fear of going to the rent tribunal, because they will lose a room which at least is better than nothing, however exorbitant the charge for it may be. The three months' security of tenure which the rent tribunal can give is wholly inadequate in these circumstances.
For instance, only the week before last a lady came to see me with exactly this kind of problem. She had two babies, twins, under eight months old. She had one room for herself and her husband and those children. That room was two floors away from running water, and she was charged 45s. a week for it. The only advice I could give her was this: "If you lose this accommodation, I have not the faintest idea where you can find any other. I know the appalling difficulties involved, but in the circumstances I cannot advise you to take the risk of going to the rent tribunal." I believe that is the sort of advice which many of us have to give to people.
I would therefore stress two points. First, I ask the Minister to send a circular to local authorities to bring to their attention the fact that they are entitled to initiate proceedings under this Act. I believe that is a power of local authorities which has been almost entirely neglected. It ought to be drawn to their attention and they ought to be told that in these circumstances, where tenants, because of the extreme shortage of accommodation, fear to initiate these proceedings, then it is the duty of local authorities to initiate them.
The local authorities ought to look round their areas to see the situation. It will be very easy for them to do that, because the people who are paying those exorbitant rents are almost invariably applicants for houses and the rents which they are being charged are circumstances 1232 which are recorded in their application. The local authorities are, therefore, in a perfectly good position to see where exorbitant charges are being made for furnished accommodation. I suggest that they should be urged to take the initiative in this matter.
I would certainly make this point with regard to requiring security of tenure. When my right hon. Friend originally introduced this Measure in 1946, he said, referring to the three months security of tenure, that if the local authority had any reason to think that because somebody had initiated these proceedings, vindictive action might be taken against them and they might be compelled to quit at the end of three months, then the local authority had power to requisition and ought to requisition. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether any local authority have ever requisitioned in those circumstances.
I know of no instance in which it has occurred, and yet the then Minister of Health made that point very strongly indeed—that if people were wrongly evicted after the three months as a form of revenge for having initiated the proceedings, then the requisitioning procedure ought to take place. I suggest that where a local authority consider it necessary to initiate proceedings under this Act and the tribunal agree with them and substantially reduce the rent, then the local authority should requisition in order to see that there is good management. It has become clear in such a case that there is a case of exploitation and the local authority ought to step in.
Perhaps I part a little from my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) when I say that I feel the time has come when the recommendations of the Ridley Committee, on which we have been promised legislation for so long, ought to be considered. There is at least a case for registering all restricted rents and for consolidating all this muddled legislation, and this could be done at a moment when the Government apparently are not pressed for legislative time.
§ Mr. Janner
I do not want my hon. and learned Friend to run away with the idea that I do not think there should be a consolidation of the Rent Acts. On the contrary, I think this should be done and that there is a large number of points which 1233 must be considered in remedying defects in their provisions, but I certainly do not agree with any further increase in rentals being permitted.
§ Mr. Paget
Probably an increase in rental would be recognised by everybody as being intensely inflationary at the moment and something which we could not face. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education looks surprised. An increase in rentals would, of course, mean an increase in the cost of living which would mean higher wages, and we should immediately have an inflationary situation. We could not possibly face that, and I think both sides of the Committee are agreed upon it.
There is, however, a very serious repair situation. I suggest—and this is a matter which I have put on previous occasions—that all rent restricted property ought to be managed by the local authority, because at present the only interest in management of this property is to get it empty so that it can be sold with vacant possession, which is the only profitable use a landlord can make of it at present. I will not expand this argument at the moment. My hon. Friend knows it very well; I have put it on former occasions. Making the local authority responsible is the only way we can get repairs properly organised by someone with a repairs department. All those aspects must be borne in mind when legislation dealing with the matter is considered. I hope it will be considered.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)
We have had a most remarkable debate, if I may say so, in that I am following three lawyers who have shown a very astonishing degree of unanimity. It was very pleasant indeed to hear the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe). He followed the point made by my hon. and learned Friend inasmuch as he considered there should be some sort of revision of the present Acts.
I gathered from the three hon. Gentlemen who took part in this debate that the Act can be divided into two parts, the first part being the principle—which is security of tenure and the fixing of 1234 a fair rent—and the second part being the machinery for implementing the principle. I gather the Committee were agreed upon the principle but disagreed that the method of applying it was the best possible.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove made three points. First, he said there should be a right of appeal to a legal tribunal, a legal court. Secondly, he said there should be a legal person on the tribunal.
§ Mr. Marples
Generally speaking, although it is not mandatory but is permissive, a legal person is on the tribunal. Normally, legal gentlemen seem to have a habit of being able to get on to the tribunal. The third point made by my hon. and learned Friend was that there are no standards by which the tribunal can be guided. I think that there is merit in all these points raised by my hon. and learned Friend, but the Amendment which he has proposed would bring about a very serious state of affairs if it were agreed to. I realise that my hon. and learned Friend does not want the repeal of the Act. He has moved the Amendment as his only method in Parliament of bringing about a discussion of these points.
If the Act were repealed, or allowed to fall into disuse, there would be a rapid rise in furnished rent. Of that there is no doubt. There would be a serious number of evictions, I think, because security of tenure would go. On those grounds alone one would have either to substitute a more effective Act or keep this Act on the Statute Book. There is another point which has arisen recently. Any Service man who has volunteered to go to Korea would lose the protection of this Act if it were removed from the Statute Book. Therefore, it would be folly to allow it to lapse unless some substitute were found to take its place. The Minister must resist the Amendment, and I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will withdraw it.
However, I should like to deal with one or two of the points made by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West. He expressed dissatisfaction at a recent ruling of the courts. I cannot comment on that because, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, I have not the details of it with me, and possibly it would be 1235 improper to comment; but that merely reinforces my hon. and learned Friend's point that there should be a review of this Act at an early date.
§ Mr. Janner
I should understand the hon. Gentleman's reply if it were not for the fact that this question was raised by another hon. Member, as to what action the Minister would take, and the answer was:
§ Mr. Marples
I am glad the hon. Gentleman is pressing for legislation on this point. The point that he has made will be borne in mind, because the Minister intends in due course to review this Act after taking into account points put forward by hon. Gentlemen. It will take time because he has not been long in his present position and will require time to review this question of rent.
Another point the hon. Gentleman made was that tribunals had difficulty in getting people to apply to them for reductions in rent, and he thought that the local authorities were slack. Well, the local authorities must have shown some initiative because the Act originally provided that a tribunal should be set up after representations, and consultations with the local authority. It is now in force in every local authority area in England and Wales, so that there cannot have been the enervating inertia to which the hon. Gentleman referred. However the point made by the hon. Gentleman and by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will be considered along with other points. The point was that local authorities should have a circular drawing their attention to the possibility of their making an appeal to the rent tribunal; and their initiating cases to be heard. That point will be considered.
Another point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton was that the Act required strengthening because people with children had great difficulty in securing accommodation. I certainly agree with him that people with children have the utmost difficulty in obtaining accommodation, either furnished or unfurnished, today. That point will 1236 be taken into consideration by the Minister.
This Act is obviously not perfect. I think that every Act, after having been in operation a short time, must reveal a certain number of flaws. If any other hon. Gentleman has points he would like to make either in this debate or subsequently, I should be grateful if he would make them reasonably early in order that they may be taken into consideration. I am hoping that my hon. and learned Friend will withdraw his Amendment. He has moved it with the tenacity and clarity that he always displays, and as we are going to take his points into consideration, I hope that he will withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I am grateful for the reply given by my hon. Friend. If I can do so in words not capable of giving offence to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I will say that I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Preamble agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment read the Third time, and passed.