§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 5 to 7.
By this Amendment we are asking whether the whole law affecting aliens should be renewed for another year, for it is by the procedure of this Act that that whole body of law is continued. What we are doing, in effect, is to continue an Act of 1919 which in itself continued an Act which was passed on 4th August, 1914. As hon. Members will remember, that was the day upon which the first Great War broke out and, in an atmosphere in which what was known as "spy mania" was very rampant, an empowering law was passed. That empowering law was to endure simply for the period of the war, and, the words of the Act said that an occasion of "… imminent national danger or great emergency …" had arisen. Thus, these powers were to be given to the Government to deal with aliens in those special circumstances. At the end of the war, 1287 these powers, given in a hurry, given in high emotion and in a time of great stress, were continued and have been continued annually ever since.
I have been through the various HANSARD reports and, as far as I can make out, there has never been an adequate discussion of those powers. The extreme width of the powers can be gauged from one of them. After referring to the power to prohibit landing, to prohibit anybody from leaving the country, to make deportations, to require registration, to imprison without trial and to arrest without warrant, the Act proceeds as follows:(i) for conferring upon such persons as may be specified in the Order such powers with respect to arrest, detention, search of premises or persons, and otherwise, as may be specified in the Order, and for any other ancillary matters for which it appears expedient to provide with a view to giving full effect to the Order. …It is difficult to conceive a wider police power over any human being or group of human beings than that, and those are the powers which we are being asked to continue yet again.
The best that can be said about them is that those powers have not been utilised to as large or dangerous an extent as they could have been; but they have been utilised in a very wide number of Orders affecting aliens, the main Order being the Aliens Order, 1920. There are, however, some 14 other Orders affecting aliens. It is not a simple matter to discover what this sort of law is. It is in no Statute Book and one might well say to the foreigner—if he is a man with little knowledge of our language—"Oh, but what you have done is specifically forbidden by some Order." He would then have to go to the Stationery Office and buy some 18 Orders to discover what he might and might not do without committing an offence which would not be an offence to the ordinary citizen but an offence special to himself.
The first appeal I would make to the Government is that surely it is time, after all these renewals from year to year, to provide some codification, so that the foreigner who comes here can find in some accessible document what he is and is not allowed to do. No such document exists today.
1288 The other aspect with which I want to deal in discussing these Orders is in regard to the novel undertakings which this country has assumed. Those are the undertakings comprised in the Charter of Human Rights, to which this country is a party. The Orders deal first with aliens landing in this country and, without going into any detail, there are—as I think there must be—powers to exclude anybody who is not a citizen of this country from entering it.
But that general power to exclude aliens which is enjoyed by all nations was always subject, so far as this country was concerned, to one rather noble exception. We gave to the political refugee the legal right to come here. That is still the legal right of every person who is a political refugee in fear of persecution for his opinions, but it is a suspended right. It is a right enshrined in the Act of 1907, suspended by the Act of 1914 and suspended from year to year since then—a right which we are being asked again to suspend. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether today, when perhaps in a wider area of the world than ever before in history opinion is a crime, it is not time for us to reconsider this matter and to raise this suspension of our law which denies that political asylum which it used to be our pride to provide.
With reference to this, it is worth while considering the obligations which we assumed under the Charter of Human Rights. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will look at Article 14 (1), which provides:Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.That used to be a right given here. We are being asked to continue its suspension. That involves a breach of our undertakings in the Charter of Human Rights. Is it necessary? Should it be continued?
The next provision deals with people leaving this country. They may leave only if they have certain documents and if they leave by certain ports. Thus, we have attached to ourselves the power to prevent any foreigner from leaving this country. Is that a necessary or a right power, and how does it conform with the obligations which we have assumed under 1289 Article 13 of the Charter of Human Rights, which provides:
How do we reconcile these two obligations? We have the Government's request to renew a power which forbids foreigners leaving this country, when it has been expressly agreed in the Charter of Human Rights that that is a power which it is wrong to exercise.
- "1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.
- 2. Every one has the right to leave any country, including his own. …"
Again, let us take the question of registration and all the rules applying to it. Hon. Members may or may not be familiar with those which deal with the obligation of registration of every alien in this country. I am not among those who regard registration as either a burden or an encroachment on liberty. If we have our names registered at birth, I cannot see why we should not have our finger prints registered or why any law-abiding citizen should object to that form of registration. But I know very well that hon. Members opposite, as they have said with great force—and I recall, particularly, the eloquence of the Financial Secretary on this subject—regard the requirement of registration as the gravest invasion of human liberty. If hon. Members regard it as a grave invasion of human liberty, why is it not an invasion just as much for a foreigner as for an Englishman?
After all, the whole basis of the Charter of Human Rights is that human beings should be treated as people who are equal, enjoying equal rights. It says:All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.Those are the opening words.Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind.such as national origin. I ask the Government, if we assumed the obligations—which we did assume—under the Charter, what is the justification for asking this House for powers to do just the reverse?
Next, there is an Order dealing with protected areas. Is that necessary in peace-time? After all, the Government are asking for these powers in peace-time. 1290 In war we can have Defence Regulations and defence powers, but why is this power necessary in peace time? If it is necessary to have defence areas, is it not necessary to control the ingress to and the egress from those areas, whether the person be a British citizen or not? Why refer specifically to the foreigner?
Then there is a curious provision about clubs, and I ask, in particular, what is the justification for it? It is No. 10 of the Aliens Orders and it provides that:A chief police officer, if so authorised by general or special order of the Secretary of State, may direct that any premises within his jurisdiction which in his opinion are used for the sale of refreshment to be consumed on the premises or as a place of public resort or entertainment or as a club, and which are or have recently been frequented by aliens, shall be either closed altogether or kept closed during certain hours.These are powers involving the rights of Englishmen, because the proprietor of this club or restaurant may not be a foreigner. His premises may be entered without warning and his business may be closed by purely executive action without any resort to the court, either by the foreigner or by the English proprietor. I should like to hear from the Government what is the justification for renewing that rather peculiar Order, which goes on to say,and if the premises are kept open in contravention of any such direction, the occupier or person having control of the premises shall be deemed to have acted in contravention of the order.That puts the question entirely out of the jurisdiction of the court. He is deemed to have committed an offence. If foreigners call at his restaurant—not as a matter of fact, but if the appropriate police officer states that foreigners call at his restaurant—then it becomes an offence for the proprietor of the restaurant if he opens his premises next day—and it is a question which in no circumstances can be referred to the court. Surely that is a peculiar power to require in peace-time.
Next I turn to the Order which deals with restrictions. That Order is in wide terms, and really puts the Government in a position to place any restrictions they may think fit on the freedom of aliens. Whether there are restrictions on liberty which cannot be imposed under that, I will not argue, but it is certainly put 1291 in extremely wide terms, and would seem, by those terms, certainly to conflict with Article 13 (1), for instance, of the Charter.
But I then come to what is vastly the most important power, and that is the power of the Secretary of State to order deportations, because that really amounts to banishment. It can be applied to anybody, however long he may have resided here. It applies to the man who may have come here as a baby, who may have known no other home, whose children and whose wife are English. He can be banished at the single will, without appeal, of the Secretary of State, and his family may be broken up.
That is a very formidable power. It may be imposed with any condition which the Secretary of State may choose; that is to say, deportation may be ordered in a particular ship, and it may be ordered that the person be deported in that particular ship because the Secretary of State knows that another Government want him for an offence which is not within the Acts provided for the surrender of criminals. He can be put in a ship and that ship specified, although it is well known, and the man has reason to know, that the Government that own the ship intend to cut his throat the moment he is out of the three-mile limit. He has no appeal, and can bring his position before no court.
This was decided in the case with which the Under-Secretary of State is, doubtless, familiar—the famous case of the Duc de Chateau Thierry, who claimed to be a political refugee in this country in the war of 1914–18, and whom we wished to send back to France, so that the French military authorities could arrest him. He said, "If you expel me I want to go to America, and here is my ticket." We said, "Not at all. You are to be put in a French ship so that the French military authorities can arrest you"; and the court upheld that decision. It may have been the right one: I do not know. It is, however, a tremendous power to take upon ourselves in peace-time, and to ask this Committee to proceed to renew.
Again, the Home Secretary can imprison anybody for as long as he likes, once a deportation order has been 1292 issued, without there being any recourse to the courts; and in this age, in which a great many people are stateless, when it is often a problem to know where to send the man, that imprisonment may be for a very long time. But there is no recourse to the courts.
The Order which gives these formidable powers is Order 11, and it is a peculiar Order, for, on the one hand, it recognises the penal nature of a deportation order. That is recognised, because it provides that an order for deportation shall be punishment that may be awarded by a court, but although recognising this penal nature, it provides that none the less, it may be ordered at his absolute discretion by the Secretary of State, giving no reason other than that the Secretary of State considers it in the common interest.
That Order specifically provides that even if a man has been tried by a court, and has gone to the Court of Appeal, and the Court of Appeal has quashed the conviction and revoked the recommendation for deportation, none the less the Secretary of State, in spite of that acquittal, can, as an executive act, arrest and deport the man; and there is no appeal of any sort whatever against that.
So we have here something which is, on the one hand, recognised as of a penal character, and which is, on the other side, imposed—and imposed in peace-time—by executive action, with all recourse to the courts by the victim being expressly excluded. It can be imposed upon a charge of which the victim is never informed and has no right to be informed, on evidence which the victim never sees and has no right to see; and it may be an order of banishment, and the destruction of his family.
I would submit that in peace-time this is the wrong sort of power for the Government to possess over the individual. They are formidable punishments for the man himself, but perhaps even more dreadful in certain circumstances for his dependants.
I would particularly refer to some of the specific obligations which we have undertaken in the United Nations. Article 9 says:No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.1293 That is precisely what the Government are asking us to authorise them to do for another year. Again, Article 16 (3):The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.Here the Government are asking us for the right by executive action to break up families. It is a formidable power. Then there is Article 8:Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.That is the right of access to the courts. This we are denying here.Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations. …Here we are denying that to the foreigner.
I would finally refer to Article 28:Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realised.Is the renewal of these powers, which conflict categorically with Article after Article, the performance of our obligations to bring about an international order in which these rights and freedoms are accorded? I hope the Government will give their reply to that.
Before I conclude, I should like to refer to one other law, one other charge, older and, hon. Members may think, nobler than these. It is very simple, very short, and it is this:One law shall be to him that is home-born, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.That is found in the Commandments in the Book of Exodus. I am no fundamentalist; much of the Bible was of local and period application; much has been garbled by milleniums of transcription. But—and I think this is one of the most wonderful things about that great Book—there are certain ethical principles which shine with all their pristine brilliance, and I say to the Government that one ought not lightly to contravene ethical principles which have survived the test of time as marvellously as have the Commandments of God.
Every modern nation must place some restriction and check upon people who come into their country. I think that 1294 we have nobly provided asylum to a great many of the victims of the storm which consumed Europe. We have probably done that to our political and economic absorptive capacity. But things are settling down now. Can we not now, while so many people are still in fear, open our doors a little wider; and can we not at least bring to an end this suspension of that old proud law of England which gave the right of asylum to the man in political fear for his opinions?
I would say, secondly, that we have a right to ask visitors to this country to go if they abuse our hospitality; but that ought not to apply to the man who, even though he be not of our nationality, has his home here; has perhaps no other home; has his family here, and is domiciled in every sense in this island. I would say that within the obligations which we have undertaken we have no right to impose upon that man either banishment or the disruption of his family. We have no better right to do it to him than to any other citizen.
Finally, I say this about people who are here. Why in peace-time should they not be under one law as anybody else? Why should they not for their liberty, for their property and for their freedom have recourse to our courts and the protection of our law? Let it be our boast that here in England there is one law for the home-born and for the stranger that sojourneth amongst us. If the Government bring to us that sort of Bill, they will not need a Guillotine, for they will have no reason to fear criticism.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
Without going into all the legal details, which have in any case been so very ably expounded by my hon. and learn Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I would point out once again, because it needs to be emphasised, that acceptance of this Amendment would have the effect of restoring the ancient law of this land as it concerns aliens. An alien could find comfort here and well-defined rights. Political refugees, harassed and persecuted in their own countries, could find asylum here and could live their lives in peace.
This Amendment is in keeping, not only with the spirit but with the very letter of the Charter of Human Rights which was approved by the United Nations and 1295 accepted unanimously in this House. It is also very much in accord with the spirit of similar resolutions that have been passed by the Assembly of the Council of Europe at Strasbourg, with the assent of our representatives, chosen from both sides of the House.
One can well understand the reasons these Orders were laid in the first place. The country was at war, every safeguard had to be taken, and we could not run the slightest risk of endangering our security. But circumstances have all changed, so that the reason, and the only reason, these Regulations were introduced in the first place no longer exists. If the reason for them has disappeared, then logically they themselves should disappear and the former law should once again prevail.
It may be argued that other countries have similar laws, and that may very well be so. I am willing to believe that we are even more liberal in our treatment of strangers and aliens than are perhaps other countries. That, too, may very well be so; and I think it is so. But that is no reason why the law should be suspended and these Regulations again enforced.
There is no reason why we should continue to follow the bad example of other countries, because what we are concerned about here is not questions of trade, or customs, or treaties; points of reciprocity or bilateralism do not here arise. We could very well abandon these Regulations without any consultation whatever with any other country. It may be that others would follow our good example. So much the better if they do. But even if they do not follow our example, we shall have the satisfaction of being liberal and generous, as we were in the past, by restoring our ancient laws and by abolishing these Regulations.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
I hope the Government will accept this Amendment. I am trying to think what advantages they can gain by resisting it. Perhaps when we have a reply we shall be told that the Home Office uses its power to expel foreigners with very great care. We may be given figures, and if those figures are, as I hope they are, small in number, it may be that the case put to us will be that, since this is so, there is no reason for us on these benches to be worried.
1296 But I put it to the Committee that that argument ought to operate exactly the other way round. Some of us living in this country have the luxury of belonging to the land where we were born, and where our parents and grandparents before us were born. We have known some forms of economic, political and religious persecution, but we have never been subjected to the bitterness of millions of people in our present-day world, some of whom may come to this country either as temporary or as permanent residents.
Our case is not that this small island can permit everyone who would wish to enter it to come here. That is obviously impossible. But it does seem an ungracious thing—and as far as I can make out, not even a necessary thing—that when we do receive foreigners into this island we should not extend to those foreigners the protection of the law as enjoyed by our own people.
When listening to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who moved this Amendment, I was struck by the importance of the argument that was being put before the Committee. If many of us had tried to put that argument for ourselves, Mr. Hopkin Morris, we should have had considerable difficulty in doing so. I think that it is too bad when we go to the Vote Office and find that there is not a single Act of Parliament available today dealing with these expiring laws.
I was told by the officials of the Vote Office that that was not part of their responsibility, and I do not raise this matter in any spirit of condemnation or censure of them; but I do say that there is something wrong when the House of Commons is discussing something so important as the traditional right of asylum in this country and the pride which we have taken for it, and whether it is in fact necessary to continue wartime Regulations, that, when one goes to the Vote Office, one can find there no Act relating to the matter.
I went to the Library, and I got one copy of the Act in a most inconvenient form. I have with me only the first Act on the subject under discussion and there are 10 Acts to be dealt with. If any other Member of the House goes to the Library and collects the other volume which was there of this Act, there will be no more 1297 available to Members of the House of Commons. I think that the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) has the other one.
I suggest, Mr. Hopkin Morris, that on another occasion when the House is considering matters such as these, if there are no Acts available in the Vote Office, at least there ought to be some explanatory memorandum circulated to us several days before. It is too frivolous that we should have bare headlines presented to us, and that Members of Parliament may find themselves unintentionally agreeing to something which is not consistent with their views, because I do not believe that the majority of the Members of this House would want to continue alien laws which were worrying or embarrassing to any guest, either temporary or permanent, whom we may have within our shores.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
May I point out to the hon. Lady that within one minute of her opening remarks, I obtained another copy of the Act, which I have here?
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I hope that the Government Front Bench will give very serious consideration to the arguments advanced from this side of the Committee. There is no doubt at all that this Aliens Act which we are being asked to renew for a further year represents a very grave loophole in the normal constitutional rights of this country.
I speak with some feeling on this matter because I am married to an alien, an American, who has decided to retain her nationality—and she is quite right in doing so. When there is a knock at the front door and a policeman comes to the door, as has happened in the past, it may be simply because we went away for a week's holiday without notifying the police. This is a very simple example and no one objects to that—but it is a fact that the Home Secretary has absolute power over my wife's movements, what she does, and can deport her on any occasion.
1298 The Home Secretary is in a position to make any rule about removing my wife from this country if he wishes, and she has no recourse to the courts. It is curious that this should be so when one considers that in many of our other Acts passed by this House we have treated foreigners reasonably well. When the National Health Service Act was brought in, we extended to visitors to this country the right to enjoy the benefits accruing to British subjects under the National Health scheme, and I, for one, am very proud that people coming into this country are able to enjoy those rights. There are certain criticisms of that procedure from hon. Members opposite, as I know, but I think that most people are pleased that foreigners should not be discriminated against in that matter.
Then recently we had the Visiting Forces Act which gave special privileges to our friends in the North Atlantic Treaty countries who come to this country for the purposes of defence, and they are safeguarded from the procedure of the law of this country in much the same way as British Forces in Egypt under the 1936 Treaty were safeguarded from the procedure within the jurisdiction of the Egyptian criminal courts.
I think that the aliens rules and regulations which were made under war conditions in 1914 and 1919 ought to be reviewed by the Government. It would obviously be impossible for the Minister to accept this Amendment this afternoon, but what we feel in this case—and I submit that this is a point upon which the Opposition really can make a contribution—is that there should be a committee to go into the whole of the aliens law in the next year, so that when December comes along, whichever Government is in power, we can have a report from the committee to the House, or some other form of committee of inquiry which will have looked into the whole of our aliens law, and which may be able to suggest some improvements in it.
We did this with the Army Annual Bill this year. We have this Committee sitting, and we are going to get a much better Army Act within the coming year. The Government have granted this to us on Statutory instruments, and I think that procedure will improve our way of dealing with Statutory instruments. The 1299 aliens law is in a similar situation in which a committee of inquiry might well operate. It was not my intention to deal mainly with the legal aspect of this matter which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has covered so well.
The point which interests me—and which I have raised in the House before on the Adjournment—is the use made of the Aliens Order, 1920, by the Home Secretary in dealing with general problems of immigration. I was interested in the matter at that time because a constituent of mine wished to get his brother to come and live with him in this country, and I put down a number of Questions to the then Home Secretary, who was my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), about British immigration policy.
§ Sir H. Williams
On a point of order, Mr. Hopkin Morris. The Expiring Laws Continuance Bill deals only with Section 1 of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919. It does not deal with immigration policy in general at all.
§ Sir H. Williams
Section 1 deals only with an Order in Council in the case of a state of emergency, and does not—
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite correct. While this deals only with Section 1, the effect of Section 1 is to renew the Act of 1919.
§ Mr. Benn
I am grateful for your support in this matter, Mr. Hopkin Morris. I do not see why the hon. Member for Croydon, South should feel forced to reveal his ignorance on a point of order. He will have plenty of opportunities of revealing his ignorance if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye. If he had been here throughout this debate I think he would realise that we are called upon this afternoon to renew the 1300 Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, for dealing with the machinery by which the Government control all immigration into this country.
May I resume the point which I was making? I have tried so far as I can to find out what rules and regulations the Home Secretary applies when he comes to consider general policy with regard to immigration, and I wrote to my right hon. Friend, as I was explaining, some 18 months ago when he was Home Secretary. His reply to a Question which I put to him on the same subject was as follows:There are no formal rules governing the admission of foreigners, who may wish to reside here, and applications are dealt with on their merits in the light of the general principles which I have announced to the House from time to time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th June, 1951; Vol. 489, c. 63.]In fact, the Home Secretary exercises his discretion as well as he can. In a letter, my right hon. Friend told me—and I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman opposite will confirm this—that there are a great number of foreigners who would like to come and live in this country. That is usually the argument advanced against some sort of set rules and regulations in regard to our immigration policy. There are too many people who want to come and live here permanently for us to have any set system.
When I put down a Question to the Home Office asking how many applications for admission to this country for permanent residence were received from 1945 to the present day, I found that no record of such applications is kept. In fact, though the Home Office persist in the argument that there is a large number of people who wish to live in this country permanently, they keep no figures either of the applications or of the refusals of people who apply for permanent residence in this country, or the reasons for those refusals.
Of course, when one considers the immigration policy in general, one ultimately comes up against the economic argument. People say that we cannot allow a lot of foreigners who come from countries with lower standards of living to come to this country permanently because it would threaten the standard of life of our own workers. If the matter is looked at in this way, and if it is primarily an economic problem, then it really must be a problem which is capable 1301 of some more sensible solution than simply leaving it to the discretion of the Home Secretary. If the threat to the standard of living of the British worker is the main reason we do not have freer immigration, then surely one must be able to calculate roughly from year to year just what is the extent of that threat.
The Treasury are responsible for safeguarding the industries of this country by protective tariffs of one kind or another, and, in a sense, a restriction on alien immigration is a form of tariff. I should have thought that at a time when there is very low unemployment and when there is a high number of unfilled vacancies, as there was 18 months ago when I last raised the matter, it would have been quite permissible for the Home Office to say, "We ought now to allow rather more immigration than we did in the '30s when there was a heavy pool of unemployment."
All I am pleading for is that the Home Secretary should consider how far it is possible to get away from his unfettered discretion and to get some definable formula for immigration which could be varied as circumstances alter.
The American experience of this is entirely different from our own. The Americans have very strict control of immigration and naturalisation, and, although it has certain advantages, it has also many disadvantages that come from having such a rigid system. Not long ago Congress had to pass a private Bill in order to admit a British woman, the wife of an America, into the United States because while she was visiting her home in England she contracted tuberculosis, and people suffering from tuberculosis are not allowed into the United States for permanent residence.
At the same time, though the American system is rigid, it has some very important advantages. There are, no doubt, many people who wish to come and live in this country, but if they go to the British consul in the country in which they reside at present and ask how long it will take to get permission to do so, he can give them no idea at all. There is no queue of people waiting to come to this country, whereas under the American quota system it is possible for a man, even if born in a country where the quota is very low, to go on a list and to know 1302 that in perhaps 10 years' time his visa for permanent residence in the United States will be made available to him.
§ Mr. Benn
My hon. Friend says that such admission is subject to the McCarron Act. I share his distaste of that Act, but at the same time I think he would agree that the powers possessed by the Home Secretary in this country with regard to aliens are far greater than the powers, even the most restrictive powers, operated by the American administration.
I hope that in his reply to the debate the Minister will say something about the prospects of an inquiry and about his attitude to immigration over a long period. If he does so, I think it will go a long way towards satisfying our fears on this matter. We cannot go on indefinitely renewing an Act which everybody admits is unsatisfactory economically and unjust to the people against whom it operates.
I cannot quote the Good Book as my hon. and learned Friend did so well in his speech, but I will finish by quoting the Declaration of Human Rights with which he dealt, and which deals very forcibly with this matter. The Declaration of Human Rights says:It is the inalienable right of any human being to take a nationality, to change it, and not to be denied the right arbitrarily to change it.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
I feel that I ought to engage in this discussion because of the opening remarks of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in moving this Amendment. I do not think there is any great need to study all the rules and regulations relating to this particular subject after hearing that splendid speech which indicated all the disabilities under which aliens suffer in this country.
It may be true that historically we have a tremendous name of which we can be proud so far as asylum in this country is concerned, but when I hear of the handicaps under which aliens suffer under our law, I feel that the time has arrived when we should change the law, that the alien should have more knowledge of what his position really is under the law, and that he ought to have more security.
1303 My hon. and learned Friend told us how under the present Regulations a man who may be suspected of some particular crime can take his case to the highest court in the land, by whom he may be acquitted; but, despite that fact, the law still allows a man to be deported without his even knowing the reason for that step. I think that on that one principle alone any reasonable man must admit that this is a serious position for any alien.
It may be argued, of course, that all these Regulations were passed during the war period and that despite their weaknesses from the point of view of reasonableness, in actual fact we do not apply the law so rigidly as might be imagined. It might be said that we are quite reasonable in the way we apply it, and that there is really not much to worry about.
That may seem all very well to the ordinary Englishman, but let us put ourselves in the position of the alien. He knows that he has no security, and if he is fully acquainted with the Regulations and with the opportunities that exist under them for deporting him for any reason whatever, he is bound to have a feeling of insecurity. He may want to take part in politics or take some occupation; but the very fact that he is an alien is a pressure upon his mentality, his outlook and therefore his activity. The whole question is whether it is worth while to maintain this particular law if we are living in anything like peace conditions.
Let us consider the position of the alien. We are not allowing any wholesale invasion of foreigners into this land. We have some control over them when we allow them in, and when they come here I presume there must be some supervision over them and perhaps some knowledge of their character. These foreigners come to England because it is known as one of the freest countries in the world. In many parts of the world this country has been put almost on a pedestal, and the reputation which our country enjoys in this respect is something of which we can all be proud.
But when these aliens come to this country, there is no question of a limited time. They are not staying here only for three months or six months. When they are allowed in there is no limit on them. 1304 If that is the case, why should there be a special Act which continues year after year in time of peace under which we can seize any of these men at any particular time and deport them?
If we admit foreigners into this country for an unlimited time, surely we ought to have sufficient confidence in them, after examining all their credentials and considering their record, to believe that they will conduct themselves in a reasonable manner and in accordance with our law. We are offering them security here, and we can expect from them obedience to our ways of life and to the laws which govern our lives.
The question could arise that they had done something in the land from which they came and of which we did not know at the time of their arrival but were informed afterwards. Because of that the foreign country which they left may want them back. In such cases I have no doubt we shall use reason and a sense of humanity, and will consider whether the reasons for which they are wanted are sufficient to justify our deporting them. It would be a very strong reason indeed before we should take any such action.
Under these Orders it is possible to seize a man and send him back to the land whence he came without any reason being given. As has been said, such a man may be the head of a family, the remainder of whom are naturalised English people. His children are English, living the English way of life, having an English mentality and looking upon this country as their home. The head of that family may have come here when he was a young man. What we are doing, in effect, is keeping in existence an Act under which we could force such a man to leave this country without even telling him why. I say that will not do.
Such things are not done, and if such things are not done, why retain the power to do them? If there is no necessity to operate such an Order, why keep it on the Statute Book? If any question arises about an individual which is concerned with international relationships, we can put into effect appropriate laws to meet the case without this Measure.
I entered this discussion because I feel we are not doing the right thing. These things can be amended and should be amended, and the custom of endorsing 1305 such Acts year by year, particularly when they do not bear reasonable examination, is something, that we ought not to do. We are not doing our duty to the people whom we allow into this country, and who remain here, by taking such steps as those proposed tonight, and we are not doing justice to ourselves as a nation in allowing this sort of thing to continue. Therefore, I support this Amendment.
§ Sir H. Williams
I had no intention of taking part in this debate until I heard the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) voicing a grievance about getting a copy of the Act at the Vote Office. There are many copies about, including one in the "Aye" Lobby and one in the "No" Lobby in a nicely bound form.
I hope neither point will be pursued, because the points are not relevant to the Amendment.
§ Sir H. Williams
The hon. Lady was allowed to pursue her point and I was just anxious to educate her as to the facilities which are available. Nobody goes to the Vote Office for an Act of Parliament except of the current Session.
I did not understand the speech of the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay). I do not know why the hon. Gentleman thinks there should be no control over aliens in this country. We are dealing with an Order in Council of 1920, which was made under the Act of 1919, and Section 1 (1) of the Act of 1914 was amended by another Act in 1919. Now, by the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, we are continuing Section 1 of that Act. This Order in Council has been in operaton since 1920, and that covers the period of all three Labour Governments. If hon. Members opposite held these views so strongly, why did they not take some action when their own party was in office?
Quite frankly, I have no sympathy with the hon. Member who has a grievance because his wife is an alien. That is her fault. If a woman marries a Member of Parliament she should accept his nationality, or he should accept hers. I think it is most undesirable for a Member of Parliament to have a foreign wife. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Most certainly.
§ Sir H. Williams
He became a British subject before he was married. He had more sense than the hon. Member. As long as these people are aliens, they must accept the position of aliens.
§ Mr. Hughes
May I put the converse point? Does the hon. Member think that Her Majesty should become a Greek subject?
§ Sir H. Williams
Quite seriously, if we have these people living here, quite obviously if they misbehave themselves we ought to have the power to deport them. [Interruption.] That is precisely what the hon. Gentleman said. I listened to him very carefully. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has argued that some Members do not listen to what is said. I listened carefully to the hon. Member, and he asked why should people be deported because of foreign nationality.
§ Sir H. Williams
I should like to know of cases where aliens have been improperly deported. We have had no examples. The other day we had an example of 2,000 Italian miners who had all to go back to Italy because the colleagues of hon. Gentlemen opposite who belong to the miners—
§ Sir H. Williams
The Amendment is not to continue in force an Order in 1307 Council of 1920 under which it was made impossible for the Italian miners to stay in this country because a large number of the British coal miners did not want Italian miners in their pits.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order. We have been endeavouring to deal in a serious and responsible way with a serious question. Is it in order for the hon. Member, who quite clearly has not heard all the discussion and has not understood that part of it which he did hear, to waste our time in this way?
The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) must keep to the point of the Amendment.
§ Sir H. Williams
It is an Amendment not to continue the Order in Council of 1920. I submit that I am entitled to consider the effects of the Order in Council of 1920, and one of those effects was to expel, I think it was, 2,000 Italians from this country.
§ Mr. John Paton (Norwich, North)
Those Italian miners were here, I think, on a special contract, and they were finally removed because the conditions of the contract were found to be inoperative.
We are discussing the continuation of the 1919 Act, and it is not in order to go into specific details except by way of illustration.
§ Sir H. Williams
The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) dealt with many details without being specific.
§ Sir H. Williams
If we are considering the desirability of continuing a certain Order, surely we are entitled to consider how long—
§ Sir H. Williams
We are considering an Order in Council which results from this Act. We are going back to the Act of 1919, but it is, in effect, the Order in Council of 1920. I think I am right in 1308 that. If the Order in Council of 1920 were revoked, none of these things would matter. That is because the original Act of 1919 referred solely to a time of war or of great emergency. If hon. Gentlemen examine that Act, they will see that by a subsequent Act those words were omitted. Therefore, the Order in Council of 1920 applies, irrespective of a state of war or a state of emergency. That being the case, it is the only thing—
§ Mr. Silverman
We are really not discussing the Order in Council of 1920 at all. If the Order in Council were revoked and the Act of 1919 still remained, the only result would be that aliens might be in a worse position. The Committee are considering whether the Act shall continue or not, and if it is to continue, whether it shall continue in this way.
§ Sir H. Williams
I am not a legal expert like the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, but if he will take the trouble to read up the matter he will find that the Order in Council applies even if a state of war or of national danger and great emergency does not exist. That is the whole point, which the hon. Member, who has interrupted me three times, does not understand. He ought to brief himself a little better.
If hon. Gentlemen opposite hold these views about aliens, I wish they would operate them in their routine lives, and not just occasionally, in a debate like this. They are very high-minded in the abstract but very low-minded in actual fact.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)
Section 1 of the 1919 Act enables the annual renewal of the Act of 1914 at any time, and not merely during the course of a war or in time of great emergency. The Act of 1914 authorises an Order in Council to be made imposing restrictions upon aliens. Apart from the powers under this legislation, there are no other powers enabling any control at all to be exercised over aliens as regards either their entry into, or their activities whilst in, this country.
In other words, if the Amendment were accepted there would be absolutely no power whatsoever to control the entry of 1309 aliens or what they are doing when they are here. The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) accepted that situation I think, and in the course of her speech frankly advocated that all aliens should be allowed to come in freely and be in exactly the same position as British subjects when they are here.
There may be individual members of the Committee who take that view, but I think that the vast majority of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will feel that some control in this matter is essential. I do not think there can be any real dispute about that. I do not intend, therefore, to enlarge upon the need for maintaining some legislation restricting the entry of aliens and the activities of aliens when they are here.
Two questions are raised by the Amendment and they are important. I think most hon. Members have addressed themselves with complete propriety to those important matters. First of all is the question whether we should deal with the matter by the use of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill or whether we should substitute for it permanent legislation. That is the first question to which the Committee have to address themselves.
The other question is relevant in this connection and perhaps I may put it best in this way: What is the nature of the powers under the Aliens Order, which is the Order made under that legislation, and are the Government pursuing a sound policy having regard to the powers given by the Order? It might be for the convenience of the Committee if I mentioned now that the Order is in process of being consolidated and I should hope that before this matter comes before us again there will be a consolidated edition available.
§ Mr. S. Silvermanrose—
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Perhaps the hon. Member, to whom I looked before I rose, will deal with that point when he speaks; whether he expects an answer is another matter.
§ Mr. Silverman
There is the third question, of course. Assume that the Committee were of the opinion that there ought to be some control, or some difference of treatment between aliens once they are here and citizens; there is the 1310 question as to the nature of that distinction and of the special powers of control, other than obedience to the law.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I should have thought that was a special aspect of the second question, the policy being pursued under the existing powers.
May I first deal with the question of the choice between the Expiring Laws machinery and the use of permanent legislation? Every hon. Member will agree that the present system is not ideal and not what anyone would have devised if he had started with a clean slate. On the other hand, it has been accepted by successive Governments since 1919 because it has been found to have certain advantages.
In the first place, it provides an opportunity for the House to review this question annually, although it is an opportunity that is not always taken. Yet it is an advantage to have a matter of this kind brought forward from time to time so that there should be an opportunity for hon. Members to raise points as they have done this afternoon, because this aspect of policy is necessarily subject to fairly frequent change. We are not dealing with something static. The state of the economy of this country and the state of the world is changing constantly and the way we deal with aliens has to be changed to meet those changes.
There are arguments the other way, with some of which I shall deal in the course of my speech, but because of the obvious advantages, all Governments have felt it is undesirable to change from the Expiring Laws to some other procedure. In any event there can be no question of early legislation although the position will be kept constantly under review. The Home Secretary is well aware of the feeling of hon. Members and I receive correspondence on this matter daily, so we are conscious of the need for watching this matter carefully. The time is not yet ripe, however, for trying to deal with this question by permanent legislation.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I will see that my right hon. and learned Friend has his attention drawn to that suggestion, which the hon. Member has just made for the first time, but I cannot hold out any definite promise that anything of the kind will take place.
Now I want to say something about the nature of the powers given to the Government by the Aliens Order. First, on the question of the right of asylum, to which hon. Members have referred, it is not strictly true that this right was conferred by the Act of 1905, as I think one hon. Member said. It has been the invariable practice of this country to give asylum to those who come here from overseas seeking the protection which we have been able to give. All that the 1905 Act did was to refer to the matter for the first time by Statute. The House must appreciate that while we do not send fugitives from political vengeance and others back to the countries where they might suffer as a result of their political views, nevertheless we do not hold ourselves open to receive such fugitives from wherever they may come.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
At that date, of course, any person could come into this country without restriction. Therefore, there was no question of that. Since that date things have changed a great deal, but we have never said that a fugitive from political persecution should have the right conferred upon him, as a right, to come here.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
If he were a fugitive from persecution and were here, we should not have sent him back then and we should not do so now. All I am saying is that if there is a fugitive from political persecution in, say, some country in Eastern Europe who is resident in France, he cannot claim that by reason of being a fugitive from persecution in Eastern Europe he can come to 1312 this country. I do not think that doctrine has ever held force.
The powers given by this Order are not fundamentally of a judicial character; they are rather political and administrative. The Home Secretary is constantly subject to question and, on occasion to challenge, in the House and that is the right way these powers should be exercised. Hon. Members have suggested that there should be some codification; that they should be laid down by Statute; and that there should be prescribed absolute conditions for excluding aliens from coming to this country.
I think, and I believe the Committee will agree with me, that this would lead to a great degree of inflexibility and that it would militate against individual aliens trying to come here. If we set up in statutory form a set of rules governing the admissions of aliens, those rules would have to be drawn in a way which would definitely exclude those aliens whom we did not wish to have here.
§ Mr. Paget
That is not the suggestion we put forward. Clearly the admission of aliens, apart from that of political persecution, would have to be a matter of discussion. What we say ought to be codified are the circumstances upon which we can inflict the great penalty, in many cases, of expulsion. We say that this ought to be codified and subject to appeal to the courts.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
If we dealt with the question of expulsion we should have to deal with the question of admission. The two are really so closely linked together—
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
—that it would be impossible to have a codification of one without a codification of the other.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
The hon. Member might bear in mind that the law of the United States of America which, after all, is founded upon the same Common Law as our own, makes that very distinction. In the United States, although the Administration retains the absolute power to admit or not to admit, nevertheless, once a person is admitted, his right to remain is not subject to arbitrary administrative discretion only but is appealable to tribunals under the law.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I believe that this matter is dealt with much more rigidly in America; but I also understand that the position in America is that, on the whole, aliens are dealt with, I will not say less sympathetically, but with less consideration for the individual claims of particular cases. On the whole, I think it is desirable to preserve the greatest flexibility in the administration of this body of law and that that is best done by the method which we are discussing this afternoon.
It is suggested that there should be rules for deportation and a right of appeal. Those rules would have to be fairly restrictive. They would have to lay down quite specifically that individuals would be deported after they had committed certain offences or a certain number of offences. Such rules would work much more harshly than the present discretion which is vested in the Home Secretary, who can, at any rate, take into account the particular kind of circumstances affecting the individual case—whether he has a British wife, whether he has children in this country and considerations of that kind, which are not primarily of a judicial character.
So far as deportation is concerned, every deportation order is signed by the Home Secretary personally after personal consideration by him of the circumstances of the case. There are nearly 400,000 foreigners at present resident in this country, and only 164 deportation orders were made in 1951. It might be as well if I gave the Committee some breakdown of that figure. Thirty-five deportation orders were made following a recommendation of a court.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Will the hon. Gentleman give the breakdown of the previous figure of the number who were let into this country and the years during which they were let in?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I will try to give some of those. At the moment, I was only giving the total of 400,000 resident here to show the sort of fraction of the total foreign population that we were considering in this context. I will try to deal later with the right hon. Gentleman's question.
Thirty-five deportation orders were made in 1951 following a recommendation of the court. Forty were in respect 1314 of those who were repatriated on account of mental health. Fifty-three orders were made to remove unsatisfactory workers—that is to say, those who had come here to take up approved work but who had failed to do it properly and had persisted in staying here in spite of their failure. Eleven orders were for the removal of illegal entrants—those who had come here contrary to their being told not to do so; and there were 25 various cases, of which I cannot give full details but a number of which, I understand, related to individuals who had become a charge on the public and were simply here as a public charge. It was thought better to send them back to their own country, there being no good reason for their remaining here.
A deportation order, incidentally, is the only way of repatriating a destitute foreigner. If he has no means of his own, the only way he can be sent back to his own country is by the making of an order against him. No doubt a number of those cases were of this character.
These powers are, of course, very great, but something of the kind must exist. It is true that the Charter of Human Rights covers a certain amount of this ground, but I think that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will agree that that Charter does not preclude the control of aliens; that it certainly contemplates that countries should be entitled to control the admission of aliens and should be entitled to control their activities. An essential part of that control is the power to deport, without which there would be no control at all. Therefore, I think that the hon. and learned Member would agree that the way in which these powers have been exercised, both under the previous Government and under this Government, has been fully in accord with the principles of the Charter and that it is most desirable that those principles should be kept in mind when the powers are exercised.
§ Mr. Paget
The whole point of the Charter is that people shall not be deprived of liberty and of their right to be where they choose, save by judicial process. Here, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, we are claiming to do things by executive action, which the Charter, in most specific terms, says shall only be done by judicial action, which, by 1315 one law, should be applicable to everybody.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I cannot altogether accept what the hon. and learned Member says. This is a highly technical matter and is not very suitable for discussion in this sort of way. I am not complaining of the hon. and learned Member raising the question, but the matter is highly technical in character, as, I think, he will agree. All I can say to him is that the Government believe that the powers taken in the Bill are not incompatible with the Charter of Human Rights, but that it is essential that the provisions of the Charter should be borne in mind when administering the powers; and that is done.
So far as the refusal of admission of aliens is concerned, I must again trouble the Committee with figures. In 1951, 770,000 foreigners travelled to this country. The figures for the first nine months of this year show 730,000 as having travelled here, which indicates probably a substantial increase on last year. Of the total of 770,000, fewer than 1,200 have been refused admission. I am not saying that there were not large numbers of others who may have wished to come but who did not apply because they knew that they would be refused admission; one cannot give any sort of estimate of these numbers.
Of the 1,200 who were refused admission, 700 were refused for lack of means—they did not appear to have means of supporting themselves here. A further 100 were refused for the following four reasons—I cannot give the precise break-up: medical reasons; because they had a criminal record; because they lacked proper documents, or because they wished to come to take up work which was not approved by the Ministry of Labour.
§ Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)
Of those who were refused on account of lack of maintenance, how many were women?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I cannot give that figure. I am trying to be as quick as I can, but this is a very complex subject and I am giving the Committee as full figures as I can in the time that is available. The remaining 300 or so were refused admission, although they had 1316 applied, because they had failed to qualify under existing policy.
I do not think that the Committee would wish me to go at length into the question of existing policy. Perhaps I might say to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that existing policy is virtually the same as when he was Home Secretary. There has been no fundamental change. It was explained to the House in particular by the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) when he held my office in the last Government. The position is very roughly the same as it was then.
The powers of detention, to which reference has been made, can only be exercised against illegal entrants.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The hon. Gentleman will, perhaps, be able to make his point in due course. There are three classes: illegal entrants, foreigners who have been refused admission, or foreigners subject to a deportation order—
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I hope that the hon. Member does not think that a deportation order is made against everybody.
§ Mr. Silverman
The only person who can make a deportation order is the Home Secretary. The courts have no power to do so. The courts may recommend, but that is all and the only person who can make a deportation order is the Home Secretary. He can make a deportation order at any moment against any alien without assigning any reason. The hon. Gentleman says that there are three classes and that the third class is anyone against whom the Home Secretary can make a deportation order. But that becomes unnecessary as he is able to make an order against anyone, including the other classes.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The hon. Member may wish to develop that point, but the fact is that not until a deportation order has been made does a person come within that class and I have already told the Committee how a deportation order is made.
1317 This is a matter which is constantly under consideration by the Home Secretary, who fully recognises the nature of the powers he possesses. The Committee are most conscious of the nature of these powers and I believe that the best way to see that they are exercised is not by inflexible machinery which has been suggested, but by the much more flexible machinery which exists at the moment under which hon. Members can and do constantly take up these points. I hope that the Committee will reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am sure that the whole Committee will feel very greatly indebted to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) for moving the Amendment and particularly for the able and comprehensive way in which he put the matter before the Committee.
I hope it will not be thought presumptuous on my part if I say that I feel personally grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for having done it in the way he did, because it is not the first time such an Amendment has been moved. I used to do it in successive years from 1945 onwards, but never, I am afraid, with anything like the comprehensiveness or erudition which my hon. and learned Friend displayed this afternoon. For that reason I think that the Committee will be particularly disappointed with the reply by the Under-Secretary.
I do not complain at all of the courteous and painstaking way in which the answer was given, but, in the view of many of us, the points raised in the discussion this afternoon are of such fundamental constitutional importance that it is really rather a pity that the Home Secretary, who himself is a constitutional lawyer of real eminence in the country, should not have been here.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
May I point out to my hon. Friend that the right hon. and learned Gentleman intimated to me that he had a public duty connected with Civil Defence to discharge this afternoon and courteously sent me a note yesterday evening to say so. He hoped I would accept the Under-Secretary as his substitute during the earlier part of the day. It is out of no disrespect to the Committee that he is not here.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
I at once withdraw any implication there may have been in what I said and any criticism or censure of any kind. In the circumstances I accept at once that no discourtesy was intended and I feel that no discourtesy was inflicted. All the same, it is rather a misfortune for the Committee that it should not have had the advantage—although I recognise it was not possible to have it—of the Home Secretary's own account to the Committee of the exercise of powers which the Home Secretary must personally exercise.
I do not think that the answer given from the Front Bench so far is really adequate to meet the criticisms raised. It seems to me that the importance of the issue itself has not been grasped. For rather more than 30 years we have been dealing in this casual and temporary fashion with a state of the law which makes the Home Secretary of the day the personal, irresponsible arbiter of the destinies of nearly half a million people—and I say "irresponsible" advisedly, because of something the Under Secretary said in the defence of this way of dealing with the matter.
The hon. Gentleman said, "Do not let us be too rigid; let us deal with the thing administratively. The Home Secretary of the day will be responsible to the House of Commons for everything he does. Questions can be asked by hon. Members about policy in general and about individual cases." That is literally true, but, in practice, it is a wholly inadequate defence.
It is true that from time to time individual hon. Members hear of individual cases and raise those cases. But we are dealing ex hypothesi with strangers. We are not dealing with electors, we are not dealing with people who have Members of Parliament to whom they can appeal. [An HON. MEMBER: "They can."] No, they cannot. They can appeal, and often do when they have been in residence here for a long time, to the Member of Parliament for the constituency in which they reside. I think that every hon. Member, irrespective of party, has had that experience—
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Perhaps I might assure the hon. Member. I am the hon. Member for a constituency which includes Golders Green and I know as much about this as anyone.
§ Mr. Silverman
Perhaps I had better go on with the rest of the sentence on which I was interrupted. I am certain that every hon. Member in every party gladly deals with any matter brought to his attention by a constituent for anyone for whom a constituent feels concern or very often where there is no Member to represent the resident involved. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has dealt, as I and a great many hon. Members have dealt, with many individual cases. What I am saying is that that it not really the answer to the point which has been raised, because one can only raise the individual cases which are brought to one's attention and these must necessarily be an infinitesimal part of the numbers involved.
The hon. Gentleman, for instance, says that there has only been an infinitesimal number of aliens deported, I think it was 160, or 170—certainly a trifling figure in relation to the 400,000 aliens who are here. But the figure does not include all those aliens who are told from time to time, "Do not apply to have your visa extended, because it will be refused. Make sure that you leave the country by such and such a date." These are not deportation orders. A deportation order is the last resort, but there is an enormous variety of means of exercising pressure, under which an alien knows he must leave or be deported, which would not be included in the Under-Secretary's figure of 164 persons.
What the Under-Secretary does not realise is that to many of us it is wholly wrong that matters of this kind should be dealt with in an arbitrary fashion. He was quite right when he said that if we were to pass the Amendment there would be no power to deal with aliens in any way other than citizens are dealt with. It may surprise him to know that there are still a great many people alive and resident in this country who see no real objection to that in principle.
I look round to see what remaining Members of the great Liberal Party are now present in this Committee. I see none here; but in the great and sustained outcry against State interference most people have drawn a distinction between the rights of the State where property is concerned and the right of the State where questions of liberty are concerned. When the Home Secretary is given the power to say, "Yes" or "No" to the 1320 question of whether an alien shall be admitted, the power to decide at any time after he has been admitted whether he shall remain or whether he shall go, the power to make an order to keep him in prison without charge, without trial and without limit for so long as the Home Secretary may determine, all he has to do is to make a deportation order. He may know when he makes that order that he cannot carry it out. He may know that the person is a Stateless person and that there is no State to which he can be deported. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I am willing to give way.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
No such order is made. Can the hon. Member refer to any such order that he knows?
§ Mr. Silverman
I would advise the hon. Gentleman that there are people not far from him who can give him the fullest possible figures. If I ventured to state individual cases, I might be mistaken about some of them.
I am saying that the Home Secretary has the power to make a deportation order against any alien, that when he makes that order he need assign no reason, that he may make it against the Stateless person and that if he makes it against a Stateless person there is no country to which he can deport the would-be deportee. I am saying that if the Home Secretary makes an order against the Stateless person, knowing that there is no country to which he can make the deportation, so that the deportation order remains inoperative and ineffective for purposes of deportation, he can, once the deportation order is made, imprison the alien without charge, without complaint, without trial and without term.
I say that there have been numerous cases in which aliens have been detained for long periods without charge and without trial, and in which the deportation order has been made only in order to give the Home Secretary power to imprison the person concerned, the Home Secretary knowing, when he made his deportation order, that the alien could not be deported. If the hon. Member doubts that there have been cases, and many cases, of that kind, there are plenty of permanent officials in his Department who, I am sure, can enlighten him.
1321 The fact that the Under-Secretary has doubts about it is but one more illustration of how wrong it is to give powers of this kind when they are absolutely undefined and when there is no right to third-party judicial determination of any kind. The position is, therefore, more serious than the Under-Secretary thought. He says, lightly, "Well, if you have a codification it will be rigid, and if it is rigid then allowances cannot be made for particular cases or particular circumstances." But that is not so.
The claim that the law should be codified is not necessarily a claim that we should rigidly codify it. It is merely a claim that the discretion of the Home Secretary shall be exercised by judicial canons, on judicial principles, and that there shall be an opportunity for some kind of third-party judgment in respect of it. The Under-Secretary thought it was impossible to distinguish in this matter of third-party judgment between the two questions, admittedly quite different ones, of the right to be admitted and the right to remain once the alien has been admitted.
There is no difficulty whatever in drawing appropriate distinctions of that kind. As I pointed out, in an intervention in the middle of the hon. Gentleman's speech, the United States does draw that very distinction. There, the State Department has powers as rigid, as arbitrary and as discretionary as has the Home Secretary under our law when it is a question of whether aliens shall or shall not be admitted. Once the alien has been admitted, however, and a fortiori has established over long years a domicile within the U.S.A. then it is perfectly true that if he misbehaves himself his right to retain his domicile and his residence may, quite rightly, be put in jeopardy.
He has the right, however, to have the charges leading to so heavy a penalty—and a heavy penalty it may well be—defined, communicated, and if the alien prefers it, determined at an open hearing at which he has the right to hear evidence, be represented, to cross-examine that evidence and to call evidence to rebut the charges and to have the matter determined judicially. And why not? How can it be said that where the effect of an order can be not merely to destroy a whole life but to break up a family and to produce the most far-reaching consequences to the person concerned and all 1322 those dependent upon him, that that kind of penal decision should repose in the bosom of one man and vary from day to day or with every change of Government?
I wish to give one other reason for thinking it would be much better to have these powers, not unlimited, not undefined, but limited and precisely defined, whoever may ultimately have them. We are beginning now to introduce narrow political considerations, precisely because they can never be the subject—or very rarely—of Question or debate in the House of Commons.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton quoted the Bible about the right of the stranger. That, of course, is also the Common Law in this country. In the great judgment of Lord Mansfield in the famous slavery case, it was established long ago that no matter what a man's race, or colour, or creed, or origin, once he landed in this country he was equal before the law in all matters of liberty with every other resident, citizen or non-citizen, in this country. We could not, under our law, have on our soil some who were free and some who were slaves, because our law draws no distinction at all between the home-born and the stranger in matters of that kind. In the law as it now is, this principle is narrowly limited and reduced.
I give two instances of what I mean. There was the occasion, quite recently, in which a member of a foreign Parliament was arrested in a foreign country in circumstances which gave rise to a doubt about whether his Parliamentary immunity had, by that arrest, been denied. I am deliberately not mentioning names, because it seems to me that so long as the principle is fairly stated it is better that the Committee should not know who were involved. But in times when Parliamentary democracy is under such heavy attack in so many parts of the world, every right which goes to safeguard Parliamentary democracy becomes of importance to us all. One of these rights is the freedom from arrest of elected Members of Parliament in such circumstances as may be defined by the laws of the country concerned.
In the case which I have mentioned the doubts were not by any means ill-founded, 1323 because ultimately the courts of that country found that, in fact, the arrest was illegal and they set the Deputy at liberty. Therefore, it could not be alleged with any consistency or good faith that those concerned about this matter were not rightly concerned. They turned out to be right. But before that—I hope I have the attention of the Under-Secretary, I think he knows the case I have in mind—before they were found to be right by the courts of the country concerned, there were a number of lawyers in a great many countries who displayed interest in the matter. They were eminent people, with world-wide reputations. Some of them were from Italy, some from Belgium and some from France, and they all intended to visit London to consult about this matter with an eminent lawyer in London.
But the Home Office, or somebody, discovered this intention. I think it is not denied that it was discovered by exercising the prerogative right of the Postmaster-General to tap the private telephone lines of citizens of our own country. The immigration officers displayed a knowledge which could be derived from no other source. I asked Questions in this House at the time, and it was established, not that the wires had, in fact, been tapped in this case, but that there was power to do so and that the power was exercised.
These people were refused admission by the Home Secretary, under his prerogative powers under this Act, expressly and solely because they were coming to consult a London lawyer about a matter of that kind. I say that is an outrage; that when the House conferred upon the Home Secretary arbitrary powers, discretionary powers, an absolute discretion, to decide for himself whom he would admit and whom he would not, it was not in order that he should exercise a purely political discrimination of that kind.
Let us keep out the international criminal. There cannot always be litigation about that. Let us keep out the drug trafficker. If we wait to have litigation about that, the trafficker and his drugs may be in the country. Let us keep out the white slave traffickers, and undesirable people in a whole host of categories which we can all define. For all that these powers 1324 were freely given in times of difficulty, so that the public should be protected in this way. But not powers of political discrimination.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that if he were codifying the law today he would be given power to exclude people from having legal conferences in London, because perhaps the particular politics or party of the persons concerned was unacceptable to the Government of the day? If such a principle were generally accepted we would not be very far from the police State.
I have given one instance which occurred during this present Administration, and perhaps it is only fair that I should give another instance from the time of our own Administration, because this is not a thing about which Governments formed from either side of the House can take any particular credit. I raised it at the time when my right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Attlee) was Prime Minister and when I sat in the corner opposite, instead of on this side of the House, so perhaps I may be entitled to mention it—I am sorry that the Under-Secretary is so amused. I am doing my best to have a serious argument and I hoped to have his serious attention. If not, perhaps someone else will undertake to report what I am saying to the Home Secretary, who does meet my arguments on this point with some seriousness. I offer them humbly, but in real seriousness for the consideration of the Committee.
The other matter I have in mind—I will go on in a moment if the hon. Gentleman will give me his attention—was the famous occasion when a number of people wished to have a congress in Sheffield about what they called peace. It was admitted by the Government of the day—and I suppose that the present Government would have taken exactly the same course, certainly they gave me no support in the protest I made at the time—that there was nothing illegal about the assembly. It was not an unlawful assembly. It was an assembly which a citizen of this country might freely attend and freely address.
As I said at the time, and as I repeat, democracy consists not merely of freedom to speak: it consists also of freedom to hear—freedom to listen as well as freedom to speak. The Home Secretary 1325 of the day excluded a great number of people who were not held to be undesirable in any way—whose background and record were known, who were eminent enough in their own way—only on the ground that they were proposing to attend a certain lawful meeting in a certain place to make speeches which were not in themselves unlawful.
He was enabled to do that only because of his absolute discretion under this provision—completely unlimited, undefined discretion. It seems to many of us that this is wrong in principle; that it may have been tolerable over the years because it was exercised within very narrow limits; and that now it is no longer exercised within limits which are anything like so narrow. It is being extended and applied to a great number of purposes for which it was never intended when the powers were conferred.
The result is that most of us are convinced that if there is to be the power to control the admission of aliens other than a power to compel obedience to the law—a power beyond that to apply to aliens once they are resident here—it is wrong to continue that power in this delegated legislation fashion staggering along from year to year without anyone knowing what the law is about the matter, who is responsible and what a man's rights are.
I recognise that we cannot deal with the matter merely by passing this Amendment, but it is in every way right that this question should be re-examined. I welcome the suggestion made by one of my hon. Friends that there should be a thorough inquiry into our aliens legislation and its administration. If we decide, in the end, that we ought to have, and to exercise, restrictive powers in the matter, then those powers should be defined by Parliament in an Act binding upon the Government and making certain that the rights of people are not subject entirely to the arbitrary decision of one man sitting in a Whitehall room and responsible, in practice, to nobody for what he does.
§ Mr. Paget
In a few minutes I shall ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, not because we are satisfied with the law as it is but because we realise that we cannot do without some law on this subject. Therefore, we shall have to go on for another year with this highly unsatisfactory law. But before I ask leave to 1326 withdraw the Amendment, I wish to ask one or two questions.
First, will the Government seriously consider whatever form of investigation they think would be the best? This being eminently a political matter, I should have thought that probably a Select Committee would be the best method by which to consider how to deal with the problem. I feel that the Government should do that now that what they are asking for has been brought home to them. This was the most remarkable aspect of the speech of the Under-Secretary. It was clear that he did not understand the extent of these powers. Indeed, he would have been very shocked if he had understood.
For instance, at one point he said, "I really cannot feel that these powers can be contrary to the Declaration of Human Rights" Whatever else may be in doubt, that is not. The provisions of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act are flagrantly and clearly contrary to the specific terms of that Declaration. Article 3 says:Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.Yet here we provide powers of arbitrary arrest and of arbitrary and undefined imprisonment. Article 6 says:Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.These provisions take away from the foreigner that right. Article 9 says:No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.But to the man domiciled here deportation is exile—exile from the only home he knows, exile from his family. Here we are providing for the arbitrary sentence of exile, for an arbitrary sentence of detention and for arbitrary arrest. Article 10 says:Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations. …This is exactly what we are denying to foreigners by this legislation. Article 14 says:Everyone has the right to speak and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.That is a right existing under our law but we are suspending it today.
One may take the attitude to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1327 "Well, it is something that is all right for U.N.O.; something that is quite useful when you want to embarrass the Iron Curtain countries; but it is not for home consumption." That is the sort of attitude which might be ascribed to Lord Melbourne, who said that things had come to a pretty pass when religion was allowed to interfere with private life. Is that the sort of attitude which we are to have? Some of us think that it ought not to be.
Let the Government consider these matters. Let them consider the powers which they are taking in the light of the new obligations which they have undertaken at U.N.O. Let them give an assurance about this, because if they come back and ask for these same arbitrary powers next year—whether it be they or another Government—we shall not consent again. Subject to that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 8 to 11.
Although we are happy to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour on the Front Bench, it is a little surprising to find ourselves once again discussing the cotton textile industry in the absence of any representative of the Board of Trade. We sympathise with the President of the Board of Trade in his illness but, nevertheless, it is surprising to find neither of his two deputies have found it convenient to be here.
Perhaps I might also be allowed to say how much we hope that the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) will be joined later in this debate by other Members of the party opposite who represent cotton textile constituencies.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Harold Watkinson)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman so early in his speech. Surely the Chair would rule out of order a general discussion on the cotton industry on this rather narrow Measure.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I think that it would be wiser for the Parliamentary Secretary to allow me to deploy my arguments which are directed to the fact that many of the conditions which produced the Act 1328 of 1934 are still operating today. It is upon that basis that my hon. Friends base the plea that legislation which has continued for one year would be much better continued in permanent form.
I should not like the Committee to think that this is a Measure to which we on this side are opposed. The Act of 1934 has done a good job of work in the past, and it is because many of its features are continuing that we seek the opportunity of raising the matter in this way.
I should like to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) said about the difficulties of hon. Members generally acquainting themselves with the provisions of various Measures which are being re-enacted today. My hon. Friend has been making some inquiries into the problem, and she tells me that there are only four copies of the Act available in the House of Commons, though one other may be borrowed from Mr. Speaker and another from the House of Lords. It does seem to me that the supply of information of that kind is inadequate on subjects which might suddenly attract the attention of more than 600 hon. Members at one time. If the Library cannot provide adequately for a situation of that kind, it might be desirable for copies of Acts to be available in the Vote Office.
In the absence of any opportunity for many hon. Members to acquaint themselves with the provisions of the Act, I may say that it really gives statutory effect to agreements reached between organisations representing the employers and the workers. As such, it obviously provides a most valuable bulwark against any tendency on the part of employers to cut wages, or on the part of workers to accept rates lower than those agreed by the unions of which they are members.
The Measure was introduced on 17th May, 1934, by the then Minister of Labour, Sir Henry Betterton, who drew attention, in his speech, to the way in which the system of collective agreements in the cotton industry was in process of disintegration. He used a sentence in that speech which has a most poignant ring for those of us who have known Lancashire in the past year:Cotton has had to face competition of a very severe character during the past few years, and there has been, at the same time, a great contraction of world trade.1329 He went on from that to refer to the reckless scramble for business which had been taking place, and he described how a minority of organisations had been attempting to cut wages of workers, and how some workers themselves were accepting wages lower than those provided for in the agreements.
There is another sentence to which I should like to draw attention in the context we are discussing. Sir Henry said:The payment of lower wages where that has taken place, I am advised, has not resulted in the sale of a single extra yard of cloth anywhere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1934; Vol. 289, c. 1962.]I repeat that because I think at this time the cotton industry is faced with a similar situation.
On the occasion of its Second Reading the Measure was welcomed on behalf of the Labour Party by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) and on behalf of the Liberal Party by Sir Geoffrey Mander. The only opposition to it came from a small group of hon. Gentlemen opposite, led by the then hon. Member for Croydon, South who is now the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), who described this Act of 1934 as—one of the worst Bills brought before this House in modern times.He went on to say:This is the first step towards the corporate State here.And concluded:In this Bill we are working for security with slavery."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1934; Vol. 289, c. 1977–85.]It is not surprising that another hon. Member, Mr. Hamersley, who followed the hon. Gentleman, said that his speech was interesting and would indeed have been valuable if it had been addressed to some other Measure.
In 1952—and this is really the basis upon which we are putting our case today—we are facing a somewhat similar situation to the one which operated in 1934. The reduction in world trade in textiles, to which Sir Henry Betterton referred, is continuing. We are having once again to face competition of the same rigid intensity as that of the middle 'thirties, and, quite recently, the employers have refused any increases in wages to workers in the cotton industry 1330 on account of the difficulties which the industry is facing.
The industry is, of course, in an extremely difficult situation. The truth is that today the cotton industry makes no contribution to our balance of payments problem. In 1951, the whole of the cotton yarn and cloth sold overseas earned not much more than three-quarters of the cost of the raw cotton imported. Taking the whole textile industry, both cotton and wool, it earned £399 million for textile exports, while we spent £560 million on imported raw materials.
I think it is inevitable that, in view of figures of that kind, the Government should put pressure upon the industry to increase its exports and try to persuade the industry to take such measures as will place it in a position to export more cheaply. Unless this is done, it may well be that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will insist on the scope of the industry being reduced.
Recently, there has been some improvement in the general textile situation, which we all welcome, but some of us are not quite convinced about the extent of the improvement or whether it will endure for any length of time. Meanwhile, 10 per cent. of the labour force in the weaving side of the industry is unemployed. We are faced with the situation that the need for trade on the part of the employers may produce a demand for a lower wage bill, and the need for work on the part of the redundant workers may produce a weakening of organisation and a temptation to accept lower standards of employment than those which operate today.
I am glad that one representative of the Board of Trade is now in the Committee, because I wish to put to him the point that the situation is going to be particularly acute in those areas outside the Development Area proposal of the Government, where there may well be a larger number of redundant workers than in those places where alternative employment may or may not be provided. In that situation we may well come back to the circumstances of 1934.
Today, there is a growing pre-occupation with overseas competition, and particularly with Japanese competition. Certainly my hon. Friend the Member 1331 for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) and I have spoken about that competition as frequently as anybody in this House. I do not wish to under-estimate its importance, but there is one aspect of the talk about Japanese competition which I think is particularly sinister, and that is the argument which one hears so frequently that we are losing our markets overseas because the Japanese are lower paid and, therefore, compete more effectively than otherwise would be the case with the goods which we would like to export. There is a great deal of truth in that, but it does not wholly explain our deteriorating position in world trade.
If one looks at the figures placed before the Cotton Conference at Harrogate a month ago, we find that, in 1951, India exported 776 million square yards, Japan 1,082 million square yards, the United Kingdom 865 million square yards, the United States 809 million square yards and Western Europe 1,867 million square yards. It is true that India and Japan have lower paid workers and are serious competitors with this country. On the other hand, the United States, with wage rates considerably higher than those in the textile industry of this country, can compete with us successfully in world markets. At the same time, Western Europe, with wage rates which are not far below our own, is able to export over twice as much as we do every year.
It seems to me that there must be some other explanation than that of lowly-paid Japanese or Indian labour. The figures suggest that the cause of the trouble may be one of three factors: first, other countries may have better designs than we have; second, they may have better merchanting organisations than we have; and, third, they may be running their industries more efficiently and more economically than ours.
After all, we know that the Japanese textile industry and the German textile industry have been almost completely re-equipped since the end of the war, while some sections of our textile industry have been far more preoccupied with distributing the profits the industry has made than with re-investing them in the industry in order to provide it with the equipment which it so badly needs. We are 1332 now in the position that the unemployment and the recession in the textile industry has produced unemployment in the textile machinery industry as well.
When the House discussed this problem in 1934, Sir Walter Preston, who spoke from the Conservative benches, referred to a very similar situation. He said that the Lancashire people were the finest workers in the world but they were hopelessly handicapped in being asked to use machinery with which they could not possibly compete with the Japanese weaver and spinner.
Of course, we can compete provided that we get the right machinery in Lancashire. But the danger as I see it today is that there may be a demand in the country as a whole, and in Lancashire particularly, to reduce the standard of life of the worker in the cotton industry on the grounds that by doing so we shall be able to compete much more effectively with the products of the countries with cheaper labour.
The Labour Party does not believe that the answer lies in lower wages. We believe that the answer rests with the need for Lancashire to put her house in order. Until that is done, and so long as uncertainty remains, there will be the danger of a return to the bad practices of pre-war days. It is on that ground that we urge Her Majesty's Government to make the Act permanent and not to continue uncertainty by merely re-enacting it from year to year.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn, East)
I must reiterate the regret of my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) that the Conservative benches are so empty of hon. Members representing cotton areas in Lancashire. I am personally grieved at the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton), for I was sure he would be here today in connection with a matter about which so many trade unions in Blackburn feel strongly.
§ Mr. Watkinson
Perhaps I should say in fairness to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) that when he consulted me about the scope of the debate—I appreciate that we are in the hands of the Chair—I told him that it was on the very narrow issue 1333 of this Act and that a general discussion on conditions in the industry would, no doubt, be out of order.
§ Mrs. Castle
That only goes to show how unwise it is to rely on the advice of one's Front Bench. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West had troubled, as I have, to consult local trade unions affected by this matter, he would have found that they feel very deeply about it and that they consider that the Act, limited as it is, has a bearing upon their position as organisers of the cotton workers. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not troubled to do a little personal research on the matter but has taken his judgments and opinions at secondhand.
This afternoon we want to know why this important Measure, which was introduced in 1934, should still be temporary and why we should still be asked merely to renew it on a temporary basis. As my hon. Friend said, the background against which the Act was introduced in 1934 was one of disturbance and dislocation in the cotton weaving industry. In moving the Bill, Sir Henry Betterton pointed out that "the productive capacity of the plant" in the manufacturing section of the cotton industry was "very much in excess of demand" and that, as a result, there had been "a reckless scramble for business." Those words are applicable to the situation today.
There is nobody in the Committee—perhaps I had better qualify that in view of the presence of the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams)—I should have thought very few hon. Members in the Committee would have suggested that we could dispense with the Bill and abandon the provision for giving statutory enforcement to collective agreements voluntarily reached on wages questions. But the very fact that dissenting voices were raised in the 1934 debate makes us wonder whether, as we again have a Conservative Government, the Act and its powers are not as secure as we should like them to be.
Some most remarkable statements were made in that debate in 1934 by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon, East, who has already been quoted by my hon. Friend as saying that his opinion was that it was one of the worse Bills ever brought before the House in modern times. His speech at that time gave us a 1334 most interesting exposition of the classical Conservative theory of setting the people free, which has now become slightly tarnished in the opinion of hon. Members opposite, but is still nominally the Conservative Party policy. The hon. Gentleman was at least logical in his application of the theory and he gave us a glorious speech on the virtues of setting the people free and letting the winds of competition really blow. He is on record as having made this remarkable statement:If only you have an industry properly organised you can ruin it for certain within a limited period of time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1934; Vol. 289, c. 1978.]There was the philosophy of disorganisation.
I am extremely glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West has entered the Chamber, apparently having changed his mind and decided that this is an important Bill.
§ Mr. Ralph Assheton (Blackburn, West)
Perhaps the hon. Lady will allow me to intervene and say that I knew she was raising this matter and that I had every intention of coming in as soon as it was raised.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am sorry that I rose before the right hon. Gentleman had time to cover the distance to the Chamber, but I am very glad to, have what I am sure will be his reinforcement of my plea that the Act should be made permanent in the interests of our constituents, for that will be in line with their views.
As I have said, the hon. Member for Croydon, East is on record as having expounded the classical Conservative philosophy on this issue, and being a logical gentleman—although, as we have found, logic can be dangerous—he opposed the Bill. I wonder what his views on it will be today. It gives us grounds for some concern because he is still a very prominent, active and vocal representative of the Conservative Party. Naturally, we are rather concerned to know what the future prospects of this legislation are.
When we turn back to the speech of the then Minister of Labour, Sir Henry Betterton, in introducing the Bill which is this Act, we find that he excused its temporary nature on the grounds that it was an experiment and that we had to 1335 see whether it would succeed. That experiment has been going on successfully ever since 1934. Even at that time there were voices raised from the Liberal benches, among them that of Mr. Geoffrey Mander, as he then was, who regretted that the Minister had not had the courage of his convictions and made the Bill permanent from the outset.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am very sorry that the Liberal benches are empty now. [An HON. MEMBER: "Benches?"] Well, the Liberal bench or seat is empty. At that time the Liberal Party were vocal in their support and wanted to go very much further than did the Government of the day and to make the Bill permanent from the outset. But the Minister was a cautious man and he said, "This is a very daring experiment and we must see how it goes." We know that a very short period of time afterwards we were in the middle of war and since 1945, until a year ago, the cotton industry has been enjoying a stability and security which it had not known since the First World War.
Therefore, the same doubts about the Bill and about the situation in the cotton industry were not in our minds. There was not the same urgency then to make the Bill permanent and secure in our legislation. There was not then any feeling that we were back in the position of 1934. On the contrary, far from having unemployment, we had employers queueing up at the labour exchanges for additional labour. In that situation there was not going to be much likelihood of anybody under-cutting a wage agreement and naturally, therefore, the urgency of the present situation had not arisen.
But, unfortunately, that happy position of security, that happy sense of confidence in the cotton industry and its future have gone from Lancashire and we are back once again in that same atmosphere of fear, of "a reckless scramble for business," of excess of supply over demand—the very conditions which gave birth to this Act. Although the Government have been very coy in making any prophecy about the industrial future of Lancashire, and although they have re- 1336 fused to go on record as making any kind of prognostication whether Lancashire can expect to go back to the 1950 conditions or whether trade is going to shrink, although we cannot persuade them to make any kind of prophecy or indulge in any kind of planning, nevertheless there is a belief growing throughout Lancashire that, at any rate as long as this Government are in office, the crisis will be endemic in the cotton industry.
In that situation it is natural that we should look again at this Act and say to ourselves, "Why is it that we cannot make it permanent?" Nobody is going to abolish it. Nobody is going to dare to suggest that we should allow it to lapse. Then let us have it in a permanent form. I ask the Government in all sincerity what possible argument there can be against that. Are they suggesting that this experiment has not succeeded? When the Bill was first introduced it was not only introduced with the support of both sides of the cotton industry but indeed was introduced as a result of requests from both sides of the cotton industry.
Can the Government tell us whether the manufacturers' side have now lost interest in this legislation or withdrawn their support? I can tell the Government quite definitely that my own local weavers' association—and I have con sulted them on this matter—tell me officially that their view is that the Act should be made permanent. I think that the House should pay attention to the views of these men who are right in the heart of the cotton struggle and are dealing with weavers in their day to day contest with the hard facts of life. They say this, and I think it is significant:The value of the Act to us is greater now than at any time since the period which forced its enactment. …The reason is that in times of depression the Act makes it… more difficult for an individual employer to pay wages less than his competitors.6.15 p.m.
I hope that the Government will not tell us that really the Act is not so very important because in its long history there have been very few examples of Orders having been made by the Ministry under it. I hope that we are not going to be treated to that kind of 1337 frivolous argument, because the Government should know, as the unions certainly know, that the value of the Act does not lie so much in the number of Orders that are issued as in its very existence. That at once has a deterrent effect upon the men whom the Act sets out to defeat, namely, as they were described in the House at the time, "the wage cutters and the price cutters."
The aim of the Act was to bring them to heel and that has been its effect, not so much from the multiplication of Orders issued but from the fact that the Act was on the Statute Book and that if an employer or even a worker tried to evade its terms the power of the Act could be invoked. My local weavers' association make the point that, as they say:Although actions under the Act are rare, its chief value to us is the fact that it exists and is a deterrent to wage cuts.If the Act were not renewed, then the unions would be extremely alarmed at the consequences. I am glad that it is not suggested that it shall not be renewed. But if, as the local weavers' association in my constituency say, the value of the Act is greater to the weavers now than at any time since the period which forced its enactment, why cannot we have it made into a permanent piece of our legislation, so that we can bring a sense of security to the industry?
Why cannot we let the workers know that that will be the permanent position, that we as a House of Commons shall stand behind resistance to the wage cutter and price cutter, that as a House we shall oppose the jungle philosophy of the hon. Member for Croydon, East and that we shall turn our backs on his praise of disorganisation in industry.
The fact that these speeches are on record in HANSARD as expressing the point of view of a very important section of the Conservative Party does make it imperative for us to give that sense of security by making the Act permanent, in order that we can reject the arguments of the hon. Member for Croydon, East and we can say that, although the hon. Member adorns the benches opposite as a Conservative, nevertheless his own party will have nothing to do with the views which he expresses. That is an important thing, otherwise alarm and uncertainty can be spread in Lancashire, which un- 1338 fortunately is already suffering once again from a sense of insecurity.
I hope that we are not going to have from the Government an attitude of complacency towards Lancashire's difficulties and Lancashire's psychology. It is tragic that this sense of uncertainty of the future should have come back to this important industrial area and to this important export trade. Despite the complacency of the Government Front Bench, that sense of uncertainty still exists. Even though there has been some slight reduction in the unemployment figures, none the less the cotton towns affected by this Act are still suffering from levels of unemployment that are at best three times the national average and at worst 10 times the national average.
There has always been a tendency on the part of the Government to assume that that is a burden that Lancashire must bear in the normal course of events. But that complacency is not shared in the cotton towns. The people there are angry. They want to feel that this House cares about their problems. They want to feel that this House understands their psychology, They want to feel that we will give them what they ask. Just a small contribution towards meeting their requirements would be made if we were to insist that the Government made these powers permanent.
§ Mr. Assheton
I am sorry I did not have the advantage of hearing the opening part of the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle). I knew that she intended to speak; at least, I saw that it was likely that she would speak and her name was on the Order Paper. I was attending an important Committee upstairs over which I was presiding, and I came as soon as I knew that she was on her feet, because I always like to hear what she has to say.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
An apology has already reached this Committee through the Minister, who assured us that if the right hon. Gentleman had thought there was a broader basis to the debate he would have come away from theimportant meeting much earlier than he did.
§ Mr. Assheton
I came as soon as I heard that the hon. Lady was on her feet.
I only want to make one or two short points. I do not propose to follow the 1339 hon. Lady in the whole of her speech, because a great deal of what she said did not appear to me to be entirely necessary in view of the terms of the Amendment under which her name appears. I should like to say, however, that any suggestion that we on this side of the Committee are complacent about unemployment in the cotton trade is entirely untrue. I should also like to say that we on this side of the Committee are very glad that unemployment in the cotton trade has been substantially reduced since the action which Her Majesty's Government took earlier this year.
The hon. Lady has made an excellent speech against the Amendment which she has put down on the Order Paper. If the hon. Lady would have her way and her Amendment were accepted, the Cotton Manufacturing Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1934, would very shortly cease to operate at all and, therefore, there would be an entirely chaotic situation in the cotton trade.
§ Mrs. Castle
The only purpose in withdrawing the Act from the Schedule would be in order that the Government could introduce a Bill to make these powers permanent. The right hon. Gentleman is deliberately twisting my argument.
§ Mr. Assheton
I appreciate the hon. Lady's suggestion that there should be a permanent Act dealing with this matter. She knows quite well that that cannot in the present circumstances be brought in forthwith.
§ Mr. Assheton
Because it is practically impossible to bring in a Bill and pass it through this House and the other place in time to make it effective. Therefore, the only effective action that can be taken at this stage is for the Committee to reject the hon. Lady's Amendment, and to continue Sections 1 and 2 of this Act as this Bill proposes that they should be continued. The matter of what steps should be taken with regard to future permanent legislation could very well be dealt with when the whole problem, which the Moelwyn Hughes Committee discussed, comes to be determined.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
The right hon. Gentleman has been in this House for a long time. He must know that it is 1340 a perfectly legitimate practice to move an Amendment of this kind in order to promote general discussion of a problem, in the course of which we can urge upon the Government the desirability of making it permanent. The right hon. Gentleman is not quite up to his usual standard in making such heavy weather of the point which we are discussing.
§ Mr. Assheton
I do not complain about the hon. Lady's Amendment at all. I am merely telling the Committee that if we were so unwise as to accept the Amendment, it would plunge the cotton trade into a very awkward situation, and therefore I beg the Committee to reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. Assheton
My view is that we have got to go into the matter a great deal more closely than we are able tonight. As I have said, the whole matter has been considered by the Moelwyn Hughes Committee, and until the matters come to be determined we cannot take a decision upon the future of the Act.
§ Mr. H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)
I support my hon. Friends in their desire to make this a permanent Measure. I represent a division that has felt the effect of unemployment probably more than any other. In the years between the wars one borough in my division had unemployment amounting to 49.6 per cent. There is this important difference between those days and now, that the industries in Lancashire were then all depressed. Bankruptcies were taking place.
This led in turn to new firms coming into being who took on operatives on condition that they subscribed out of their wages 2s. or 3s. a week towards the capital needed to run their business. There was nearly complete anarchy. There was nearly a collapse of any semblance of a wages structure and, as has been said, neither side could stop the rot. In fact, the trade unions were sometimes forced to accept agreements on wages which were below subsistence level.
Anybody who has read the researches of Seebohm Rowntree in those years knows that that is true. I remember that in 1934, when this Act was brought in. Seebohm Rowntree published his researches into subsistence levels in York 1341 and found that a spinster who had to pay 5s. a week rent for a cottage could not exist on less than 32s. 6d., and yet the trade union rate in the district where I lived was no higher than 28s. 5d. for the same kind of person.
In those days local authorities, in their haste to attract new industries, advertised the willingness of their citizens to work on little more than the dole. That happened in the constituency that I represent. This matter should be ventilated, if for no other purpose than to bring to the attention of local authorities and employers the fact that there is on the Statute Book an Act which will protect the agreements entered into between employers and employees on a free basis.
This Act did something to save the wreck. It gave statutory backing to wage agreements. I do not know if there were any prosecutions, but the threat was often sufficient to deter the blackleg. There were uniform lists dating from the last century, but these were not regularised until 1937, and they were subject to what was known as a disadvantage clause which enabled employers in areas which had difficulties peculiar to themselves to make agreements for lower wages than those appertaining elsewhere. This was one of a series of Acts of Parliament which were put on the Statute Book in those years.
I should not be in order if I discussed any of the others, but I want to make a few comparisons between the circumstances appertaining then and now. The situation today is not quite so acute because the pressure is not so terrific. During the last 10 years there has been a premium on workers. Recently, there has not been so much pressure on account of unemployment as before the war, because most other industries have maintained a fairly high level of employment. The number now employed in the industry is less than it was before the war, when this Act came in. Then it was round about 460,000 and now it is in the region of 250,000.
Another thing that makes the situation less acute is the fact that the 60,000 who have left this industry since the recession began last November have, by and large, been absorbed into industry elsewhere. But what we should like in addition to 1342 the regularisation of this Act is a more positive policy from the Government towards this industry. We want something besides the renewing of this Act. We want to get away from some of the old nostrums such as that which states, "If you want to shift workers out of consumer industries, raise the Bank rate, and if you want to damp down the production and the purchase of manufactured goods, raise the price of food."
If there is any doubt that there is any analogy between the present circumstances and those of the past, I would remind the Committee of what was said in the Report of the Commissioners who were appointed to inquire into the Conditions of Hand-Loom Weavers just 104 years ago. They said—and this applies to the whole of the area that we are discussing under this Act:The effect of the high price of food in destroying the home market is frequently overlooked. The manufacturing population are the great consumers of manufactured goods and an advance in the price of food utterly destroys the power of purchasing manufactures. They clothe themselves when bread is cheap.What was true then is true today. This Government have done their best to see that people do not buy manufactured goods by taking off the food subsidies and putting up the price of food.
It seems ridiculous that at a time when capital expenditure is most needed we spend the least, and out come the redundant machinery workers in their thousands. We are still allowing money earned in good times to be dispersed. If the fact is that we are making this industry—perhaps partly deliberately—into a marginal investment, then I say that whilst the capital is flowing elsewhere we are depriving this industry of its life blood, because it is now that it wants the infusion.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary state whether this Act covers the rayon industry? Is he able to say whether it covers Scotland, Yarmouth, Cumberland and a dozen other places where the cotton manufacturing industry is carried on?—because what on earth is the use of renewing this Act if we are to find that firms outside the geographical area defined in the Act can do something which the Government do not want them to do? Has this matter been discussed with the employers and employees?
1343 I should be pleased if the Parliamentary Secretary will answer those questions. I hope that he will pay attention to what has been said this afternoon—and that notice will also be taken by those employers who think that in the coming months and years they can bring into their particular business the same sort of conditions that existed in the 1930's.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill in 1934, Sir Henry Betterton pointed out that:It is nothing more than an attempt on the part of Parliament to assist the industry itself to establish order within the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1934: Vol. 289 c. 1961.]It is worth pointing out that within a comparatively short space of time after the passing of that Bill the pre-war Government decided on a certain measure of re-armament, and when we look through the years from 1935 onwards—through the years of the war and the period during which a Labour Government was in power—we see that it is only now that the full benefits of this Act have come to the cotton trade of Lancashire.
I would have hoped that in those circumstances the Government would have seriously considered the advisability of making the temporary provisions permanent. Indeed, I should have thought that if an Act has shown itself to be so beneficial over a period of nearly 20 years it has become something of a farce to leave it in its temporary state. I know there are some Acts which must be renewed year by year, but in the case of an industry which, over a period of 20 years, has adapted itself to legislation which has been on the Statute Book for that period, I should have thought there was a good case for accepting my hon. Friend's Amendment and making this legislation permanent.
I hope, however, that the significance of the passing of this Act does not escape hon. Members opposite. So many of them still think that it is a point of Tory policy not to interfere or intervene in any way with the negotiations which are conducted between trade unions and employers in a given industry, and it may be rather a shock to some of them to realise that as long ago as 1934 their own 1344 Government were intervening in such negotiations.
It was interesting to hear the right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) telling us that the present improvement in the cotton industry was due entirely to Government action. I hope he will see the danger of that sort of propaganda. If it is true that the present improvement in Lancashire—for which we are all so grateful—is due entirely to the fact that the Government have advanced certain re-armament orders, it follows that there will be the greatest apprehension in the cotton industry of Lancashire because those engaged in it know full well that on that basis such an improvement is purely temporary and as soon as the present orders are completed they must expect to go back to the horrible conditions which existed at the beginning of this year.
§ Mr. Assheton
The hon. Member himself interpolated the word "entirely." I certainly did not use it.
§ Mr. Assheton
The hon. Member should recall the Purchase Tax reduction. There is no reason to suppose that that reduction is temporary.
§ Mr. Lee
The Committee must judge between the right hon. Gentleman and myself, but I hold to the point that if we are asked to believe that the improvement in Lancashire cotton has taken place merely because of what the Government have done, then there are very great dangers for the future of our people in the cotton trade.
1345 In introducing the Bill, the then Minister of Labour said:Before I deal shortly with the Bill itself, I want to say that it does not in any way at all supersede collective bargaining, nor does it impose State determination of working conditions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1934; Vol. 289, c. 1961.]I wonder whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer has heard what the Government are doing in this respect, because he would indeed be a brave man who said that the Chancellor's policy is not to interfere with collective bargaining. When the Minister of Labour wanted to sign certain awards under the Wages Council procedure, he was prevented from doing so by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We know that the Chancellor made a speech in which he asked that there should not be wage advances, even though it may be that in some industries employers were willing to give them. I therefore contend that the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself has imposed an embargo upon free collective bargaining in very many trades in Britain.
§ Mr. Watkinson
The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do, as he was my predecessor in this office, that what my right hon. and learned Friend did in the case of the Wages Council was to refer the recommendation back, as he was perfectly entitled to do, for the Wages Council to give further consideration to the Chancellor's statement. That has nothing to do with an embargo.
§ Mr. Lee
I do not differ from the hon. Gentleman in that interpretation. What I pointed out was that if Wages Councils, having decided to give advances, are then to have their recommendations returned to them, not because of anything inside the trade but merely because the Chancellor of the Exchequer has decided that he does not want the advances to take place, then I am justified in saying that collective bargaining is now being interfered with by the deliberate policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
We know that the background against which this Bill was first introduced was one of horrible provocation within the Lancashire cotton belt. Indeed, the employers themselves pointed out that the whole system of collective bargaining was in danger of disintegration because of the way in which many cotton employers were deliberately forcing people, who had been 1346 unemployed for years, to accept one of the alternatives of watching their families starve almost to death or accepting rates below those negotiated. This Bill was to alter that state of affairs. The party opposite are now giving a further year of life to something which was introduced to curb the very worst excesses of the private enterprise in which they so heartily believe. I hope the Committee will take note of that fact.
I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether any other trades have asked for this type of legislation. I know that in many ways it is different from the Trade Board legislation with which the House is so familiar. Indeed, I believe there is much to be said for that type of legislation from our point of view. Have any other industries asked that they should have the benefits of it? The conditions which forced this type of legislation upon the country in 1934 are now becoming more and more apparent in many other trades. I should have thought that there are many others, which are not very well organised but which may have a basis of organisation which lifts them about those in the Board of Trade sphere, and which could very well benefit from the introduction of this sort of legislation in their case.
Within the Act there is provision for fines of £10 to be made where a contravention of the minimum rates is discovered. In view of the fact that the value of £10 in 1934 was obviously far higher than it is today, has any consideration been given to increasing the amount above £10 so as to make it more commensurate with the value of currency today? Again, within the Act there is no provision for Government inspection. It may well be that it would be worth while looking to see whether the Government could find some way by which they could deter employers who thought in terms of paying below the rate by causing it to be known that there is an inspectorate set up within the Government which could deal with such matters.
My hon. Friend pointed out that the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) acted as barrister for the blacklegs on this memorable occasion in 1934. For his pains, the Minister told him that his rather laissez faire arguments were as dead as John Bright himself. That is not 1347 an unfair accusation to level against the hon. Member for Croydon, East.
I am sorry that there are no Members of the Liberal Party with us, because the arguments which Mr. Mander, as he then was, adduced on that occasion in 1934 were remarkable. He argued that the majority should have the power to protect themselves from the tyranny of the minority. That is a Liberal argument which I have not heard in the House for at least 7½ years. I should have thought it would have been of great interest to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I am sorry that he has had to leave us temporarily. For many years he argued, when in Opposition, that it was undemocratic, if one or two people were not organised inside the union, for the trade unions to insist upon their honouring the conditions which the trade unions had negotiated with the employers.
When I look through this sort of legislation and see the relevance of the position to that of 1934, I realise precisely from what it was that the last Labour Government saved the people of this country. I believe that now, for the first time perhaps since 1935–36, the working people are in danger, unfortunately, of needing this type of legislation to protect them. I should have thought there was the strangest possible argument in favour of the Amendment for making the legislation permanent. We should like to see it widened to include very many other industries as well as cotton. If the Government would seriously look at the position, they would find that if they could introduce legislation which embodied such principles, they would meet with no opposition from these benches, but that, indeed, the legislation would be warmly welcomed.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), when he opened his speech, complained that there were not copies of the 1934 Act available in the Vote Office. I have had the same difficulty, and, indeed, the difficulty is even more acute in trying to study the 1934 Act, to find out what the effect of this new Bill is likely to be.
For example, I am puzzled by the information in the Schedule that only Sections 1 and 2 of the Cotton Manufacturing Industry (Temporary Provisions) 1348 Act, 1934, are to be continued, and I am told that that is because there has been subsequent legislation. We really ought to be able to follow the subsequent legislation if we are to deal with a matter like this in any intelligent way at all. It is a genuine complaint, and I think it ought to be voiced on behalf of all sections of the Committee, that when we are asked to renew legislation of this kind the necessary documents should be at our disposal.
I have been interested in the dispute between my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton), who said that he attributed a large part of the reduction in unemployment in the cotton textile industry recently to the actions of the present Government. We could, of course, have a very interesting debate on how far those actions have contributed to a reduction in unemployment, and, perhaps, an even more interesting debate on how far the actions of the present Government led to unemployment at all, because it must be remembered that when this Government came into office there was full employment in the cotton textile industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes, there was. Certainly there was in my division. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, there was full employment in the cotton textile industry.
But we shall not get very far arguing along this line. What we have to face tonight is the effect of including the 1934 Act in the Bill as one of the Measures to be continued for only one year. I think we have to approach it from the background of 1934 when it was largely owing, I am informed, to the agitation of the local authorities in the cotton textile towns that this Act was framed.
At that time they found people leaving the industry and leaving the districts because of the uncertainty and wage cutting that was going on. The local councils were very alarmed at the result on the local rates, and they contributed to very important pressure on the Government of that day to pass this legislation and thereby give a measure of confidence to the cotton workers to encourage them to remain in the industry, because they would have the protection of this Act.
This is not the time to give them an alarm signal that the guarantee is likely to cease, and that is what the effect of 1349 the Bill is likely to have—in fact, has already had. It is all very well saying that it is to be continued for another 12 months, but why for only another 12 months? If the reason is to be found in the legislation subsequent to 1934, perhaps the Minister will be able to explain that, but I think it would give a great deal of encouragement if he could tonight give us reason to hope that there is to be permanent legislation at the end of that 12 months, because otherwise this will simply add to the present drift from industry that is taking place. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes) told us a few minutes ago that 60,000 workers had left the industry since the present recession came in with the Tory Government. That 60,000 will be greatly increased unless we can do something very tangible to persuade the workers to remain, and this is not the way to do it.
We could not blame these workers for leaving the industry at the present time. They had a very severe shock in the early part of the year or the latter part of last year. They had almost grown accustomed to full employment as being something permanent. Then, sudden unemployment struck them a blow which reminded them only too acutely of the bad times of the 1930s. Many of them who had made up their minds to make a career in cotton said, "Here we are back to the old days again," and left the industry; and even those who were not able to find other jobs, and have gone back under what may be only a temporary improvement, are bound to be feeling that they ought to be looking out for something more stable, more permanent, in case that kind of thing happens again. The news that this Act, which gives them a guarantee of wages—of wages that have statutory support—is to be discontinued, or may be discontinued, is just the kind of thing to be a deciding factor in inducing them to make up their minds to leave the industry permanently.
It may be said—I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary is thinking this at this moment—that we are being unduly nervous, and that our constituents are being unduly nervous about this. I would point out that when someone is recovering from a serious illness he is, naturally unduly nervous, and that is the position of the cotton workers at the 1350 present moment—and not only of the cotton workers, but of the cotton towns. This nervousness is not confined to the workers, but is shared by the shopkeepers and the local authorities in those towns, who are very nervous as well.
It may be asked why this was not raised last year or the year before. The answer is obvious—that there was no necessity to be nervous at that time. This is the first year since the principal Act ceased to have effect, in 1937, that it has been really necessary to voice the feelings that have been expressed by my hon. Friends and me tonight. Up to now we have had this period of stability, and now, when confidence is ebbing away in the cotton towns. I suggest that it is very unfortunate indeed that in this Bill this particular Act should be included.
The Minister will not be able, I am quite sure, to accept the Amendment, but I ask him to indicate, as I hope he will, that in some way, at the end of this 12 months, or before, the Government will be able to bring in some permanent legislation and that the present guarantee will be continued. The right hon. Member for Blackburn, West said he believed that there was no time to do that this Session. The right hon. Gentleman has had much more experience of this House than I, but I beg to differ from him on that particular point. I believe that a very short Bill of this description would be non-contentious and could be passed by Parliament very quickly indeed.
We know that there are cases on record of how legislation has been put through both Houses in a very short time when it has been agreed legislation. This, I suggest, would be a Measure that could be put through in that way, and it would contribute to that confidence we so badly need in the industry at this critical time.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I think nobody would be more embarrassed than Members of the Opposition if the Government did accept the Amendment, because it would, as the right hon. Gentleman said, mean that we should destroy this very valuable piece of legislation that did much to put the wage structure of the cotton textile industry on its present basis. But I could accept the point of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) that it is quite legitimate to have a general discussion by means of moving an Amendment. That, 1351 of course, is a perfectly proper thing to do.
I was glad to hear from him that he did not oppose the general purpose of the Measure we are discussing, the Cotton Manufacturing Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1934. I have been fascinated at hearing that those wicked years of Tory mis-rule between the wars were not, perhaps, quite so wicked after all, because the name of Sir Henry Betterton has been mentioned, by almost every speaker opposite who mentioned it, in glowing terms.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I am dealing with the Act of 1934. I do think that it is a fair comment to say that, if we are going to argue that there has been no change in the structure and the outlook of the cotton industry since 1934, we are living in a dream world. What I want to know, what, I think, the cotton industry wants to know, is what is the future and outlook in 1953 and 1954, and not what it was then.
That brings me to my second point. I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends into a general dissertation on the future of the cotton industry. It is not relevant to this Act. But on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, and as one who considered it a privilege to go to Lancashire at the depth of the slump, I should like to say as plainly as ever I can that I think it was one of the most inspiring industrial experiences of my life to go to Lancashire at that time and to see the courage and statesmanship with which both sides of the industry were facing their difficulties. They deserve the congratulations of Her Majesty's Government for the way in which they pulled themselves out of them, with some help from the Government. They have done the main job for themselves, and all the more credit to them for it.
I would, therefore, only say on the general principle that I am sure that the textile industry as a whole has taught the country a very valuable lesson in how to face the kind of difficulties and temporary unemployment which we may well meet in this more competitive world; 1352 and if a good example of industrial teamwork, of the Government, the unions and the employers working together, is wanted, we cannot do better than study what happened in Lancashire six to nine months ago.
The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) asked about the unemployment figures, and just to get the thing in perspective I am very glad to give them, because again it shows what progress Lancashire has made, and what teamwork will do in fighting this sort of difficulty. The unemployed in the textile industry at 21st April, 1952, were 82,678 in the cotton spinning and doubling and cotton weaving, and at 13th October they were 29,249—a drop of over 53,000.
§ Mr. Watkinson
No, because we all know perfectly well that, although there was a sort of concealed full employment in October last year, it was quite obvious to everybody in the industry that trouble was just around the corner, so those figures are entirely unrepresentative. The measure of the progress the cotton industry has made—and I am attributing this to the credit of the cotton industry, alhough perhaps the hon. Member wants to take it away from them—
§ Mr. Watkinson
I am now replying to the hon. Member for Blackburn, East who asked me what the general improvement in the figures was. I have now told the Committee what the general improvement has been; and I have said in addition—and I am quite prepared to say it again—that it is greatly to the credit of both the trade unions and the employers that they have done so well, and Her Majesty's Government were glad to be able to help them in that task.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
Will the hon. Gentleman also give the figures of the number who have left the industry?
§ Mr. Watkinson
Various estimates have been made. It is almost impossible 1353 to make an accurate estimate. My estimate is about 40,000 people; and they have all been found alternative employment.
§ Several Hon. Membersrose—
§ Mr. Watkinson
Perhaps I might now be allowed to continue. I have only followed the hon. Member for Rossendale and his hon. Friends into that argument because I thought it deserved an answer. I felt that some of his remarks were somewhat derogatory of Lancashire as a whole, particularly those which seemed to imply that Lancashire was not trying hard enough to sell its textiles overseas, and perhaps was not working hard enough to get itself out of the mess it was in.
Let me now say a little on wage rates, coming to the real point we are discussing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, I have only been following hon. Members opposite. It is very dangerous to say that in some way we could overcome a wage differential of an average of 11d. an hour in Japan and of 2s. 8½d. an hour in Lancashire. That is an immense task, and it is greatly to the credit of Lancashire that it has faced up to it and done so well as it has done so far against that sort of competition.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
Would the hon. Gentleman tell the House what proportion of the total cost of Lancashire's cotton manufacturing represents the cost of labour, and also the comparable figure for the United States?
§ Mr. Watkinson
No, certainly I am not prepared to do that, because it has nothing to do with the argument.
Perhaps I might now be allowed to go on to the thing we should be discussing, and that is the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and the particular Clause of it which deals with the continuance of the Cotton Manufacturing Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act of 1934. I think it fairly sums up the sense of the arguments put forward by hon. Members opposite to say that this Act is a good Act. I do not dissent from that. They then carry the argument further and say it therefore should be found a place in permanent form on the Statute Book. I will not go into the sterile argument of the fact that it might have been done in any of the past seven years.
1354 Let us look at the present position. I must just mention two things which no hon. Member opposite has mentioned, in order to get the thing in proportion. There has been only one major Order made under the Act of 1934, and that was Order No. 298 in 1937, which produced this thing called the Uniform List. I frankly admit that it may have been difficult to get this List, so some hon. Members may not be armed with it. That is why I am mentioning it, for this is the one great thing that was done under the 1934 Act, and it has remained a sort of foundation for the cotton industry wages structure ever since. During the war, and for some while afterwards, Order 1305, as we all know, superseded the need for an Act of this kind, so the question arose again only when Order 1305 was swept away.
In the interim the previous Administration had set up the Moelwyn Hughes Commission, and I am very surprised that no hon. Member opposite has mentioned it, because it is the whole crux of the argument. This is why Her Majesty's Government do not intend to make this a permanent Measure at the moment, and why we do intend to continue it in this form. When the Moelwyn Hughes Commission reported in 1948 to the previous Administration, they made what I believe was a very good factual report, and an attempt was made to get that report implemented. There is a very strange situation in the industry at the moment, in that some of the industry is now following the Moelwyn Hughes structure of wages and a rather larger proportion of the industry is still based on the Uniform List.
§ Mr. Rhodes
Order 1305 has only partly superseded the 1937 Order. I mentioned the 1937 Order, which came out of the 1934 Act. The hon. Gentleman must realise that it is not obligatory to carry out the Moelwyn Hughes recommendations, which came out in the Cotton Manufacturing Commission Report. The hon. Gentleman is misleading the Committee.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I said that the Commission reported in 1948; I said it was a 1355 very good report, and that efforts were made to get the industry to adopt it. There is nothing obligatory about it at all, and the proof of that pudding is that some of the industry adopted it. We now have the rather anomalous situation—and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree with me here—that part of the industry is based on the Moelwyn Hughes structure and part is based on the Uniform List, and if one wanted to pick the worst possible time to alter a temporary provision into a permanent provision it would be at the very moment when the industry is at the point of change from one wage structure to another.
§ Mrs. Castle
Surely the hon. Gentleman realises that it does not follow that the Uniform List will be completely abolished. The need is for legal sanction, whatever list is adopted, or else there will be two systems, probably indefinitely.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I will give the Committee the reason why we wish this to be continued under the temporary expiring provisions for another year. It is so that we can see how the balance between the Uniform List procedure and the Moelwyn Hughes Commission procedure will develop. That is the view of Her Majesty's Government.
I admit the difficulty of getting some of these documents, but I do think hon. Gentlemen opposite might have briefed themselves a bit better on this before taking part in this discussion, and introducing something which is hardly relevant but may be much more relevant next year or the year after when the balance in the industry is much more clearly seen. I want to make this plain. Again I think that it arises from the complete misunderstanding of hon. Members opposite of the 1934 Act. Of course, if my right hon. and learned Friend is approached by both sides of the industry, who say to him that they want certain things done—and I suppose that if they wish to do so they could say that they wanted some legislation based on the Moelwyn Hughes Report, or the 1934 Act and the Uniform List perpetuated—he would be delighted to listen to those recommendations; but I cannot commit my right hon. and learned Friend to any decision on recommendations that have not been made. That is the point, that 1356 no recommendations have been made to us at all on this matter—no official recommendations from the unions or employers. It is our experience that they are satisfied that the 1934 Act and the 1937 Order are working satisfactorily, and that they are entirely happy and satisfied with the Act in its present form.
On that basis, I do not see that I can do other than say that we certainly cannot accept the Amendment, and that Her Majesty's Government think that it is entirely the right and proper thing to continue this Act under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill for another year, to give us greater experience as to how the balance between the Moelwyn Hughes provisions and the Uniform List is going to work out.
I have made it plain that at any time my right hon. and learned Friend will be delighted to have any representations from both sides of the textile industry. But that is no argument for doing anything on this matter tonight but refusing the Amendment—however much one might like to accept it, because it would be the worse thing that could possibly happen for hon. Gentlemen opposite representing Lancashire to get this Amendment passed tonight. If I wanted to do them a bad turn, the best thing that I could do would be to accept the Amendment right away. We do not do that because it is our view that the industry and its continued success is far more important than anything else. Therefore, we reject the Amendment, and we consider that the Act should be continued for another year as an annual expiring Act.
§ Mr. Rhodes
Would the Parliamentary Secretary give it as his opinion that the provisions of the 1934 Act should only apply to those areas geographically mentioned in the Act, or whether they should apply elsewhere?
§ Mr. Watkinson
I admit that the hon. Gentleman did ask me specific questions, and I apologise for not having answered them. I will answer them now, but I did not want to detain the Committee unduly long. He asked me whether the Act covered rayon, and the answer is that it does. He also asked me whether it covered Scotland, and the answer is that in the geographical Schedule, Scotland is not mentioned.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
The Parliamentary Secretary has gone a little far, I think, in complaining that hon. Members on this side of the Committee had not studied the Acts and did not know what was in them. That was the gist of what he was saying. The reason for rejecting the case that has been made has largely been that he has sprung both the Moelwyn Hughes recommendations and the Uniform List on us as a reason for not making this Act permanent. Let me first assure him that it is not my intention to vote for the Amendment tonight. When he says that he would embarrass Lancashire Members on this side of the Committee by accepting out of hand, as he says, this Amendment, let me remind him that it is the Committee and not he nor the Government who decide this matter. In fact we shall quite obviously, in due course, ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, but he did make a number of points which I think should be answered.
One point was, "Why did no one in the last seven years provide for this legislation to be made permanent?" Surely he does not need to be told again that the situation today is different from what it has been during the last seven years.
§ Mr. Watkinson
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will also quote me as saying that I said that was a sterile argument.
§ Mr. Shackleton
Then why did the hon. Gentleman make the argument at all? It is all very well to put an argument up to be considered and then to shoot one's opponent down in advance by saying that the argument is not worth answering. He also made another point which has some bearing on this matter. He said that only once in the past few years has an Order been made. He must know that it is precisely the underlying moral influence of the fact that an Order can be made that is so important to the cotton industry and the workers in that industry at the moment.
§ Mr. Shackleton
In that case we agree that it is valuable, and we think that it should be made permanent. He was at some pains to explain—and we are all glad to recognise the fact—that there has been a great improvement in the Lancashire cotton industry. But there has 1358 been much more improvement on the spinning side than on the weaving side, and it is with the weaving side that we are mainly concerned. Much of this improvement apparently has come about as a result of finding other jobs outside the cotton industry for displaced cotton employees.
We look on the prospects of Lancashire—as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does and all hon. Members do in this Committee—with a good deal of anxiety in the face of the competition in the world and the lack of purchasing power at home. I do not propose to develop the argument at any great length as to how far the Chancellor of the Exchequer's policy of depressing consumer power in this country is responsible for that situation; but it is a factor. It may or may not be a sound policy, but it is part of the picture.
We feel that there is obviously going to be a period during which the operatives position from a negotiating point of view, particularly in those areas where there is a much greater concentration on cotton alone and much less diversity of industry, will need to be safeguarded. We feel that there is the need to give them greater protection than is done under an Act of Parliament which, at any moment, the Government may seek the authority of the House not to renew. Therefore, we do ask again that, between now and next year, the Government will give very serious consideration to enshrining this legislation in some permanent form. If the Minister does that, I am sure that he will deserve the approval of Lancashire.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
I want to say only a few words. I think that everyone on both sides of the Committee will agree that this debate has been well worthwhile if only for the spotlighting of certain conditions in Lancashire—actual conditions and prospective conditions. I feel that some very useful points have been put forward in the course of the debate, and I think that the Government and the Minister of Labour in particular will be well-advised to take note of some of the warning signals given in this debate.
I happened to be in Lancashire during the period between the two world wars, from 1920 to 1940, and I was very closely connected with the trade union movement in Lancashire. I should, therefore, like to assure the Committee that when this particular Act was passed in 1934 it brought 1359 a sense of new security into the lives of the working people in this industry in Lancashire, at a time when they were practically giving up all hope of having any sense of security in the industry.
The Parliamentary Secretary made rather an astounding statement, in my opinion, when he said that this was not a relevant argument in 1953. He said that conditions may have been so bad in 1934 that something of this kind was justifiable then, but he also said that those conditions have so changed that in 1953 there is no risk whatsoever.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I do not want the hon. Gentleman to misrepresent me entirely. I said that what I was interested in, and what I thought the industry was interested in, was what the prospects were for 1953 and 1954, and not in some very interesting history about an enlightened Conservative Minister of Labour in 1934.
§ Mr. Williams
I do not know about the "enlightened" Minister of Labour in 1934. I should imagine that a great deal of pressure from the Liberal and Labour benches had to be brought to bear on him before he came to consider the action which he did in the Bill, and also pressure from the trade unions too. I well remember the agitation in trade union circles in Lancashire at that period.
In this Committee we must not be too optimistic in regard to the slight changes which have taken place in the cotton industry. The Parliamentary Secretary said that unemployment had gone down from 82,000 to 29,000, but, in answer to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), he had to admit that a large number, perhaps 35,000 or 40,000, had left the industry for alternative industry and, as a result, 40,000 fewer people would be available to the cotton industry if and when there came into being some of the schemes we are hoping for.
§ Mr. Williams
Also, they are not registering as unemployed now. In addition to those factors, I should like to know the cotton export figures for the last five or six months. So far we have dealt largely with the home front but the matter of exports is becoming 1360 most important having regard to the competition not only from Japan, but also from India, the U.S.A. and certain European countries. We ought not to be too complacent about the situation in the Lancashire textile industry. We cannot be complacent about the rayon industry either. I know something about what has been happening in the rayon mills in Flintshire recently. The situation is very bad there as well as in Lancashire.
The arguments of my hon. Friends have been very sound. They ask why, if the Measure was necessary and desirable in 1934 in order to meet circumstances which were causing anxiety to the workers and the trade unions, it should be wrong for the Measure to be adopted on a permanent basis now when we may be facing a similar crisis in the industry.
I take it that, as a result of the debate, today, the Minister and his right hon. and learned Friend will be approaching both sides of the industry to find out if legislation of a permanent character on the Statute Book is desired. I see the Parliamentary Secretary shaking his head. He has not given us any argument to prove that that is not necessary. We believe there is an obligation upon him and the Minister to make sure that legislation similar to this is brought into permanent use in order to give the industry and the workers the sense of security which they had under the 1934 Act and to which they are entitled today.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
We of the Opposition are getting used to our efforts to help the Government being somewhat coldly received. I was sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary thought fit to reflect on the Chair by describing much of the discussion today as not being relevant to the problem and by reflecting on hon. Members by suggesting that there has been some waste of time. The most effective way to waste the time of the House of Commons is for a Government to continue year after year to introduce temporary legislation which ought to be on a permanent basis.
The Parliamentary Secretary has tried to be placatory. It was not apparent throughout his speech, but he said that during the next 12 months the temporary legislation will be continued so that the Government can obtain further experience. We hope that in 12 months' time 1361 there will be a different Government which will not hesitate to accept the suggestions we have made. As the Parliamentary Secretary is to learn from experience during the next 12 months, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 12 to 14.
This Amendment relates to the Road Traffic Act, 1934. I hope the fact that we are moving Amendments will not lead to the assumption that we automatically wish to divide on these issues. There is a case for exploring the Government's mind, if it has a mind, and for finding out what its policy and attitudes are on a number of these important Acts which the Committee is being asked to renew for the next 12 months.
Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, which the Government ask us to renew, deals with the 30 m.p.h. speed limit, and it is our desire to find out the Government's attitude to the speed limit. The 30 m.p.h. speed limit was originally an experiment introduced in 1934 for a period of five years, to be renewed thereafter at the will and pleasure of Parliament. Since that time successive Governments have renewed it annually.
I am not at all sure that would have happened had the outbreak of the war not coincided with the end of the first five-year period. It might well have been that a Parliament with more time on its hands would have considered whether the 30 m.p.h. speed limit was the right means of trying to curb the number of road accidents which had been troubling the House when the legislation was first imposed.
However, that is what happened in 1940 and the provision was subsequently renewed and, because the Labour Government of 1945 had a substantial programme of beneficent legislation which brought the country through the post-war period in a manner unexampled in any other country in Europe, or, indeed, the world, it seemed to us desirable that we should also renew the legislation annually.
But now we are faced with a different situation. The Government has legislation about which—I have not the 1362 slightest desire to be controversial—there is a difference of opinion as to its merits. We feel that there is now probably a case for a more detailed review of the 30 m.p.h. speed limit than we have had for some time past. I want the Parliamentary Secretary, whom we are all glad to see here, to tell us what his view is about the effect of the 30 m.p.h. speed limit on road safety. He is the Chairman of the Ministry's Road Safety Committee, a most important job. It is a post which a number of Parliamentary Secretaries have occupied, and one which engrosses everyone who has to undertake it.
I want to know whether the Parliamentary Secretary has recently passed under review the question whether the 30 m.p.h. speed limit has been a major contributory factor in reducing the number of road accidents, the toll of which horrifies the country every time it is made aware of it but which seems to pass almost unnoticed daily in the newspapers.
I hazard the guess that when Parliament originally imposed the 30 m.p.h. speed limit in an attempt to reduce accidents it did not fully realise that the majority of the accidents in our cities and towns are caused not by the speed at which vehicles travel but by the density of traffic at busy street intersections.
The number of black dots which appear on the maps I have seen have convinced me that the places where we have to beware of accidents are in the centre of cities and towns, and at the intersection of streets where traffic is heavy. It may well be the case, therefore, that if there has been any reduction in the number of accidents at these places it is due, not so much to the operation of the 30 m.p.h. speed limit as the erection of guard chains at these points; because it is the case that at most of these intersections people are not driving at 30 m.p.h., and could not do so in any case.
I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he has any statistics or evidence to show how far the number of accidents caused is reduced when guard chains are put up, in comparison with the 30 m.p.h. speed limit which we are being asked to renew. I would hazard a guess that in the suburbs where the speed limit operates it is the overtaking of one vehicle by another, and the different speeds at which vehicles travel which makes for 1363 accidents; and it might be that the safety of a 30 m.p.h speed limit is more apparent than real.
It would be wrong to abolish the 30 m.p.h. speed limit in the towns, because it would remove a feeling of protection which many people enjoy. But even so, when, in the recesses of the Ministry of Transport, they are analysing these things, they might try to show what is the real truth about the situation, and whether the segregation of traffic, the prevention of overtaking, guard chains, and those sort of precautions, are more valuable in reducing the number of accidents, the toll of which horrifies the nation every year.
I would ask what review is undertaken, or is being undertaken, of the number of roads subject to the 30 m.p.h. speed limit? There should be a constant review which would turn upon the volume of traffic using the roads, the number of accidents, the built-up nature of the road, and so on. That should be constantly going on. I know that the work of the Ministry is limited by the number of staff and that these things cannot always be done. But when the initiative in putting on a limit is left to the local authorities, and when, in any question of taking off the 30 m.p.h. speed limit, the initiative usually comes from the Minister—who is held to be a creature in Whitehall who is trying to destroy the safety of local residents—there may well be good cause for such a periodical review.
There is the converse position of areas which are being de-restricted. I spent my summer holidays this year in Cornwall and I went to Tintagel. While there I visited King Arthur's Hotel. As many hon. Members will know, there is one narrow road which takes a visitor to the entrance of the hotel. Once he has entered the drive and gone for 150 yards, he can glide into the broad waters of the Atlantic. I was interested to see that five yards from the entrance to the hotel there is a de-restriction sign, indicating that anybody is entitled to drive at more than 30 m.p.h., if he desires.
I do not know for how many years that sign has been there. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will be anxious to disclaim any responsibility for it on behalf of his Government. Perhaps it was put there in the bad old days before the war, and nobody has looked at it since. 1364 That is a small illustration of the importance of a regular review in order to realise the consequences of what we are doing.
Another point I would make regarding this limit, and one which I think the Committee ought to keep in mind, is that there is a tendency, when we have a limit of this sort, for people to be encouraged to drive up to that figure. If the limit is 30 m.p.h. one is within the law if one is driving at 29 m.p.h. Obviously, people do not carry on with that qualification, which is that one drives up to the limit of safety and that the maximum is 30 m.p.h. There is a great temptation to drive in such a restricted area at just under 30 m.p.h. so as to be within the limit. That is another consideration which should weigh with the Ministry in this matter.
I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether there are any areas for which a speed limit lower than 30 m.p.h. is proposed. I believe that there are one or two such areas in the country. In these days, when the number of heavy vehicles on the roads is increasing, and the number of military vehicles which do not fall within the terms of the Regulations laid down regarding the maximum width, and all the rest of it, is also growing, there may be places where consideration should be given to whether 30 m.p.h. is a sufficient restriction.
As the Parliamentary Secretary will remember, there was a case recently, involving a military vehicle belonging to one of our Allies, in which the driver said that he had no knowledge at all of the Regulations laid down for the safety of people in this country. I questioned the Minister about this, and I am aware that the Ministry are looking into this aspect of the matter. But all these things are important.
It is right to continue the speed limit of 30 m.p.h. in built-up areas; but, nevertheless, we should be giving ourselves a false sense of comfort if we assumed that, by doing so, we were automatically promoting safety. Such a speed limit is one of the minor measures in the promotion of safety. Other measures may well be far more important and, taken in conjunction with the operation of a 30 m.p.h. speed limit, may well prove the means of reducing the dreadful toll of road accidents.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I am sure that many members of the public would be very surprised to learn that legislation to legalise the familiar traffic signs denoting a 30 m.p.h. speed limit and the de-restricted area signs has to be renewed year by year; and that there is no statutory authority to keep such signs erected permanently unless this House of Commons passes the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill each year. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said that in 1934 all the essentials of the speed limit in built-up areas were embodied in Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act of that year, and subsection (10) of that Section permits all the provisions of the Section to remain in operation for five years. After that they have to be renewed by the method we are now debating.
It is surprising that those familiar signs, and the habits of motorists and pedestrians who have become accustomed to the limitation of speed in built-up areas, should rest upon such a temporary statutory footing. As my hon. Friend mentioned, but for the war probably something would have been done before now to make more permanent either the original provisions of Section 1 of the 1934 Act, or some modification of them. We all understand how, during the war, the House of Commons and the public had a great many other things to do. So long as there was an easy way of continuing what seemed to be reasonably satisfactory arrangements for limiting the speed of motor vehicles in built-up areas nobody desired to stop to consider the details of permanent legislation.
It may be that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, like the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour a few moments ago, will say: "Yes, but this could have been made permanent or something else could have been put into its place and made permanent in the last seven years, when a Labour Government were in office." The Labour Government were pre-occupied with good works—[Interruption.] Yes, with very important good works. Important as this question of the speed limit in built-up areas was, the building up of the Welfare State and the nationalisation of the essential industries of transport and coal obviously had a greater claim on the time of the Labour Government. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite 1366 have no good works on hand at all. They have, in fact, been scratching around for something to do other than the denationalisation of steel and road transport. They have got a little—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir A. Hudson)
The hon. Gentleman had better confine his remarks to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Houghton
Yes, Sir Austin, but I am anticipating the possible reply from the Government benches to the criticism that I am making that Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, is being included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill when hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite should be introducing permanent legislation to deal with these matters. I am criticising them for including this Section yet again in the expiring laws which are to be continued.
I was taking some guidance from the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour to the criticisms with regard to the inclusion of the preceding item in the First Schedule to the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, whatever else he may say by way of excuse for having to rely on the expedient of continuing this legislation for a further year, will not say that the Labour Government could have done so, and that therefore we have no ground for criticising the present Government for not attempting it.
Having disposed of that possible criticism, I will now pass to another aspect of the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East has been asking the Parliamentary Secretary a few questions. I am sure that by now, 18 years after the introduction of the main principles of the speed limit in built-up areas, Her Majesty's Government should have some pretty firm idea whether this is a satisfactory way of dealing with road safety in built-up areas; and if not, whether there are any Amendments to propose.
I admit at once that in many respects we are still in the field of experiment on the vital question of road safety. While time goes on, the density of road transport is increasing, the efficiency of vehicles is being improved, the recklessness of some drivers is increasing, and indifference to danger on the part of many 1367 pedestrians is increasing. In fact, all sorts of manifestations of carelessness and of indifference to road safety are probably causing the authorities to think still more about precautions and means of saving life on the roads. We have introduced recently the experiment of pedestrian crossings upon which it is more safe to cross than on the previous crossings. That is in the field of experiment, and none would make so bold as to say whether or not they are a complete success.
Another aspect of the matter which must be causing anxiety is the great increase in the number of motor cycles on the roads. I hope it is not an unfair criticism, but from my observation, the motor cycles appear to be driven for the most part by young men who fail to heed many of the elementary precautions for road safety. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary would wish it to go out from this Committee that the speed limit provided for in this Section of the 1934 Act which the Minister proposes to renew for a further year applies to motor cyclists as well as to motorists. That is perhaps a necessary reminder to many people on motor cycles. Whenever I am observing the law in a built-up area and keeping my speed limit down to 30 miles an hour, I invariably find that motor cyclists pass me with impunity.
The death rate among motor cyclists and the accidents caused by reckless driving of motor cycles appear to be causing some anxiety. I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree in general that the time has come when a new and extensive code of road safety precautions should be embodied in more comprehensive and permanent legislation. The strange thing is that although the speed limit in a built-up area is to be found in the law of the land the Highway Code is not, and that there is little statutory authority behind the Highway Code. Yet we have very strict statutory authority for the provisions of the speed limit in built-up areas and for the conditions under which local authorities may, with the consent of the Minister, restrict or de-restrict particular stretches of road for the purposes of the 1934 Act.
There may be grounds, too, for reviewing the conditions under which local 1368 authorities deal with proposals for restriction and de-restriction. My reading of Section 1 of the 1934 Act is that, while certain authorities have powers of initiative in this matter, they may propose to de-restrict a road which has the necessary system of street lighting to enable it to be restricted, or they may restrict a road which has not the lighting system which would otherwise normally lead to restriction. They can take these steps only after consultation with the chief constable and with the consent of the Minister.
My experience in one local authority has been that the Minister does not agree with what the local authority wants to do. I would ask whether the experience of a local authority may not be a more valuable guide than the abstract judgment of the Minister as to whether a particular piece of road should be de-restricted as restricted. I have had personal experience of that. There was a stretch of road opposite my house where the lighting system conformed with that stipulated in this section of the 1934 Act. The local authority were in favour of restricting this stretch of road, but in 1938 the Minister had decided apparently that, notwithstanding the fact that it was a lighted stretch of road, it should be de-restricted. These are difficulties which no doubt will have to be ironed out when more permanent legislation is introduced.
I conclude by asking the Minister whether he can forecast the time when we are likely to have more permanent legislation to deal with this and other matters affecting road safety. He and I in other Parliaments have bandied our words on taxation but not on road transport or road safety. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Income Tax has been a temporary one now for just over 100 years. If we go on with the Expiring Laws Continuance Bills year by year, the 30 m.p.h. limit sign and the de-restriction sign will be temporarily renewals of an original Act of Parliament passed as long ago as the Income Tax Act of 1842.
I do not suppose for a moment that the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will have charge of any Bill which seeks to embody in more permanent legislation the temporary provisions of the 1934 Act if we go for the full run of 100 years, but I am sure he will wish in the life-time of this Parliament, which may be brief and 1369 the end of which may be salutary for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, to leave some permanent record of this period of office; something by which he will be remembered, as was one of his distinguished predecessors, by putting on the Statute Book a charter of road safety that will make our roads safe for both motorists and pedestrians alike.
§ Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)
I am by no means convinced that more permanent legislation is needed for the matters which come under the consideration of this Bill today. On these matters I think that an annual review is a good thing. It is alarming to think that all the signs on the roads might have to be pulled down because of the thoroughly frivolous intention of hon. Members opposite to try to stop the course of Government business, but in any case the signs themselves have no legal significance.
One can drive over that speed in an area where there is a 30 m.p.h. sign and still be within the law, because the law does not say that one must not drive over that speed in an area where there is such a sign, but that one must not drive a car more than 30 m.p.h. along a road where the lamp posts are not more than 200 yards apart. There was a case last year when a motorist said, in his defence, that although there was a restricted sign, the lamp posts were, in fact, more than 200 yards apart, and he got away with it.
This annual review gives us the opportunity of asking questions. Following the hon. Gentleman opposite, who asked if it is impossible to impose something less than a 30 m.p.h. limit, I want to ask whether it is possible, in certain circumstances, to impose a speed limit of more than 30 m.p.h. In my constituency I have the Great West Road and my local authority have expressed a point of view which should have carried greater weight than that of the Ministry, namely, that there could usefully be on the Great West Road a speed limit of 40 or 45 m.p.h.
I think that traffic lights on a high road which has no speed limit are a danger to the public. I repeat what I have said before in this House, that where there is no speed limit cars rush along this road and, when the yellow light appears, the drivers think they are going too fast to slow 1370 up, try to beat the lights by accelerating and quite often cross on the red. That could be met by a speed limit not of 30 m.p.h., which is a bit slow for a main arterial road, but one of 40 or 45 miles an hour.
Would the Minister reconsider this matter, bearing in mind that the local authority are strongly of the opinion that something should be done in view of the mounting toll of accidents with which my constituency is cursed? A number of people have been killed in the last few months and I submit that there is a good case for introducing a speed limit of more than 30 m.p.h.
§ Mr. Frank Anderson (Whitehaven)
I shall not detain the Committee for more than a few minutes. It is not often that I take up the time of hon. Members, but I want to speak about our country roads and, in particular, those along which our school children have to walk long distances where there are awkward bends and corners and on which there is no speed limit. When this part of the Act is being reviewed, something will have to be done about our country roads as well as those in built-up areas.
When it is raining hard young children run serious risks when walking along country roads because private motorists and drivers of large road vehicles can travel at high speeds. In view of the increasing number of children who have to walk to school it is more important than ever that attention should be given to this aspect of road safety.
With regard to the competence of motorists to drive, if they understand the regulations—
§ Mr. Anderson
It says:Subject to the provisions of this Act, it shall not be lawful for any person to drive a motor vehicle on a road in a built up area at a speed exceeding thirty miles per hour.
§ The Temporary Chairman
That has nothing to do with the competence of the driver. The hon. Member must keep within the rules of order.
§ Mr. Anderson
I only mentioned that for the purpose of making another point, Sir Austin. I was saying that drivers pass the test if they know the regulations, but 1371 they are not taught how to deal with emergencies.
My reason for mentioning the fact was that some drivers may not know how to control their cars on certain types of road in an emergency. From the standpoint of road safety the important point is not that a man observes a 30 m.p.h. limit but what control he has of his car under such circumstances. I will not say more on that point, except that if this is to be reviewed from the standpoint of safety, it should be done from the point of view that the driver has full control of his car.
There is one other matter to which I should like to refer in connection with the speed limit. Many farmers use main country roads to transfer their cattle from their fields or farms. These roads, which have no footpaths, have become a serious danger to the pedestrian because of the fact that no regulations are laid down for the control of cattle or sheep upon them. In the area which I represent a large number of farmers must from time to time bring their cattle on to the main roads, and there is no protection whatever for motorists. The cattle can be coming out of the gateway of a field—
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I cannot allow the hon. Member to continue with that. It has nothing whatever to do with Section 1 of the 1934 Act, which deals solely with the 30 m.p.h. limit.
§ Mr. Anderson
With great respect, Sir Austin, I am referring to roads which are not restricted, and where dangers arise and accidents occur. If I correctly understand the 30 m.p.h. limit, it was imposed to avoid accidents. If so, I feel that all that I have said should be taken into account when the 30 m.p.h. limit is again under consideration.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Gurney Braithwaite)
As you, Sir Austin, have reminded us, we are here on the single issue of whether the 30 m.p.h. speed limit should be continued for a further 12 months after 31st December next. I will, if I may, refresh the memories of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee as to the history of this matter.
1372 Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, which it is now proposed to continue for a further year, imposed the general speed limit of 30 m.p.h. in built-up areas until 31st December, 1939,and no longer, unless Parliament otherwise determines.This limitation was accepted by the Government of the day as it was urged at the time that so experimental a proposal should be open to review after five years. Parliament decided by the inclusion of the Section in the Schedule to the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, 1939, war having broken out some two months previously, to prolong the operation of the speed limit for a further year, thereby preserving the position that Parliament would be able to review the operation of the speed limit before deciding whether it would be permanently extended. Ever since that time, this Section has been prolonged year by year under successive Governments until 31st December, 1952, by inclusion annually in the Expiring Laws Continuance Acts.
The inclusion of the Section in the present Bill for a further year is, in the opinion of my right hon. Friend, essential. There is, I think, general acceptance that there should be a speed limit in closely built-up areas, although there may be differences of opinion as to what the limit should be. I remind the Committee that the Alness Committee, which examined this problem in 1938, stated clearly that in their viewthe principle of a speed limit must be retained.When the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) was Chairman of the Road Safety Committee, in his capacity as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport of that day, they strongly supported in their interim report of 1944 the continuance of a 30 m.p.h. speed limit in built-up areas.
The general speed limit of 30 m.p.h. is, I agree, a somewhat controversial subject, as my hon. Friend the Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) reminded us. For one thing, the observance of it is far from ideal, but it is generally agreed that it has done a great deal of good, particularly at the outset, and has not been the complete dead letter which the old universal limit of 20 m.p.h. in the original Motor Car Act had become until its abolition in 1930.
1373 I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) will recall that in 1949, when he had the task—and a fascinating task it is—of being Chairman of the Road Safety Committee, that Committee reported to the then Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes), on the subject of speed limits. I should like to quote the words to which the hon. Gentleman put his name at that time:Safety on the road is the major consideration and a speed limit is a safety measure which should be imposed wherever justified and appropriate. …We have given careful thought to the question whether the general speed limit should be reduced below 30 miles per hour. In our view, the present limit of 30 miles per hour is reasonable and is accepted as such by the public.Those were the words of the Road Safety Committee in 1949. I hope, therefore, that there will be general agreement among hon. Members that this speed limit is desirable in the interests of road safety.
Perhaps I may now deal with the matter raised by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton): the statutory definition of what is a built-up area for the purpose of the Act. It was based at the time on the existence of street lamps not more than 200 yards apart. Powers were also given to the Minister of the day to approve proposals—this is typical Parliamentary phraseology—that an unlit road be deemed to be built-up, and that a lit road be deemed to be not built-up. In other words, there could be flexibility in an attempt to impose the limit where desirable, without being too rigid as to the number of street lamps or the intervals at which they happened to be placed.
It is our view that one of the surest methods of allowing respect for the speed limit to diminish further would be to allow roads to remain subject to the restriction when there is no justification for it. We therefore encourage, quite deliberately, the making of de-restriction orders in such cases, although hon. Members will realise that local opinion is liable to be hostile to any such proposal.
I should like to give one or two figures which are of interest. Hon. Members may like to know that in all, some 1.420 1374 orders have been made, that approximately 1,220 miles of lit roads have been freed from speed limit, and that about 1,935 miles of unlit roads have been made subject to it. I know, however, that there is some general criticism of the criteria adopted for deciding whether a road should be considered to be built-up; and by this I refer once again to the spacing of street lamps.
As towns expand and amenities improve, more and more lamps are erected and this automatically increases the number of restricted roads. The Ministry, however, try to de-restrict roads which become automatically restricted and where the need for a speed limit is not generally apparent. But I add immediately that my right hon. Friend is not definitely wedded to that idea, and that we hope before too long—I cannot give a date—to introduce to the House a comprehensive Road Traffic Bill, in which we intend, among other things—there are, as hon. Members will realise, a number of matters awaiting attention: rear lighting, and so on—to seek authority to make the power to impose the speed limit permanent.
Before we do that, we will be quite ready to consider whether there is any better method of dealing with this question, but our present feeling is that although the street lamp test is not always accurate, it provides a useful means of deciding whether a road is actually built-up. I am sure that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East when he occupied my chair at the Ministry, yearned for the opportunity to legislate on this matter. He must have had hopes that in the lifetime of his right hon. and hon. Friends in office, something would be done. He told us that they were so busily engaged in the passing of beneficent legislation that there was no time for such activity. The hon. Member for Sowerby told us in so many words that nationalisation was more important than the saving of life on the roads.
Yes, the hon. Member did; let him study the OFFICIAL REPORT in the morning. I am speaking within the recollection of the Committee. Certainly he said that nationalisation must have priority over these other matters, and it did.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East has risen like a trout to the fly I cast. He has made precisely the interruption for which I was angling. While the Socialist Government regarded nationalisation as a matter which should take priority over a Road Traffic Bill to endeavour to deal with this difficult problem, this Government, as I have announced, regards it as of equal importance to the far more beneficent legislation we are passing for the benefit of the country.
§ Mr. Houghton
If what the hon. Gentleman has just said is the inference he has drawn from what I said, with great respect it was a disgraceful inference to draw. I referred to "good works" comprehensively and not to nationalisation specifically. The good works I referred to included the building of the Welfare State, care of the sick and aged and the provision of a National Health Service, all of which on more comprehensive lines were, perhaps, saving more lives than the introduction of legislation on road safety.
If the hon. Member makes disgraceful remarks he must not complain if people draw disgraceful conclusions from them. I am speaking within the recollection of the Committee and the hon. Member will study the OFFICIAL REPORT in the morning, as I am sure will his constituents.
On this important topic of the speed limit my Department always work in closest co-operation with the police who are responsible for the enforcement of the speed limit and who fully realise the importance of keeping traffic down to a safe speed in built-up areas. But the Committee are now confronted with a very important decision. This I gather is an official Opposition Amendment because it was moved from the Front Bench. It would have the effect, if carried, of the 30 m.p.h. speed limit disappearing after the 31st of this month. I do not know how public opinion would react to that. I shall advise my hon. Friends to resist this proposal coming from the Socialist Party. It would be a 1376 disastrous decision in my view as the speed limit has made—I would not say the major, but—certainly a great contribution to the reduction of road casualties
We have all been pleased to see during the present year a steady decline in the figures of road casualties and, please God, that will continue. I think this is a cause of satisfaction to us all in view of the fact that there are 260,000 more vehicles on the roads than there were a year ago. Various factors have tended to bring this about, and not least the guard rails which the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East mentioned. I regret that I have not the figures for which he asked on this subject, but I will endeavour to obtain them if he puts down a Question.
On all counts, I must ask the Committee to resist this reactionary and retrograde proposal that the speed limit should now disappear.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
At least we have managed to get one trout on our line. We have toiled, like the disciples of old, and this is the first time we have seen anything like a catch, although it is only something which is a very tentative nibble. The Parliamentary Secretary assures us that at some time his right hon. Friend hopes to introduce a Road Traffic Bill. I can only say that if his right hon. Friend gets a Measure next year as well as a Measure this year he will be more fortunate than most Ministers of Transport have been. I think it as well that we should recognise that my hon. Friend's Amendment has at least drawn that promise from the Parliamentary Secretary. The hon. Gentleman cannot complain that the time we have spent on this Amendment has been wasted, for it has enabled him at least to make the first agreeable pronouncement we have had here today.
I should like to express sympathy with other hon. Members of the Committee that the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. F. Harris) has not been able to make the contribution to our debate which he intended to make. He did show some pluck because when an hon. Member, described in "Dod's Parliamentary Companion" as the "Joint Deputy Government Chief Whip" spoke to him he did rise and show some preliminary signs of response; but then, while the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) was speaking, in stalked the Chief 1377 Whip and the look he gave the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth was not one that a back bencher regards as a sign of great favour. He turned to the hon. Member for Croydon, North and said, "You do not want to speak," loud enough for us on this side of the Committee to hear.
§ Mr. Ede
After all, he was more polite with the hon. Member, who is young and might even be reckless. The strange thing is that the hon. Member does not now want to speak. Therefore, the Committee apparently have to proceed to the next business without the assistance of his contribution. After all he has shown that he has something to contribute. I would say to him, and he will appreciate the reason for the reference, that for him now it is a case of "Now or never." If he desires to prove to his constituents in Croydon, North that he is a worthy Member of the Committee not to be silenced by black looks and threatening words, let him now stand forth and declare it or else let him rest assured that it is for ever after that he will have to hold his peace.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I think it was a little naïve of the Parliamentary Secretary, when he referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and my hon. Friend's remarks about good works of the Labour Government, to try to garland himself with the special virtue that in a few years' time he might be introducing a comprehensive Measure for road transport. After all, it will be a natural consequence of the present Transport Bill and will be because he is wishing upon the people the evils of de-nationalisation, reorganisation and all the other "botherisations" to which this Government subject people that such a Measure will be rendered absolutely inevitable.
I wish to say one or two words about something the Parliamentary Secretary said in reference to the present Act and the way in which it has been functioning. He said that there has been derestriction of 1,420 miles of road which had been subject to the 30 m.p.h. limit. He added this caused a certain amount of criticism from local authorities. That was an 1378 understatement. I am really surprised at the hon. Gentleman and at right hon. and hon. Members who sit behind him who for years spoke sneeringly about men in Whitehall knowing best, now presuming as Ministers of Transport or Parliamentary Secretaries to tell local authorities which areas should be and which should not be subject to the 30 m.p.h. limit.
The Minister himself referred to the fact that he has powers to override the wishes of local authorities and has used those powers under the Act we are continuing tonight. I represent a constituency the main burgh of which, Kilmarnock, has probably the finest record in road safety in the whole of Scotland. It is a very busy traffic area, the junction of many busy roads to the South. For two years it had not a single fatal accident. In a part of the area to the south of the burgh there is a long line of old houses, right on the road from Kilmarnock to Ayr.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland knows this road very well, a picturesque row of cottages with the wonderful name of "Peace and Plenty." There may be plenty as a result of a Labour Government but there is certainly no peace because it is on the main road from Glasgow, which passes through Kilmarnock to the seaside, to Ayr, and Troon to Girvan. Everyone who knows that road knows that on Sunday and at the week-end it is like a motor race track. What kind of peace have fathers and mothers there about their children at week-ends when they are playing or coming from Sunday school, or on weekdays when they are coming from school?
The local authority decided that they should be subject to a 30 m.p.h. speed limit, and it actually was for a time. Then, probably to suit the convenience of motorists, and after all it can save a motorist at the very most only about 30 seconds, this stretch of road was freed from the restriction. Since then there have been fatal accidents affecting the people living in that small strip of old cottages. In stating that there was a certain amount of criticism, the Parliamentary Secretary did rather slide over the matter.
My objection to the Parliamentary Secretary's speech is that this matter is far too serious to be subject to the flippancies which he trotted out regarding the remark of my hon. Friend the Mem- 1379 ber for Sowerby. If the Parliamentary Secretary is speaking about road safety, and the deaths of children and women, let him take the matter seriously and not come here like a buffoon making these light-hearted speeches in which he indulges. I sincerely hope that this question of the powers of the local authority and the ability of the Minister of Transport to override the local authority will again be looked into, and that when this Bill comes along the Parliamentary Secretary will see to it that the Minister has not these overriding powers.
§ Mr. Houghton
I am sorry to impose myself for a second time on the Committee, but I really must reinforce the rebuke just uttered by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). The Parliamentary Secretary behaves in a most extraordinary fashion. What I said in the course of my remarks, in anticipation of a possible criticism by the hon. Gentleman that the Labour Government had had an opportunity during 6½ years of making permanent the provisions of Section 1 of the 1934 Act, was that we were busily occupied with good works. I mentioned that those good works included the building up of the Welfare State and the nationalisation of essential industries.
I was explaining not why we had not got a speed limit but why we had not made that speed limit permanent, an entirely different matter. And yet the hon. Gentleman, with that careless abandon with which he can sometimes throw out the gravest and most unjustified accusations, said, "The hon. Gentleman's Government apparently put nationalisation before the saving of the lives of women and children on the roads," a perfectly monstrous inference to draw from what I said.
Then, when I got up to explain that he had drawn a wrong inference, he said, "If the hon. Member makes disgraceful statements, he must expect disgraceful inferences to be drawn from them." What was disgraceful in explaining why we had not made permanent legislation which we renewed from year to year so that the public outside—the motorist—while not knowing the difference between a temporary speed limit and a permanent one, knew there was a speed limit. Surely that was beneficial to road safety.
1380 The criticism I was making against hon. Gentlemen opposite was that they had no good works, that they were scratching around for odds and ends to introduce in the House, apart from the major Bills for de-nationalisation, and I was suggesting that here was an opportunity for them to apply their minds to some useful legislation and to introduce a comprehensive road traffic Bill, which the hon. Gentleman now says they intend to do if only the electorate will give them the political lease of life with which to do it. That is all I have to say. I hope that the hon. Gentleman considers himself completely and adequately crushed because he made an impertinent observation and drew a disgraceful inference from what I said, and if I were Prime Minister I would sack him tomorrow.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman's indignation has been thus aroused. I really cannot act as the keeper of his guilty conscience.
§ Mr. Callaghan
If the Parliamentary Secretary has any sensitivity at all he will probably reflect, on consideration, that it is well not to make party points about a matter on which a great many hon. Members, including himself, think very deeply. That is all I wish to say.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I hope that the Parlimentary Secretary is not going to keep a duologue going by saying that it started over here. That was not the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said he was making. It was a great pity that the Parliamentary Secretary misinterpreted it. Having done so, it is a great pity that he should persist in his misinterpretation.
I know that it is the great desire of everybody associated with road safety to keep it out of the field of party politics. It is certainly our desire on this side of the Committee and the desire of everybody who speaks on this subject, including the Parliamentary Secretary in his capacity as Chairman of the Road Safety Committee, to do the same. However, if he will insist on scoring party points, that means further speeches; it has meant three further speeches, including a further one from himself, which we need not have had.
1381 The Parliamentary Secretary goes to the point of suggesting that the Government will introduce a road traffic Bill that will reflect great credit on them. That is not the spirit in which this subject has been approached hitherto. If he had really been presenting the full picture to the Committee, he would have explained that the Road Traffic Bill, which I hope he will have the honour of introducing in this House, will be the product of research and committees of investigation which have been working over the last four or five years, and that many recommendations which were made to the last Minister of Transport as well as no doubt to the present Minister will be incorporated in such a Bill. Is that really a matter on which the Parliamentary Secretary wishes to claim some especial virtue for his Government?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I see that the Parliamentary Secretary is so insensitive that he still wishes to persist in his error. In that case there is little further to be said except that he has introduced a note which we do not usually have in these debates and which, I trust, will be missing when we have further debates on matters concerning road safety.
In view of the fact that there is a prospect, as a result of work done over many years by a great many disinterested people, who have contributed much valuable work on road safety, and which has resulted in reports going to the Minister on which he will be able to base a Bill, that he will have the honour to introduce such a Bill in the House before long, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 15 to 17.
This Amendment seeks to remove the Population (Statistics) Act, 1938, from the effect of this Bill. This Act, which deals with the collection of statistics, is of considerable and continuing importance, and I intend to bring forward arguments to show that the Act is of such importance that it should not be included in this Bill but that it should be enacted separately as a permanent Measure.
1382 Before we can decide whether this Act should be included in the Bill, it is important to know what the Act is about. It was enacted in 1938 and makesprovision for obtaining statistical information with regard to the population of Great Britain; and for purposes connected therewith.This information is to be collected on the registration of births, still births and deaths, and it came into operation on 1st January, 1938. The duty of collecting and collating this information is laid upon the Registrar General; he must comply with any directions given to him in this respect by the Minister of Health, and there are penalties laid down for giving false information or for not supplying it.
There is a Schedule in the Act which specifies, quite clearly, the information which can be requested on the registration of births and deaths. I will not read it all, but I will give some indication for the benefit of those Members who have not had time to look it up. On registration of a birth the age of the mother can be asked for and must be furnished, as well as the date of marriage, the number of children of the mother by her present husband, the number living, and so on. There are specified requirements when a death is registered as well. That is the type of information for which this Act asks.
The collection of these statistics is most important in considering the question of fertility. I want to say a word about fertility. It will probably be one of the biggest problems facing this country in the future. Sir Kingsley Wood, on the Second Reading of this Measure in 1938, pointed out that, upon certain assumptions, in 30 years' time the population of this country would be 35 million and that in 100 years' time it would drop to 5 million. He also pointed out that since 1871 the birth rate in Great Britain had dropped to less than half.
We have these statistics, but before any Government can base a policy on such facts as these, we have to have much more complete statistics. The ascertainment of certain facts is indispensable before any Government can arrive at a population policy. Fertility is a continuing problem. It will always be with us. It increases with the advance of civilisation. Indeed, there is a theory which has a great many followers that fertility decreases as the standard of living increases.
1383 We see this in the animal world. The chances of extinction of a spider are very great, and a spider has a great many offspring. An elephant, on the other hand, has a very good chance of continued existence and its offspring are very small in number. The same thing occurs in nations. A nation with a very low standard of living has a high birth rate. A nation with a high standard of living, on the other hand, usually has a very low birth rate. It is a real problem, and it is one which has to be faced as our social services and our standard of living increase.
When Sir Kingsley Wood was speaking on the Committee stage in 1938, he made the same point. He said:Anyone who has been in touch with people interested in this matter from the statistical point of view will, I think, agree that, with these particulars, simple and limited as they are, a considerable advance can be made in the study of fertility.He went on to specify the ways in which this information would be of use:For instance, the particulars furnished as to the mother's issue, distinguished living and dead or still-born children, will help us to investigate further the relation between high infantile mortality and a high birth rate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February, 1938; Vol. 331, c. 107.]Then he talked of the value of these statistics in dealing with the problem of cancer among women.
The same point has been made over and over again, and the importance of these statistics make it essential that this Bill should be enacted as a permanent Measure. It is quite ridiculous that it should go on being renewed from year to year in this way, when these particulars are and will be essential as far ahead as we can see.
Secondly, in planning the Welfare State—and I realise that any argument concerned with that will not have very much appeal for Her Majesty's present advisers—adequate and reliable statistics are essential. National Insurance benefits have to be equated in some way or other with contributions, and calculations have to be made for a long way ahead. Such calculations can only be made on the basis of very accurate statistics.
For example, in fixing a widow's pension it is essential to know a great many facts. We must know how many widows 1384 remarry, and at what age. It is very important for the planners to know that widows remarry at the average age of 42.6 years. It is also important to know at what age widowhood commences. In calculating Income Tax revenue the effects of a change in the unmarried persons' allowance and such things as the age at which spinsters marry—
The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
Order. The hon. Member is travelling a little wide of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Short
This is one of the points of information which are obtained on the registration of births and deaths and I am simply trying to show that information of this kind is essential in planning our social services and that this information will therefore be required for many years to come—indeed, permanently.
In calculating the cost of family allowances, the number of children—not only the first child—is important. We must know the number of children from each marriage in the case of women who marry more than once. That information is asked for on registration of births. It is important to know the size of families and to know that more than 1,500,000 married women have no children, 2,250,000 have only one child and 100 have 20 children. That is the sort of information which is collected and which will always be required so long as we have the social services. All this information is essential and it is nonsensical to continue this Act from year to year. This information will always be required for the Welfare State.
On the question of housing, which is always with us, even when the Tory Government's 3,000 houses programme has been reached there will still be a tremendous wastage of houses. We hear a lot about landlords who do not do any repairs, and houses are always being written off. So it is important to know that there are 14,500,000 households in the country.
In the field of education we can only plan ahead to build our schools if we know how many children are likely to be born for many years to come. This, also, is a continuing need. I suggest that, apart from the question of fertility, also in the field of social services this is the sort of information which will always be required; and I suggest that 1385 this should not be a temporary Act but should be a permanent Act.
Turning to the second part of the Schedule, dealing with information asked on the registration of a death, the battle to lower the death rate is unremitting—or, at least, I hope it is, even under this Tory Government. Reliable statistics concerning those who leave us will therefore always be required, especially, for example, when they relate to the effect of marriage on longevity, the effect of child bearing on the length of life, and, one very important aspect, the effect of the number of children born on cancer among women, as well as the effect of the high birth rate of infantile mortality. These are all problems which have to be considered all the time, from year to year, so that the statistics will always be required. They are needed this year and will always be needed in the unending fight to increase the span of life.
These are very good reasons for making this Act permanent, but I want to say a few words about the desirability of retaining this system of proceeding by the registration method of inquiry rather than by the census method. It has been tried and found to be very successful. It is much quicker than the other methods. Births and deaths are being registered all the time and statistics are constantly being built up. It is much more convenient to the public, for when they have to register a birth or a still birth or a death it is no more difficult for them to give the additional statistics. The information is collected regularly and a picture is constantly before the Ministry of Heath of the state of affairs in the country.
Most hon. Members will agree that the census is already overloaded, and in any case, running a census is a very costly business which is undertaken only at long intervals. The information required is determined by Parliament, which is an important consideration; the points upon which information can be sought are specified in an Act and nothing else can be asked.
For those reasons, I believe that this Act is a most suitable and effective method of obtaining this information. It works smoothly and its cost is negligible; and the latter point should appeal to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. Given those advantages and the absolute 1386 necessity of obtaining the information, I submit that the Act should not be in the Schedule but should be enacted as a permanent Measure.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I am pleased to support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short): This method of dealing with population statistics ought never to have arisen. Had it not been for the insertion of an Amendment at the time when this Act was passed in 1938, no time limit would ever have been imposed upon the Act and it would never have expired, as it did in 1948, and have been renewed from year to year there-after.
It so happens that it was one of the Government supporters who, in 1938, when this Act was presented, right at the end of the Committee proceedings proposed an Amendment to allow it to run for 10 years. On that occasion, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) protested that the time limit was quite unnecessary, and he was very ably and vigorously supported at the time by the present Minister of Materials, who said:I join with the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) in regretting that the Minister should have accepted the Amendment. We are now adding to the ordinary machinery for acquiring information as an aid to research into this important subject.The Bill as it is now to be amended is, I think, an admirable addition to that machinery and I do not see why it should be regarded as temporary any more than any other similar machinery that is set up by Parliament. Parliament can pass another Act in 10 years' time or at any other time, and this limitation period to 10 years seems to be unnecessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February, 1938; Vol. 331, c. 136.]8.45 p.m.
That speech of the Minister of Materials in the present Government admirably expresses the point of view which we put tonight, namely, that this Act should not appear in an Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, but should be taken out of this Bill and passed as a piece of permanent legislation. I do not think that there is any Member of this Committee who really challenges the need for this Measure—anybody who disagrees with the establishment of this important and economical machinery for 1387 collecting vital statistics; and, therefore, there seems to be no reason whatsoever for an annual review.
The effect is simply that a 10-year limit was imposed in the original Statute; it therefore expired in 1948, and has been allowed to go on year after year. However, there is no reason why there should be an annual review of this work of the Registrar General, why we should not accept the point of view ably expressed when the original Measure was passed, and this written into the permanent legislation of the country.
After all, at its very lowest this machinery is an important protection for Ministers. The more machinery there is for the collection of statistics about the population, about any other matters, and the more things that are included in the Monthly Digest of Statistics from the Registrar General's office or other offices, the more Ministers are protected in the House from Questions about these matters.
As my hon. Friend has ably shown by a number of examples, these statistics are very important for an accurate assessment of social policy. We had, not long ago, the Report of the Royal Commission on Population, which sat for many years and produced a very large and able Report which, I believe, has not been debated in the House at all. I am no expert on fertility, although I have four children—I am very proud of that—but I do think that the study of these trends of population is very important if we are to make an accurate assessment of social insurance policy and the cost of social insurance policy.
The fact that that section of the British population which is over 65 years of age has increased from being 4 per cent. at the beginning of this century to being over 10 per cent. now, and is going to increase proportionately more in years to come, is important in regard to industrial employment policy, with regard to the care and insurance of the aged, and with regard to the whole cost of schemes of old age pensions and the like.
There are not, perhaps, many Members of the Committee who realise that in this country, during the last three and a half years, there has been a decline in the numbers of young men, aged from 15 to 1388 24 years, of more than 250,000. This year there are 250,000 fewer young men in the British population in that particular age group, between 15 and 24, than there were three to four years ago.
This is one of the reasons why some of us are so very much concerned about the Government's call-up policy. This is a matter to which the Government must pay attention when calling up young men for National Service, and in regard to the whole of their manpower policy.
§ Mr. Swingler
I would respectfully point out, Mr. Hopkin Morris, that unless we have the collection of vital statistics, which is the matter we are discussing, and, therefore, are able to discover those trends in the population, we are not able to reach right conclusions on matters of industrial manpower policy or military manpower policy and things of that kind.
The piece of information which I have just given to the Committee, the decline in the numbers of young men between 15 and 24 years, has a very important bearing on our economic and military policy when we consider the unbalance that there is in the population between the proportion of aged people and the proportion of young people.
Moreover, because we have got these vital statistics about population we know that the increase in the school population in Britain between 1945 and the end of next year is 1,350,000, and that is why we know that the cuts of the Minister of Education in the school building programme will lead to a disastrous situation. Had we not got those vital statistics we should not be able to make an accurate assessment of the number of school places required, but because we have got the Registrar General, and because he has collected over this period of time these statistics, we know how many children will become five years of age in 1953 and 1954.
These matters do not appear to me to be at issue on this Amendment. There is no dispute, as far as I understand it, about the necessity for collecting this information. What is in dispute on this Amendment is how long the Act should be maintained.
§ Mr. Swingler
The issue as I see it, Mr. Hopkin Morris, is whether there is any necessity for an annual review of the whole of this Act under the heading of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and I am suggesting that the valuable work that has been done by the Registrar General and his staff and the conclusions of which we have the benefit, from the researches into the population and the vital statistics we have got, are positive proof that there is no need for this annual review, and that this legislation should become permanent. That was the conclusion of many at the time when the original Act was passed.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will agree that this is a very simple matter, and that there is no question here, as there was in regard to some other matters, of any disagreement, leading to a prolonged Committee stage, and that, therefore, this Measure should at once be made permanent. The Government should rearrange their programme to produce the necessary Bill along the lines of the Measure of 1938 and make it part of the permanent legislation of the land.
I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should not bring forward the argument that there is not sufficient time because the Measure will lapse in a few weeks, but say that as there is general consent to it the Government accept the Amendment and will rearrange the business for next week or the week after to bring forward the necessary Bill and pass it quickly through all its stages.
§ Mr. Ross
I am sorry that there is no one representing Scotland on the Treasury Bench, because this Bill, and this particular part of it, refers to Scotland, and if there is anything of major concern to the Scots people it is the question of the decline of the Scottish population and the decline of the population in particular areas. It was especially to study the vital question of population trends—fertility trends—over the whole country that in 1938 this Measure was introduced. It is a remarkable reflection of the change in the temper of the country and the mood of the Committee tonight that when it was originally discussed the then Minister of Health, the late Sir Kingsley Wood, had to face terrific controversial opposition. For a week before the newspapers had been filled with articles of scaring news 1390 and headlines about the kind of information, personal and confidential, which might be demanded of people under the Act. Here we are now; the thing has been accepted by the public, and has been seen to be of service to the nation, and especially, I think, to the Scots people. But again I ask: "Where are the Scottish Ministers?"
We have got a Secretary of State for Scotland, a Lord Advocate, a Solicitor-General and three Joint Under-Secretaries of State, but not one of them graces the Government Front Bench at the present time. I have made suggestions about transferring them elsewhere. I do not know whether they lack virility, or what, but they certainly seem to lack sufficient staying power to sit on the Government Front Bench and listen to these ever changing debates. I hope that before long we shall have a visit from at any rate one of them, because, after all, Scotland was referred to in the original Act.
The information asked for in 1938 was information suggested in the Report of the Registrar General in 1867 as vitally necessary in considering the future policy with reference to population. From 1867 until 1938 nothing was done, until someone discovered that the Scots had already done it about 70 years before and they desired to bring the English legislation up to the same pitch as Scottish legislation. Even when we had the Royal Commission on Population in 1947, they discovered that the statistics they were given on which to examine the whole problem of population were quite inadequate for their task, and they had to go to the Government of that day and ask for a special sample census of the population to be taken. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary herself will read the relevant parts of the Report of the Royal Commission on Population to see what they said on this question.
Some of my hon. Friends seem to think that all that is required is to get this Bill with its provisions carried forward into permanent legislation, but we want far, far more than that. We definitely want permanent legislation along these lines, but with the Royal Commission on Population plus the census taken in 1951 it should be open to the Government now to have before them all the relevant data about the questions they want asked at the time of the registration of births, marriages and deaths. 1391 I want to read exactly what was said in paragraph 599 of the Report of the Royal Commission on Population. It said:The main object of the recommendations in the first of these reports"—referring to the analysis of fertility—is to ensure that the collection and analysis of fertility statistics should be so designed as to make possible a continuous study of the developing pattern of family size.I wanted to ask the Scottish Minister some questions, but he is not here. We find that in the last report of the Scottish Registrar General there is a special section dealing with the 1938 Act, and he draws attention to the fact that in Scotland at the present time—I see that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has now entered the Chamber.
§ Mr. James Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
On a point of order. Would it not be better for the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to come nearer the Dispatch Box so that we can get at him?
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ross
It would have been very much better if my hon. Friend had referred to the "dispatching" box. We welcome the belated arrival of the Joint Under-Secretary of State. I was referring to the trend of family size and reproduction rates as shown in the 1949 Report of the Registrar General for Scotland, taken from statistics gathered as a result of the 1938 Act. We find that the net reproduction rate in Scotland is 1.168, which means that the fertility of the Scottish people enables them just to maintain the population but no more.
However, at the same time we must take into account the drift South, which was more than 8,000 in that year, plus emigration of about 40,000, the net emigration, after taking into account people returning to Scotland, being 20,000. Therefore, apart from anything else, there was a net loss of population to Scotland in 1949 of 28,000. This means that the population of Scotland is decreasing year by year. What is the Government doing about it?
The reason given in 1938 for the Measure was that it would provide the statistics necessary for a sound social policy. What is the sound social policy which will be applied to Scotland to pre- 1392 vent the people going south to find work in England or going abroad?
I wonder if the Joint Under-Secretary also realises that the statistics show that the Scottish fertility rate, and, consequently, the size of families, are going down year by year. There was a slight upward trend after the war, but since 1946 they have been going down. In the case of married women over the age of 24 the family size is growing smaller. That trend must also be taken into consideration in relation to Government policy. What are the Government proposing to do about it?
I should like to know whether the Government are giving attention to the Scottish still-births situation in relation to our health policy. The still-birth rate in Scotland is 27.1 per thousand. It is an interesting fact that there is an appreciable increase in urban areas as compared with country areas. Have the medical officers of health of our great urban areas been asked to do something about this? The burghs with the highest rates in Scotland are Coatbridge and Inverness, and the ones with the lowest are Airdrie and Aberdeen.
It is difficult to connect the argument of the hon. Member with the Amendment. The object of this Amendment is to discontinue the Act for another year.
§ Mr. Ross
We are suggesting that it should not be continued for another year. We are putting forward reasons to show why it should be embodied in permanent lesiglation, and why legislation relating to the collection of statistics similar to that in the 1938 Act should be embodied in this permanent legislation. It is towards that point that I am trying to prove these figures which, if we want to get at the black spots of Scotland so far as health is concerned, it is necessary to know before the Government can take the necessary action.
So far as still-births in Scotland are concerned, they are highest in the west-central area and lowest in the southern area—
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
On a point of order, You ruled clearly, Mr. Hopkin Morris, that these statistics are not in order.
There is no dispute about the value of collecting statistics. If the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) is suggesting that the Act should not continue for another year, that is in order. If he is suggesting that the statistics should be collected in another form that would be in order. But to discuss the general policy of the Government is not in order.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
Do I take it that the hon and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) was criticising the Chair when he drew your attention to this matter?
§ Mr. Ross
I am trying to show that it is worth while to continue the collection of the statistics, but to do it in a more permanent form. There is no reason why the Government should not make up their mind as to what they want in this new permanent legislation. They have had the advice of the Royal Commission on Population and the benefit of the recent Census which was taken. Surely by now we can ask them to give us that permanent legislation. I am trying to show how valuable is this information. If we take one fact alone which came out of the 1938 Act regarding still-births and infant mortality—
§ Major Beamish
I am sorry to intervene again, Mr. Hopkin Morris, but your Ruling was perfectly clear, that these statistics are the same whether this legislation is in permanent form or not. I think that was your Ruling.
I made my Ruling quite clear. The issue is whether the collection of statistics should be made permanent or whether the statistics should be collected in the form in which they are now collected. It is not in order to ask what the Government are proposing to do, or to discuss their general policy.
§ Mr. Manuel
I think we should get the matter clear, Mr. Hopkin Morris. Is 1394 it not a fact that the repeated interruptions made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite are directed against some Ruling which he thinks you ought to give and which you are not giving?
Order. The point is sufficiently clear, and I think I made the position quite clear.
§ Mr. Ross
I find it very difficult to understand the intervention of an hon. and gallant Member who represents an English constituency and who knows nothing at all about the provisions of this Bill in their application to Scotland. I am perfectly sure he has not read the Report of the Registrar General for Scotland who devotes a chapter in this Report entirely to the 1938 Act. It is statistics derived from that Act which I am quoting, and surely that is relevant in a discussion of whether or not we should continue the 1938 Act.
I am of course accepting your Ruling, Mr. Hopkin Morris. I should otherwise be out of order. But the point is that from the 1938 Act we get information of this character which we did not have before, which I think we must have in the new permanent legislation we suggest and which it is worth while having under this Bill, if the Government is not prepared at present to introduce permanent legislation.
Taking the still-births and infant mortality in Scotland, we get statistics dividing the figure into five different social classes. I wish to quote only three of them. In class I, which is of the professional and financially independent classes, the still-birth mortality rate is 17.3 per thousand. In the skilled artisan class—
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Hitchin)
On a point of order. Is the hon. Member now addressing the Committee to be allowed persistently to disregard your Ruling?
§ Mr. Follick
Have you observed the team-work which is going on on the Government benches, Mr. Hopkin Morris?
§ Mr. Ross
I was drawing attention to the fact which is made obvious in these statistics, that there is a big difference in the social classes in the way their wives are affected in childbirth and in the chances of life of their children. For the professional and financially independent classes of Scotland, the still-birth mortality rate is 17.3 per thousand, for skilled artisans it is 26.5, and for labourers it is 35.
The hon. Gentleman is still discussing the policy of, and not the form of, the collection of the statistics.
§ Mr. Swingler
Perhaps I might clarify your Ruling by asking your guidance on what is in order in this debate. If the Amendment is not passed, the aim which we are pursuing of getting this Act as permanent legislation will not be carried out. If the Act is passed for one year in this form, is it not my hon. Friend's point that this kind of statistics could not be gathered because the Registrar General's office will not be able to plan their work for more than one year ahead? Our point is that for the collection of the kind of statistics of which my hon. Friend has given an illustration we must have an Act passed for a longer period.
The arguments in this debate must be directed to the continuation of the legislation in a permanent form, and then they will be in order. What is not in order is the general policy for which statistics are required and gathered.
§ Mr. Ross
I think I have been perfectly in order. Let me take the mortality rate per thousand live births. We shall get 1396 brought out even more the desirability of collecting statistics in this way. The mortality rate per thousand live births for the professional and financially independent classes is 18.5, for the skilled artisans 38.8, and for labourers 62.1. Surely it is necessary to have these statistics properly and permanently collected so that the Government can see where they can make most progress.
I do not understand the opposition of hon. Gentlemen opposite to this information being related to the Committee, unless they do not want the information to be known. It is desirable, before we can get a policy, to know the facts. It is desirable that the statistics should continue to be collected and broken up into particular areas in the country so that we may know where the dark spots of Scotland are to which the Government should pay attention.
I would remind the hon. Lady that the Royal Commission on Population went so far as to underline the importance of this subject and to suggest that there should be a Minister responsible for watching over movements of population and how the population might be affected by national policy.
Do not let us forget this important point, that the population problem will affect us economically, industrially and in every possible way more and more each year. We shall only get full information on population trends if the Government accept the importance of getting full statistics upon it and act upon the advice of the Royal Commission by embodying it in permanent legislation. We do not want this piecemeal year by year legislation which, as my hon. Friend said, has come to us from the panic of the Minister of Health in 1938 in trying to appease the ill-considered opposition of Conservative Members.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
I intervene briefly only to ask whether it might not be possible to get information which would be of value to the Committee. When this Bill was discussed on Second Reading, the point was raised as to whether those who had to register births and deaths would be willing to give the confidential information which was being asked for. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House 1397 expressed the view that there would be continuous complaint and objection to providing that kind of information.
In considering whether this should be enshrined in permanent legislation or not, it would be helpful to the Committee if an indication could be given as to whether any objection has been taken over the years to the provision of this information. It is my view that very little objection, if any, has been taken but I should be glad if we could have confirmation of that from the Minister.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)
Listening to the protests from the other side of the Committee, one might be led into thinking that hon. Members on this side and Her Majesty's Government were trying to prevent the collection of these statistics. In fact, the result, if hon. Members pressed this Amendment, would be to deprive the Registrar General of what all are agreed are vital and important statistics.
I thought that some of the protests of hon. Members opposite were a little hollow when they spoke of the extension, year by year, being nonsensical and a policy of panic. After all, it was their own Government which used precisely the same method in 1947, in 1948, in 1949 and in 1950.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
That does not alter the point. There is no disagreement between hon. Members on either side of the Committee on the great importance of these statistics, of their need and of their value. To answer the point raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), as he knows, the statistics are confidential and we are glad to record the full and ready co-operation of the public in their collection, and in the ready manner in which those making the registration provided them.
1398 There are real considerations why there is not the vital and urgent need made out by hon. Members opposite to press for permanent legislation at this moment, although we hope to be able to find Parliamentary time eventually to put this into a permanent form. Since 1948, however, there have been other considerations which must weigh very much in the framing and passing of new permanent legislation.
First, as hon. Members have pointed out, we have had the Report of the Royal Commission on Population, which was set up in 1944 and which reported in 1949, but we have not had all the reports and all the information yet to come as a result of that Commission. There is still to come the report on the sample of the family census conducted under the ægis of the Royal Commission. Similarly, the fact that the Act has gone from year to year has not meant that other very important investigations have not been taking place, such as investigations into the movement of the birth rate in the abnormal post-war years and the full examination of the Report of the Royal Commission. Also, we still have to study the full results of the population census of 1951, for which as yet we have only the first report on a one per cent. sample.
In spite of the fact that the Act, continued under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, gives the vital and most important statistics which are required, and which the Royal Commission—I agree with the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross)—stressed were so valuable and which have enabled the country to provide statistics far more comprehensive than those provided by most other countries, nevertheless it is necessary to consider fully the final reports, when we get them, both on the Report of the Royal Commission and also on the full reports on the population census of 1951.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) suggested that legislation could be framed immediately on the lines of the Act. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock suggested that it should be wider and that there should be more statistics. There is very real reason why the Amendment should not be pressed, because it is important that the existing statistics that we are getting and which are vital and necessary should be collected. There is no disagreement between 1399 us on that. It is also important that having had these very wide-scale investigations made, we should wait for the full and final reports before framing legislation on the subject.
The only results which accrue at present from passing the Amendment and making it impossible for the Registrar-General to continue taking these statistics under the 1938 Act, would be that we would have a very disastrous lapse in the statistics that we have collated over some 14 years. We should not be able to provide the very comprehensive information arising out of them, not only for our own purposes, but which we have also provided for the World Health Organisation. As hon. Members also have said, we should not be so well informed on the anticipation of future problems, such as school places and the numbers of nurses and midwives that we require, on all of which information can most usefully be obtained from the statistics.
I hope that the Committee will not be moved by what, I think, has been rather synthetic objection to a Measure which was continued year by year by hon. Gentlemen opposite when they sat in these benches, and that hon. Members will appreciate that there is very valid reason for allowing another, I hope, short span of time in order that we can make full use of the final reports yet to come from the wider investigations made under the Census and under the Report of the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. Swingler
The hon. Lady has made a very important and helpful announcement. Can she give any indication of when the last Reports of the Royal Commission and of the population census will be available?
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
Without notice, I am afraid not. They have still yet to come. In particular, the full report on the 1951 Census will still take some time. So far, we have had only the one per cent. report.
§ Mr. Short
My hon. Friends and I are not by any means satisfied with the 1400 reply of the Parliamentary Secretary. She has in no way answered our arguments. However, we note the clear, specific and definite undertaking given by her that the Government will find Parliamentary time to enact this as a permanent Measure. In view of that firm, specific and definite undertaking which the hon. Lady has given, we do not press the matter. I wish to protest that out of all the galaxy of Ministers of the Scottish Office none turned up until we were halfway through the debate. In view of the promise made by the Parliamentary Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 18 to 21.
The lines which I propose should be left out of the Bill are those which reenact the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1939. I moved a similar Amendment a year ago and I do so now with more confidence in that at that time the Home Secretary said that he must consider the arguments which had fallen from hon. Members on this side of the Committee and would seriously consider the possibilities there were of dealing with the matter. I think it might be better, in dealing with this Act, to read out the Long Title:An Act to prevent the commission in Great Britain of further acts of violence designed to influence public opinion or Government policy with respect to Irish affairs; and to confer on the Secretary of State extraordinary powers in that behalf; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.A great deal of water has flown under the bridges since then. It is really extraordinary that we should be re-enacting such a Measure, after the experience we have had, to prevent an attempt by violence to influence affairs in Great Britain in regard to Irish affairs. One would have thought that the experience which the Home Secretary had at Nuremberg would have led him to consider that a Bill might be passed to deal with German affairs. Whatever else might have happened, and whatever else this country might have suffered as a result of violence in respect to Irish affairs, it is only a tittle compared with the violence we suffered at the hands of the Germans.
1401 In my constituency, where practically every house was damaged by bombs, no house was damaged by an Irish bomb, but every bomb was a German bomb. But what are we doing in regard to the Germans? We are not re-enacting an Act to prevent them trying to influence the course of our affairs by violence but are to enable them to come to Hornchurch Aerodrome to be trained as flyers. That is the policy of hon. Members opposite.
When this Measure was originally introduced it was introduced with the greatest reluctance. At that time Lord Templewood urged it on the House, indeed secured its passage in the dark days just before the war when obviously the thoughts of everyone were on matters quite alien to and quite different from things of this sort, and when people, naturally, thought that anything which interfered in those critical days with the safety of the State should be dealt with by a firm hand. Yet when Lord Templewood introduced the Measure on behalf of the Conservative Party he asked the House to accept the promise made that:these powers will not be exercised a day longer than they are actually required."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1939; Vol. 350, c. 1598.]We are entitled to ask the Home Secretary, what that promise—"not … a day longer than … actually required"—meant.
That was in 1939 and we are to renew the Act in 1953. Shall we be asked to renew it for 1954? What is "a day longer than actually required"—twice the life-time of Lord Templewood? Is there never to be any letting up? Are Irish affairs of such a nature that there must always be an extraordinary relationship between the two countries that we have to have this special legislation dealing with their relations one to another?
The Act was passed by the House with extreme reluctance and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood), leading my party on that occasion, expressed what probably was the view of us all when he said this in regard to the original Bill: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 1402 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 probably everybody on both sides of the Committee—at least on this side—accepts and endorses those sentiments.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Bing
In those circumstances you place me at somewhat of a disadvantage, Mr. Hopkin Morris, if you permit the comment without permitting me to reply to it. I was going to say that I think we universally reject, on both sides of the Committee except perhaps a very small minority of hon. Members opposite, the use of force with which they themselves attempted in 1914 to influence Irish affairs.
Even in those days—and that debate took place at a time when a number of outrages were taking place—there were hon. Members on both sides of the House who took the view that that Bill should not be enacted in the form in which it was. I might mention the President of the Board of Trade. I hope, if I may trespass on the rules of order to this extent, to say that we all hope he will soon be restored to health. In a most courageous speech he joined with hon. Friends on this side of the House in opposing a number of provisions which his own Government are proposing to renew again tonight and actually went into the Division Lobby against them. He took the view that certain of the proposals of that Measure were so illiberal 1403 that they should not be enacted even at a time when bombs were being dropped, people were being killed and when the shadow of war was hanging over us, and he voted with a number of my hon. Friends on this matter. Therefore, I should think that a Government that contains the right hon. Gentleman might think again on the matter.
If I may quote to my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee what was said by a very great member of our party, the late Mr. Lansbury—I think it sums up, in one of the last speeches he made in the House, which was on that Measure, the opinion not only of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House but of liberal-minded people everywhere—he 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 the Northern and the Southern Irelanders together to discuss how they can remove these grievances in the only sensible manner, by becoming decent Irishmen one towards another."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1939; Vol. 350, c. 1539.]These were the sentiments then expressed. At the time of such outrages as these the cure and method of dealing with them seemed so obvious.
We all see quite clearly the evil nature of the outrage, and we all sympathise so strongly with the victim. One of the dangers is that although the legislation remains, the attitude of mind, which is the most important thing in condemning terrorism, disappears, and the legislation itself remains in an empty form while the terrorists become in a curious way glorified. One only has to look in the Sunday newspapers at the moment to see a series of articles in which a terrorist is presented in a very favourable and romantic light. One only has to go to a number of films which are now showing to see exactly the same presentation.
I think that is an extremely dangerous attitude of mind, and one into which, when we are discussing this Bill, we should not allow ourselves to fall. We 1404 should always remember that terrorism is not a political weapon which should in any circumstances be encouraged by any of us. We should remember that however romantic, after a number of years, may seem the actions which have been indulged in, there are forgotten the victims of terrorism. Families are deprived; families still mourn somebody who was lost in an incident which has been forgotten in the far greater holocaust which has marked the history since those days.
We should allow no word to fall from us in this Committee which in any way condones the things which have been done. On the other hand, we ought to remember, when dealing with outrages of this sort, that the people who are indulging in these outrages are intensely misguided but are often animated by the loftiest motives and really believe that in that sort of way they are able to change events. I am compelled to say, on looking round the world, that perhaps when we compare their actions with the actions of some other people, they do not seem so misguided as we at first thought.
Let me take one instance. We are talking at the moment about peace in Korea. We are saying that we cannot engage at the moment in armistice negotiations because humanity demands that we must ensure that no prisoner is repatriated against his will. At the same moment outrages of all sorts, thought by many to be right, are being perpetrated. There is bombing which results in the deaths of thousands of people who have no direct concern with the war. It is important in all these matters that one should have a proper and decent sense of proportion.
I do not think that the hon. and learned Member is in order in discussing the war in Korea.
§ Mr. Bing
Perhaps you will allow me to read what the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself said in the debate, and then I think you will see, Mr. Hopkin Morris, how apposite and in order my remarks are.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in urging the continuation of this Act, said this in the debate last year: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 1405 deliberate infliction of fortuitous suffering on innocent and irrelevant people.It may be right and proper in war—I could not argue that at the moment—to carry out the bombing of towns behind the line, but that is exactly what the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument was favouring. I am only trying to deal with the kind of attitude of mind of people who indulge in what I consider to be entirely wrong and misguided activities of terrorism. The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on:I remember so well among all the films I have seen one which was directed by Mr. Hitchcock, which dealt with that. Almost 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 1204.]The last thing the Committee should do is to approach a question like this from a particular special pleading of that sort. In any terrorist outrage a series of terrible things may take place, but a series of terrible things are taking place in all sorts of other instances—in war, and even in industrial conditions in some countries—and that is not necessarily a reason why one should not look at the principles, or erect between oneself and the principles a smoke screen of particular examples and particular cases.
When one considers these bomb outrages and the interval that has passed between then and now; when one has tried to get a new relationship and tried to answer in other ways the arguments which drove these people to these desperate deeds, and when there has been the shadow of a great war, to talk about one special instance of a bomb outrage as if that settled the matter, and not to consider the five years we suffered under German bombing, is to take the thing entirely out of its proportion.
Who does the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) think is the greater miscreant, the misguided, ignorant, foolish and stupid man, filled with hatred towards this country, who boils in a little stove a few grains of potassium to make an explosive which perhaps kills one or two people, or Herr Krupp, who spent a lifetime making profits out of selling weapons of war and financed a whole 1406 Government to make war on this country? How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say now that it is the policy of his party to release Herr Krupp, but that it is also their policy to maintain restrictions?
Order. It cannot be relevant to answer that question. Herr Krupp is not in issue in this Amendment.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I am not interested in Herr Krupp, but I am interested in asking the hon. and learned Gentleman not to stir up trouble, which he is always trying to do.
§ Mr. Simmons (Brierley Hill)
On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West, sitting in his elegant position, to take part in the debate without rising in his place? He has been doing it for the last half hour, shouting across the Floor of the Committee.
§ Mr. Bing
In answer to the elegant intervention of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West, I may say that it is because I happen to be a British subject that I have some sense of British fair play and decency. I do not believe that Britain is best represented by the hon. and gallant Gentleman or by the Black and Tans. The sooner we put behind us the types of activities represented by those two classes—which, in the eyes of many of my hon. Friends, are quite indistinguishable—the sooner there will be a better regard for this country on the part of other countries. Perhaps I may leave the hon. and gallant Gentleman—
§ Mr. Bing
These points are of some considerable importance to the House as a whole. When we last discussed the matter the case was put not only from this side of the House. I appreciate the difficulties and dangers which may be present in the mind of the Home Secretary when we are involved in the question of removing this legislation.
1407 One is always reluctant to impose restrictive legislation but once that legislation has been imposed each Home Secretary finds it peculiarly convenient, and every civil servant finds it a particularly good example, to define how useful this particular repressive power has been. But one cannot judge repressive powers on the use which they have been in any particular case. One could devise a whole series of repressive powers applying to motorists which, no doubt, would enable us to decrease the number of road accidents, but to justify them on that ground, without considering the broader grounds of freedom, would be quite alien to the way in which we look at things here.
In conclusion, the relations between England and Ireland have for a long time been bedeviled by deeds of violence. I do not think we should enter into any competition about who was first responsible for introducing violence into Irish affairs or who first thought that an Irish problem which appeared insoluble from a political point of view could be solved by the use of force. The use of force to solve Irish problems has been urged in this House—and not by hon. Members of this party. Let us not claim that any party has a monopoly of supposing that these problems can be solved in a peaceful way, and let us therefore all start to make a new relationship.
The evil of this Act is not that it affects a great number of people now. It probably affects very few. There are, of course, some dangers that some undesirable person will enter this country, but there are undesirable persons from countries other than Ireland, and it is a whole distortion of history and, indeed, of police methods to suppose that merely by making a special law to deal with the Irish we have somehow solved all problems of violence in the world.
I should have thought that the geography which inexorably links Ireland and England together is such that there should not be anything on the Statute Book which might in any way suggest an unfriendly relationship between the two countries. If we can gain by striking this Act from the Statute Book, and thus repair some of the evils which 1408 have been done in the past by the quarrels which have separated us, we shall do a far greater work for freedom than we shall by restraining one or two criminals who might otherwise be let loose upon us.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
We are now discussing a serious issue which could have wide effects upon Anglo-Irish relations. Unless the Home Secretary has changed his mind, we shall differ about this, but although we shall differ, I have no intention of attacking him. On this matter I have to respect his view and also to respect the views of those who advise him, just as I respected the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) when he felt obliged, in different circumstances, to take the same view. I, on the contrary, take the view that now, largely owing to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, circumstances have changed.
I would at once admit that this is a very difficult problem to face. One of the things which we learned from our experience in the 30's was that there is nothing more foreign to the spirit of democracy than terrorism and that democracies are entitled to protect themselves against terrorism. In fact, one of the tragedies of the 30's was that some democratic people learned too late that democracy is fully entitled to protect itself against ruthless people who are working for the fall of democracy itself.
We can only face this tyranny, and that is why I preface my remarks by saying the essential thing is that these decisions should be made in the spirit of democracy. If we differ, I do not think we get very much further by impugning the motives of people who reach contrary decisions. I am not for a moment impeaching the integrity of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. All I am arguing is that I think, on the facts and on the way this has developed over the past years, he is making a mistake. I am going to put to him quite simply the grounds upon which I think he is taking a mistaken view.
The first is this, that we are considering what was hastily enacted legislation. Of that there can be no doubt whatsoever. The Second Reading of this Measure was on 24th July, 1939, after a long series of terrorist outrages—57 of them in London. 1409 We had the attempt on Hammersmith Bridge and on Southwark Power Station. Then during the Committee stage—on the very day of the Committee—we had the King's Cross bomb outrage. The result of that was that this legislation was never adequately discussed, never adequately considered, and I feel that if it is to be continued, as it is being continued, the Government must face up to this and say that if a case is made out for its further continuance it must be amply discussed, and we must introduce legislation in the light of our experience to deal with this problem.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)
I appreciate very much the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman has approached this matter. I am going to suggest a modification in the working. I tell him that only because it may save him from developing that point now. Of course, he can, if he does not think I have gone far enough, resume it again. I want to tell him that because it is irritating to develop an argument on a basis and then find that the basis is different from what one thought it was.
§ Mr. Willey
I am very much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and I look forward to what he has to say, and I shall not develop this particular point further.
The second point I want to make is that it is generally agreed that this legislation is repugnant, that it can be justified only on the grounds of necessity. After all, the then Attorney-General said during the debate that no one likes a Measure of this kind. In fact, it was because of its innate repugnancy that the late Sir Stafford Cripps was amongst those who voted against it. That means that we ought to remove this statute from the Statute Book at the first opportunity.
What I think is the difficulty that the right hon. and learned Gentleman faces about this is that if an Administration depend upon the support of such a statute as this, then they fear—though, I believe, exaggeratedly fear—the dangers of relieving themselves from the protection that the statute gives; but because it is innately repugnant to this Committee, the Committee should say so quite forthrightly, and accept the responsibility of saying so, and of continuing it no longer 1410 than is necessary. In other words, the responsibility for the decision lies here, and we have got to recognise that the Administration are, as they should be, acutely aware of the danger of losing the protection of such a statute as this.
The third point I want to make has already been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), that this was explicitly a temporary Measure to meet a passing emergency. I want to say a word or two about the nature of that emergency. That emergency was not merely terrorism. The argument was expressly made in July, 1939, that this was not arising out of terrorism as such: it was arising out of the particular form that the terrorism was about to take. What the then Home Secretary argued was that we had known about the "S" plan and known about it all that year, and had seen the development of the terroristic outrages against property, but that it was known that then the terrorists were directing their attention against the lives of His Majesty's subjects. That was why, he said, he asked Parliament to approve this legislation.
I make this point because it should be realised by the Committee that that was the basis of this emergency legislation. It was not merely because the I.R.A. were adopting terrorist measures; they had been doing so ever since the implementation of the "S" plan. What the I.R.A. were doing was turning from attacks upon property to attacks which would, calculatedly, endanger life.
There was a further factor. To persuade the House to agree to this Measure the Home Secretary said that not only henceforth was this campaign to take a more ruthless turn, and would no longer take account of human life, but the Government had very good grounds for believing that it was backed by a foreign Power, and said:Suppose that in August or September we were faced with war, or an emergency of some kind, would not the danger of serious sabotage be immeasurably increased by these terrorist outrages?In other words, what the Home Secretary said to the House in 1939 was: "I only ask for these extraordinary powers, not merely because of the action being taken by the I.R.A. but because now they are endangering life, and because this coun 1411 try is at this moment facing the risk of war." And how right the Home Secretary unfortunately was; within months we had war upon us. I would emphasise that it was upon those two specific grounds that this legislation was passed. The Home Secretary also said:we have in our possession reliable information that that campaign is being closely watched and actively stimulated by foreign organisations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1939; Vol. 350, c. 1092.]Captain Ramsay asked the Home Secretary whether there was any relation with the International Brigade in Spain. Of course there was no such relation. The House knew well enough what foreign Power the Home Secretary had in mind.
§ Mr. Willey
Those are the bases upon which this legislation was passed. I again emphasise that if the Home Secretary is saying that this should be continued on other grounds, he once again faces the issue that in doing so he must ask the House to reconsider the matter, and to consider permanent legislation. Furthermore this legislation was agreed to by the House on a specific pledge by the Home Secretary and the Government that it would not be continued a day longer than was necessary. If the Home Secretary now argues that it is necessary, he must argue that it is necessary in the context of the discussions on the 1939 Act.
The Home Secretary must also consider if there is any alternative course he can follow? The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) in 1939 put his point of view very shortly, and I wish to put it to the Home Secretary now because it is a matter to which he should give full thought. The hon. Member said:I do not think I have any great claim to speak on this, because I have been in the House only for the last half hour, but I do not wish to let slip the opportunity of expressing what I most profoundly believe. This Bill is only tinkering with a very great problem indeed, which will not be dealt with by such provisions. As far as methods are concerned, if the Home Secretary thinks that they are likely to be efficacious the House is bound to give him these powers, and then to keep a close supervision over him in order to see that they are not abused. But even if you succeed in suppressing these terrorist acts, the way will be open for similar acts on the part of other dissatisfied people. The only remedy, in my belief, is a system of identity cards. I 1412 do not see the need for a passport system between this country and Ireland, but I believe the police will always be hankering after extra powers as long as they cannot identify any particular criminal. I think the Home Secretary would receive wide support in the country if he introduced legislation along these lines."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1939; Vol. 350, c. 1090–1.]What the Home Secretary has done during the last 12 months has been to abolish identity cards, but not a word of protest from the hon. Member for Farnham.
I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to direct his mind to that matter. Here we had a system of identification, invaluable to the police, which had been put forward during the debate on this Bill as an alternative, and quite frivolously and flippantly, at a stroke, the Home Secretary wiped out that safeguard, but nevertheless comes back to this Committee and says that he would like to continue this Act for another year.
I conclude by saying no more than this. My hon. and learned Friend has quoted the late George Lansbury, and I think that on this issue the late George Lansbury made some mistakes. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I think, however, that we all respect him, and he appealed to Irishmen to try to resolve these difficulties. The Home Secretary may feel that the action he has taken is not directed against the Government of the Irish Republic, and that it is directed against the people who are as much the enemies of the Government of the Irish Republic as they are of Her Majesty's Government. The trouble is that that point of view is not appreciated in Ireland.
The continuation of these powers is regarded as a slur by many people most critical of the I.R.A. and who utterly disassociate themselves from its activities. I would earnestly appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, whatever he does tonight, to keep this matter under serious review, because if he can afford to make a gesture and say that this distrust is no longer abroad, and that he is not automatically, as it were, continuing this Act of Parliament, then I think that he would be making a further contribution towards real understanding North and South of the Border.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I rise to support this Amendment, which has been so ably moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). I put this point of view to the Home Secretary, and I ask him to treat it seriously, as I am sure he will. There are, as he probably knows, about two million people in this country who share the same religious beliefs as those who live in Southern Ireland, and, by virtue of that fact, there is a sort of kinship between them. I am sure that I speak for the majority of these people who, of course, regarded the bomb outrages of 1939 in the same way as everyone else in Britain regarded them, as something which should not and would not be tolerated; and I am sure that that is the Southern Irish opinion as well.
We all understand why this legislation was introduced, but most of the people in this country who share the same religious beliefs as those in Southern Ireland are very anxious that the differences between the North and the South should be resolved. They are anxious that the toleration shown in this country to these two million people shall one day be shown in Ireland as a whole. I think that if the Home Secretary would annul this Act, it would be a gesture to many people in this country who regard it today as being an Act which is no longer required. We are working very hard to try to get the same toleration there that we have here.
The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) often attacks my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch. I want to say to him very seriously that there are many thousands of people in this country who may not share the political belief of my hon. and learned Friend and myself, but who admire the stand he always takes on behalf of the people of Southern Ireland. I am gratefully indebted to him and I say that publicly. From one who does not share their religious belief, that is something which is deeply appreciated.
In the debate last year it was argued by Conservative hon. Members that the Labour Government should have repealed the Act. The Home Secretary said the same thing. We constantly get the argument that the Labour Government should have done something if it had felt so strongly about it, but that is no argument why the present Government should not 1414 do it. The Home Secretary is in duty bound to give the Committee a substantial reason why the Act should be retained. Not a single incident in the last year has justified its retention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said that the legislation was hasty and repugnant to the British people. We all agree that it was hasty, and we know the reasons for it. It is also repugnant that we should retain legislation of this kind which is no longer required or necessary and is disliked by British as well as Irish opinion. I hope the Home Secretary will give us an assurance that the Act will be repealed.
Next week we shall discuss a Bill relating to education. There we have an example of the tolerance achieved in this country through both sides coming together to try to solve difficult problems. Only a few years ago we had religious discrimination here, but those days have gone for ever, and now we should do our part, as Britishers, to remove religious discrimination from Ireland. We can do it best if we take the line adopted by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch on many occasions and say that the time has come when religion should not be used for political purposes, as it is in Ireland. However, I will say no more than that because this is neither the time nor the place to do so.
The Home Secretary feels that it would be wrong to bring forward legislation to reintroduce flogging in view of the outbreak of "cosh" crimes, and that shows what an enlightened Home Secretary we have. This Act is also an instance of legislation introduced to deal with a minority, and no legislation will stop such crimes being committed if there are about people with the mentality to commit them. The Act is an affront to decent Irish opinion in this country, and the Home Secretary will do his party and the country a service by repealing it.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
Some very powerful appeals have been made from the other side of the Committee to my right hon. and learned Friend to let the Act lapse. We must consider whether or not the experience gained through the working of the Act during the last few years justifies its withdrawal. Hon. Gentlemen have said that there have been 1415 comparatively few incidents of the type which prompted the introduction of the Act, and no cases in recent years. Hon. Gentlemen should not overlook that it may well be that the very existence of the Act has had some effect in preventing further outbreaks of violence.
I am glad to hear that my right hon. and learned Friend is considering the possibility of amending parts of the Act. It is true that it was passed in a considerable hurry, and anything which makes more bitter the relationships between this country and Southern Ireland is greatly to be deprecated. I support the views of some hon. Members opposite who have said that the Act should be reviewed now, and I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to tell us that this will be done.
Nevertheless, I urge him not to heed too quickly the appeals ad misericordiam and not to repeal the Act until he is certain that there is little likelihood of a recurrence of the incidents which prompted its introduction in the summer of 1939.
§ Mr. Mellish
Would the hon. Gentleman concede this point? Does he believe that any legislation would stop a fanatic from throwing a bomb?
§ Mr. Hay
The answer to that is to be found in what has happened. This Act was brought in at a time when 66 incidents of violence, involving bomb-throwing and the like, had taken place. Immediately after the passing of this Act—though it is true that the war started, and that there was a kind of sporadic outbreak in, I think 1941—no incidents occurred to my knowledge. For that reason, I say it may well be that the existence of this Act, together with the other powers that the Home Office and the police possess, might have prevented further outbreaks, and we should be very glad that that is so.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
Were the argument of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) a sound one, it would be a very good reason for keeping in being all the other things we had in the past such as transportation and the keeping up of all sorts of forms of punishment, and so on. But I hope that hon. Members will not act on that principle.
1416 I was glad to hear the intervention of the Home Secretary that there is, at any rate, to be some modification of this, and I look forward to hearing what that modification is. I recall that in the debate last year the Home Secretary said he would consider the matter carefully. I think if ever there was an argument put forward which justified study it was the argument put forward last year.
I would approach this matter in a different way. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) read the Long Title of the Act. That was almost enough to show that this Act ought to be repealed. But my hon. and learned Friend should have gone further and read Section 1 (1) of the Act, which is as follows:With a view to preventing the Commission in Great Britain of acts of violence designed to influence public opinion or Government policy with respect to Irish affairs, the Secretary of State may exercise the powers conferred by this section.In other words, it was not the Long Title alone, but actually a part of the Act itself, which said why these powers were given to the Home Secretary. They were given for a specific purpose. It was clearly shown that they were to be of a temporary nature. They were given for the purpose of dealing withacts of violence designed to influence public opinion or Government policy with respect to Irish affairs. …How can any sensible person suggest that that reason now exists? It is too absurd for words. If we read the Section itself, and the reason for the Act, would anybody assert today that it is right to keep in being the provisions of this Act in order to prevent the commission in this country ofacts of violence designed to influence public opinion or Government policy?I should have thought that sufficient by way of argument. But let me go a little further. No one has mentioned during this debate what powers the Home Secretary has under this Act and it is important that this Committee should realise that these Acts are not limited to Irishmen. There are Englishmen affected by them. I suppose every hon. Member of this Committee would agree—I would not even except the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke)—that we start with the proposition that the principles of British justice 1417 and the rights and liberties of the individual should not be restricted in any way, unless a good case can be made out. If we start with that proposition, where is there the right, as we have in this Act, to interfere with the principles of British justice and to restrict the rights and liberties of the individual? Because that is precisely what this Act does.
There are three distinct powers here given to the Home Secretary. The Secretary of State can make an Order of expulsion against certain persons, which includes persons who are not ordinarily resident in Great Britain,throughout the last preceding twenty years, or in the case of a person under the age of twenty years throughout his life. …His reason for that is that they are… concerned in the preparation or instigation of …acts of violence.
In other words, the Act gives the Home Secretary the right to make an expulsion order even against an Englishman. Under the second power, he may make a registration order, where again a person has been concerned in the preparation or instigation of acts of violence, ordering that person to register with the police and keep the police informed of his whereabouts. Under the third power, the Home Secretary may make a prohibition order, preventing a person from coming into the country.
I emphasise the importance of these powers of the Home Secretary. In the ordinary way, a British citizen or a foreigner whose liberty is curtailed by such an order has the right to go to a court of law and ask for a writ of habeas corpus so that the court may inquire into the matter and see that justice is done. Under the Act, the Home Secretary has power to make orders of this kind, and he only has to certify that he has thought it fit in his judgment to do so and no one can go to any court of law or interfere in any way whatever.
In this year, 1952, many years after this Act was passed, it is absurd that these powers should be kept on, remembering that the Act was a temporary expedient, and the arguments that have been put forward that it was part of a very different period from today. We have our criminal law, which is applicable to 1418 everyone in the country. There are plenty of powers under that law to cover people who have committed or are likely to commit an offence. The Home Secretary has very wide powers to deal with persons coming into the country. Why is the power in this Act necessary, and why is it necessary to single out Irishmen as against the people of any other country?
In the case of Ireland we should do something very different. The long years of enmity and bitterness will disappear much more quickly if we have a much more generous tendency towards Ireland than there is now. Do we not embitter and create rancour and enmity by allowing such a law, directed against Irishmen, to be on the Statute Book? Is there not a great deal in the argument, remembering what Germany has done, which points out that there is no such Act as this applying to Germany? Many years have passed since this Act applying to Ireland was passed, and we should not allow it to remain on the Statute Book. The Home Secretary should look at this matter very carefully from every possible point of view, with a view to annulling this Act and taking it off the Statute Book, and so being a little bit more generous towards Ireland.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The Committee has been reminded that when this matter was discussed last year I gave an undertaking to examine it carefully before the Bill for 1952 came to be introduced and, on that understanding, the Amendment was not pressed to a Division. I assure the Committee that I have given it that consideration and I will put before hon. Members the suggestion which I believe is right and the furthest extent to which I can go at present.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) was right to remind the Committee of the three different classes of orders which can be made under the Act. I venture to repeat them because it is important and germane to the argument which I am advancing. As he said, there were first the expulsion orders which expel from Great Britain persons as to whom the Secretary of State is reasonably satisfied that they have been concerned in the preparation or instigation of such acts of violence.
1419 Secondly, there are registration orders requiring any such person to register with the police. There are, thirdly—and this is the type of order which I ask the Committee to consider most carefully—prohibition orders which prohibit from entering or being in Great Britain any person in respect of whom the Secretary of State is satisfied that he is attempting, or may attempt, to enter Great Britain with a view to being concerned in the preparation or instigation of such acts of violence.
Because I do not think hon. Members carry figures in their heads, may I remind the Committee of the extent of use that has been made of the Act? Expulsion orders have been made under it against 190 persons, registration orders against 29 persons, prohibition orders against 71, and the bulk of these orders were made in 1939. At present, there are no registration orders in force, but 112 expulsion orders and 60 prohibition orders are still effective. That is the extent of the problem.
As I have said, I have reviewed the necessity for continuing the Act. Although I could not say that there are not elements in the Irish Republic who have not abandoned willingness to use violence to attain political ends—that would be childish because there are extremists who still take that view—I would accept the force of the contention that the circumstances which justified the vesting of special powers in the Executive in 1939 have greatly lost their validity. I should have been prepared to allow the Act to expire at the end of 1952 so far as its main provisions are concerned, namely, the power to make the expulsion, registration and prohibition orders, were it not for the following fact.
The relinquishing of the power to make the orders of this kind would, if the Act as a whole were allowed to lapse, also have the effect of cancelling the orders now in operation against a limited number of individuals. After a very full consideration of all the information that I could get on this subject, I am satisfied that it would not serve the public interest to free the remaining individuals as a whole from the restraint which now bars them entry into Great Britain.
The Committee will appreciate the technical position. I appreciate, of 1420 course, that it is a two-edged weapon, but I ask hon. Members to appreciate the practical position today. New legislation would be required to limit the restraining effect of the Act to these individuals only, and it is not in accordance with precedent to introduce an amendment of an Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I therefore considered the position and, anxious to carry out the feeling which I have tried to explain, I felt that I should do this: I am prepared to give an explicit assurance that if the Act itself is continued in force, I shall not make use of my powers under the Act to make new orders, but only to maintain the validity of the existing orders.
I am specially anxious not to exacerbate old feelings by going into details, and I want to use studiously moderate language; but I must say that the persons against whom the Orders exist are such that there are good grounds for suspicion that if they entered this country, it would be with the intention of taking part in a campaign of violence—and their numbers include those members of the I.R.A. who were convicted in 1939 of the most serious offences in connection with the outrages committed at that time.
Now, I come to a point which the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North made. I should like to put to him quite frankly my difficulty with regard to it. The citizens of the Irish Republic are not aliens or subject to control under the Aliens Order. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will remember the debates that we had and the remarkable measure of agreement which we attained in the House on the special treatment and special position which we gave to them. It is a happy memory of mine that the agreement which we got that night was irrespective of party and, I think, in the end embraced almost every quarter of the House. As I have said, the citizens of the Irish Republic are not subject to control under the Aliens Order, and are not liable to be deported as aliens. The hon. and learned Member would be the first to appreciate that that puts them in a special position and removes them from the category to which the last part of his remarks applied.
1421 There is another point. It is open to any individual against whom an order is in operation to apply for its revocation. Again, I am prepared to give full consideration to any such application, but—and this is my responsibility—I believe there is a hard core of these individuals whose presence in this country, even now, must be regarded as a potential danger. Therefore, I feel that the time has not come for these Orders—of course, I have specially in mind, as I indicated, the prohibition Orders—to lapse.
I have tried not to tread on any coats, however lightly they were trailed in this debate, or to put this case on an argument of tit-for-tat or of what should have been done. I have tried to carry out the undertaking I gave to the Committee. I must, in considering what should be done, take into account the information that is given to me. I cannot of necessity give all that information to the Committee. The Committee would never demand the complete information on these subjects, and never has, but I tell hon. Members the view that I have formed. I have tried to find a course which would meet the desire to get rid of exceptional powers in the hands of the Executive as fully as is possible in the situation. Therefore, I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman not to press the Amendment.
§ Mr. Ede
May I begin by congratulating the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary upon having been able to make the statement to the Committee that he has made this evening? This is a subject that, to my knowledge, has worried Home Secretaries ever since the Act of 1939. I am quite sure that I can speak for all the holders of that office I have known when I say that none of them has ever desired to do anything that appears to cut across the rule of law in a democratic country when he finds himself landed with these amazing powers which this House in times of great emergency is prepared to confer on the Member who holds that particularly high office of State.
It is, of course, one of the amazing things about the office of Home Secretary that the holder is simultaneously charged with the duty of preserving law and order and of seeing that individual liberty is not infringed. I have no doubt that the right hon. and learned Gentleman 1422 has found himself on occasion confronted, as I was, with having to balance in particular cases these two almost contradictory duties. I can say, speaking as one who held office before he did, that I am very glad to hear that this evening he feels that he can go as far as he has done in wiping out the effect of this legislation.
I do not think any new orders have been made in recent years, except those that were made on the prisoners who were released from Parkhurst during my term of office, and, as I told the Committee, I think on the last occasion, I was confronted with one or two gentlemen who said they would give me no undertaking at all when I tried to be as generous as possible with them, and that they preferred to have the full rigour of the law visited upon them, although I thought that the characters of one or two of them would have justified me in showing a little mercy. But when a man insists on being a martyr it is as well as a rule, I think, not to deny him the privilege.
Apparently the reduction in the number of orders has gone on slightly during the past year. I have, at any rate, fortified myself with the OFFICIAL REPORT which contained the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech of last year, and I think this is the position. With regard to the first set of orders—the expulsion orders—190 were originally made. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke to us last year, almost immediately on succeeding to office, there were 121 in operation. At the moment, he tells us, there are 112. That means that he has revoked nine during the past year.
I take it that where circumstances arise in the future which will enable one of these orders to be revoked the right hon. and learned Gentleman will apply to it the same principle which has been applied by himself and myself during the last seven years, because on occasion one of the persons against whom an expulsion order has been made applies for its revocation, and gives reasons for this. One man, astoundingly, wanted to live with his mother-in-law. A man who can apply for that reason show signs of not being too belligerent.
Other men have applied for other reasons, and after inquiries in Ireland and in this country it has been concluded 1423 that it is safe to withdraw the order and to allow the applicant to return. As far as I know, none of these men has misbehaved himself on his return. None had up to the time when I left office, and I do not recall hearing of a case during the right hon. and learned Gentleman's period in office. I am quite sure that if such a man had been brought before the courts we should have heard about it.
The registration certificates went a year ago. Prohibition orders were, I think, made to a considerable extent against the men who were last released. There were 64 in operation a year ago out of 71 original orders. The number has now been reduced to 60, so that four of these orders have been revoked during the past year. I feel that the statement which the Attorney-General has made tonight can be accepted as an assurance that we can now regard the position as between Great Britain and the subject of the Irish Republic as being such as to make us feel the possibility that the use of the powers will not be required in the future. I welcome the Attorney-General's statement that it is not his intention to use them.
The troubles between this country and Ireland have existed for centuries. They have involved so much hatred and bloodshed not merely in this country but throughout the world, where the long memories of the Irish in other countries have on occasions presented the Foreign Secretaries of this country with serious problems. Ancient memories, even when this country has tried to wipe out some of the difficulties, have continued to operate to the detriment of our relations with countries other than those where the Irish are in a majority. I hope that this statement will be accepted by the people of Southern Ireland and by Irish people throughout the world.
In the United States of America and with Australia, a Dominion where the descendants of the Irish are a potent factor in political affairs, I hope that what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said tonight will be regarded as a sincere effort on our part to prove that we do not desire to continue the memories of ancient animosities. We recognise the right that Southern Ireland had under the Statute of Westminster to leave the Commonwealth. She has, as I think unfortunately, taken that choice. 1424 But we desire that within these Islands there shall be friendship and understanding, and we hope that what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has told us this evening may assist in the task of securing real co-operation in the practice of democracy and democratic negotiation between the peoples who inhabit the British Isles.
§ Mr. Bing
Since I moved this Amendment and since I moved it last year, I hope the Committee will permit me to say a few words before I seek their permission and yours, Mr. Thomas, to ask leave to withdraw it.
As my right hon. Friend has said, I think all of us on this side of the Committee very much welcome the step which has been taken by the Home Secretary. There may not be much difference in practice between his step and that taken by my right hon. Friend. But when he was in office my right hon. Friend was in the difficulty that while there were still people in prison it was necessary to reserve the power to make these orders in order to deal with the situation when he wished to let some prisoners out rather ahead of the time they would normally have been let out.
I think it should go out from the Committee as a notable contribution towards improvement of relationships that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has taken the step he has taken, and the Committee as a whole should be extremely grateful to him for having done so. It is a pity that the Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House was not here, because he would then have realised the value of Parliamentary discussion. This was a conclusion reached not by means of the Guillotine or by moving the Closure but by course of discussion, and it was very fortunate that we were able to have this discussion at a time of the day when we could approach it fresh and arrive at what I think is a very sensible conclusion.
The evils of this Act are not only in its operation. They arise from the fact that there exists on the Statute Book an Act which names one particular country for the purpose of discrimination. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, it may well be that that is because in some other respects Ireland is particularly favoured—and that such a law might be necessary in relation to some other country if that were not so; but 1425 that discrimination exists and I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will do his best before next year to look into the matter again and see whether it really is not possible to do away with the Act altogether.
I quite agree with what he says—that it is not possible or proper or right that the Committee should discuss the advice he has received in regard to each individual case which occurs; but I would say that occasionally the advice received by the Home Office is wrong, and that history has proved that the facts as set out in Home Office reports are very different from the truth. We have had some interruptions from the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke). I should like to draw one example from his own constituency in regard to one such Home Office report which is proved by history to have been extremely inaccurate. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will turn to the first shorthand record of a trial ever taken, or one of the first shorthand records taken by Gurney's method, he will find that it was the trial of Peter the Painter, who burned down the dockyard at Portsmouth.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. George Thomas)
Perhaps the hon. and learned Member would relate his argument a little more definitely to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Bing
The point I am making, and I think it arose before you came into the Chair, Mr. Thomas, is that when we are dealing with cases of this sort for which there is apparently irrefutable evidence in the Home Office it is sometimes proved that that evidence has proved wrong.
Of course, people do change their views and in Irish history it would not have been possible to have had any negotiations with Irish politicians at all if they had been required to have an absolutely clean bill of health in regard to the use of force by arms or weapons on 1426 any occasion. That probably goes for politicians of the North and South as well. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should realise that people may and very often do change their opinions, and he ought to revise his opinions, not in the light of old files at the Home Office, but in the light of the latest information.
I wish to reiterate the last words of my right hon. Friend. The Irish problem, although certainly a problem of relations between Ireland and England, is in essence a Commonwealth problem. Next to the Jews, the Irish are the most dispersed of all peoples. Our relations with the Irish people affect our relations with the United States of America, Canada and Australia. [Laughter.] For those reasons, when we are dealing with an Irish problem we should not treat it as a laughing matter, as hon. Members opposite are doing. We should not treat it in the irresponsible way of hon. Members on the back benches; they should follow the very good example set them by their Front Bench. The Home Secretary has treated this problem in a manner of which no one could complain and with an example of good manners which has no effect on hon. Members behind him.
In these circumstances, I hope that before we consider this question next year, the Home Secretary will look at it again in the light of the considerations that I have put forward, and without seeking any pledge to that extent but in the belief that he will do so, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I beg to move, in page 3, line 21, at the end, to insert:
It will be noticed that this Amendment, unlike those we have been discussing which seek to omit certain words, seeks to insert certain words. We make no apology for raising this matter again, although it is true that discussion has taken place in the House on this subject on another Bill, because Mr. Speaker himself did assure us at an earlier date that there would be opportunity when the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill came before us to have a full discussion. Indeed, he suggested then that the discussion we had at the earlier date would not in any way prejudice consideration which 1427 we might wish to give it at the present time.
(6) 8 & 9 Geo. 6 c. 18 Local Authority Loans Act, 1945 Section one
It is perhaps a little unfortunate that we should be beginning the discussion of a matter of this importance quite so late in the evening. It would, no doubt have been preferable to have discussed it at an earlier hour because it undoubtedly raises matters of very real importance and, while we appreciate the fact that the Financial Secretary attempted to relieve our anxieties somewhat a fortnight ago in the discussion on the Public Works Loans Bill, I regret to say that our anxieties are by no means all allayed. We hope it will be possible for him to say rather more on this occasion.
In particular, we are not so much concerned with the proposals by which local authorities shall have an opportunity of going to the open market—although I know some of my hon. Friends are anxious about that—but rather we are anxious about the possibility that not merely shall they have the liberty but they shall be—to use various phrases used by hon. Members on the benches opposite—encouraged or given an incentive to go to the open market.
In that context we fear, following the remarks made by hon. Gentlemen opposite and the strong articles written in the Press, that behind the action proposed by the Government there lies something which is a little more than we have yet persuaded the Financial Secretary to disclose. Indeed, in the previous discussion we had on this subject, the Financial Secretary had rather to restrain or rebuke his own hon. Friends for their anxiety to go further than he declared it was his desire to go. We might almost have felt the hon. Gentleman did not wish his hon. Friends to disclose too clearly the real intentions of the Government at this early date.
Let me put the point rather more clearly. The Government are now claiming the right to allow local authorities to go to the open market to raise their loans instead of being controlled as they have been under the provisions of the Local Authorities Loans Act, to go to the Public Works Loans Board. So far so good. But it is quite clear that not merely will they be given that permission to go to the open market, but, permission having been given, they will be encour- 1428 aged so to do. It is very difficult to draw a line between encouragement and compulsion. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who shows encouraging and vigorous support for what I am saying, will no doubt have an opportunity of catching your eye, Mr. Thomas, in order to explain precisely what he meant both by encouragement and the phrase "discipline of the market" which he used.
It is important that we should know precisely what he means by those terms. It is clear, for example, that if the Government were to use the powers they undoubtedly have to raise interest rates chargeable by the Public Works Loan Board, that would be encouragement to the local authorities to go to the open market but encouragement pretty near to compulsion. We wish to be clear that no action of this kind is in the mind of the Government. We are still very doubtful what are the intentions of the Government from what we have heard up to now.
When I intervened in the debate a fortnight ago on broadly this subject, I questioned the precise words then used by the Financial Secretary. He then said:The local authorities have a big programme of commitments authorised by this Government and by the previous Government. While they are in this situation, it is clear that they must be given access to all the sources of finance, including the Local Loans Fund as now … and we shall have regard to the capacity of the market to accommodate local authority borrowing on reasonable terms.I asked the hon. Gentleman what precisely he meant by saying "While they are in this situation," because it rather suggested that this was a temporary Measure and that it was possible in the mind of the Government that, with some change in the situation, rather harsher methods would be employed to ensure that local authorities went on to the market instead of using the Public Works Loan Board.
Later in the debate the hon. Gentleman attempted to deal with the point, and he said:Those words were spoken in the context that it would obviously be quite illogical, when local authorities are undertaking commitments authorised and approved by the central Government, for the central Government to apply financial sanctions which would prevent them carrying out this operation. It is in that context, which I hope the hon. Member will find reassuring, that the words which seem to worry 1429 him arose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 967 and 1077.]I do not think that takes us any further. It leaves the impression in our minds that, while at present he knows that local authorities are carrying out works already authorised by past Governments and the present Government, and although the Government intend to leave them a free hand as to whether they use the Public Works Loan Board or not, obviously the Government are left free to make a change in the situation at an early date.
One of the methods that may be employed, it has been suggested by so many financial authorities, is that they may take an early opportunity of raising the rate of interest of the Public Works Loan Board. It is unfortunate that we should be discussing this matter out of sequence in that the House has already considered the question of the total size of the loans to be authorised by the Board during the coming year, because that matter is related very closely to whether or not we should give approval to the omission of this power with which we are now dealing. If we were to decide to re-insert these words, some amendment of the total sum authorised for issue by the Board might be necessary.
There is a further matter which I wish to raise. Can the Financial Secretary now tell us anything about the views of the local authorities on the subject? In this case, it is as well that a fortnight has elapsed since I raised the question, because it gives the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to tell us something more about the views not only of the larger authorities, who clearly have always been interested in securing this facility, but also of the smaller authorities.
If we are to regard this step, as many of us do, as merely a step towards an encouragement, and later as an incentive and finally as a compulsion, to send local authorities on to the open market, it will be a matter of very serious concern to many local authorities who at the moment are taking, I will not say a naive view of the assertions made by the Government Front Bench, but who perhaps are not being as sceptical as many of us are, quite naturally, on this side of the Committee. Their views may be very much changed if our fears are proved to be correct. I hope the Financial Secretary will seize this opportunity of giving us some further information and some more 1430 specific guarantees than he gave when we debated the matter on the previous occasion. He must do so if we on this side of the Committee are to be satisfied.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
I wish to ask the Government to define a little more clearly what their financial policy will be. On Second Reading of the Public Works Loans Bill the Financial Secretary, partly in rebuke, I think, of his hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and others of his hon. Friends, said that the significance that could be attached to the change which the Government was making by not renewing this particular Section of the Local Authorities Loans Act could be greatly exaggerated. He tried to give assurances to his hon. Friends, who were expressing the sort of doubts expressed just now by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), that there was no real intention of any change in Government policy.
But it was impossible for us not to be very well aware of the pressures in the City, which found quite able expression by the hon. Member for Kidderminster, the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) and others. What they are being asked to do is, as fast as they can, to give up any sort of Government control over the major sectors of investment in this country, and to leave them to the discipline of the market.
§ Mr. Albu
Presumably the local authorities are to come into that in the same way as everything else. This was strongly expressed by the hon. Member for Kidderminster, who is now apparently continuing to express his support of this view. He said:I believe that the freedom of play of the forces of supply and demand on the money market, as elsewhere within the national economy, and competition on the money market, are more likely to create a lower rate of interest than the fixed, rigid, and inflexible operations of the Public Works Loan Board."—[OFFICIAL REPORT; 12th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 1048.]
§ Mr. Albu
The hon. Gentleman cheers his previous remarks. I will return 1431 shortly to the question whether competition on the market is likely to lead to a lower rate of interest, because it seems to me that there is a great deal of confusion, not only on the back benches opposite and in the financial Press, but among Members of Her Majesty's Government themselves in their different Departments.
Before coming to that I want to deal with another fallacy, which was quite obvious, at any rate in the back bench speeches from the Government side of the House, namely, the view that, in some way, if the local authorities could be forced more and more to obtain their finance on the open market the necessity for a Budget surplus would be removed and taxation could therefore be lowered. Most people now, I think, understand that the purpose of a Budget surplus is to prevent a general state of inflation in the whole economy, and unless there were very large equivalent savings made by individuals or institutions to make up for this reduction in the Budget surplus, and in fact to provide the funds for the market, we should be in a highly inflationary state; and, of course, the competition on the market would force up the rate of interest very much.
I can quite well see that the hon. Member for Kidderminster and his hon. Friends on the back benches opposite are confused because there is obviously a great deal of confusion on the Government Front Bench as to whether or not the market can absorb new demands without greatly putting up the interest rates. We have had some interesting examples in the last two or three weeks of the differences of view held by the Government on these issues. For instance, after the Financial Secretary had already indicated that he hoped that local authorities would be able to obtain in the future most of their requirements from the market, we had from the Colonial Secretary a clear statement that the Colonies, at any rate, would not be able to obtain loans in the future to the extent that they had in the past on the open market.
In the Colonial Loans Bill he managed to increase the guarantees to be given by the Treasury to the Colonies for loans from the International Monetary Fund. What the Colonial Secretary said on the Second Reading was: 1432… loans of all kinds can be provided, in the end, only out of savings, and where movements of commodities across the seas are concerned we have also to bear in mind the general overall balance of payments. It is quite clear, and I think nobody in the House would dissent from it, that we have neither the available balance of payments nor the necessary volume of savings at home to finance all the projects which would be desirable. Therefore, we have to judge the volume which the London market can absorb."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 1262.]Whether or not it is clear that the Colonial Secretary will obtain loans on the open market, I agree that on the Second Reading of the Iron and Steel Bill, the Minister of Supply expressed the view—which may or may not be substantiated and which may or may not be based on evidence—that the steel companies, if returned to private enterprise, would find that there would be no insuperable problem in obtaining funds. When pressed on this point he hedged a good deal and did not follow it up. One cannot have it both ways—
§ Mr. Assheton
The hon. Member is trying to say that there is a divergence of opinion between Ministers in different Departments. Would I not be right in suggesting that whereas the Colonial Secretary might well look forward to some contribution from the International Monetary Fund to loans for the Colonies, there is no possibility that the Iron and Steel Bill might be sustained in that way or that the local authorities in this country could operate from the Fund? Therefore, there is no divergence of view on the Front Bench at all.
§ Mr. Albu
The Colonial Secretary said he thought it desirable—and he said it quite clearly—and that he would much prefer that money should be raised in this country on the London market. He did not say it was more desirable to borrow from the Fund. What he said was that the necessary volume of savings at home was not available and that therefore we would have to judge the volume which the London market can absorb and, I presume, he felt that the London market could not absorb it. These are quite different kinds of operations with quite different risks.
The only point I am making is that there is obviously going to be—and I do not think there is any reason to doubt this—very great competition for the 1433 available funds in the market. If it is really the intention to try to revert to the system whereby the only criterion as to the amount of national savings that should go to different sections of the economy is to be the test of the market and the interest rate, then we are bitterly opposed to that. Apart altogether from the fact that it is a complete destruction of any attempt at economic planning, it will mean very much higher charges so long as there is any attempt to increase investment in industry and in the Colonies and to deal with all the other things that we are trying to do.
We hope, indeed, that there will be very great pressure on the market for investment in the future. We want to see an expanding economy, and there will not be enough funds available. If the market is the only test, goodness knows what the rate will be. Certainly, it will be such a rate that the local authorities will find that either their rents will go up, or again there will be the old business of coming back on the Treasury to provide subsidies to meet interest rates that have been put up by Government policy—and round we go in the vicious circle.
We have put down the Amendment because we want to get a much clearer statement of what the Government's policy is in this matter. It is no good the Financial Secretary saying, "Oh, well, this is a lot of nonsense and a waste of time, because we have no intention of doing these things." We feel strongly that it is the slippery slope, on which he is very pleased to start himself sliding down. I do not believe that he or his right hon. Friends want to resist the move which is being pressed on them, and which will be pressed on them more and more as we approach the Budget. On this side of the Committee, we want to issue the strongest warning against the reversion to such a policy. That is why we put down the Amendment, and I hope that we shall have a much clearer statement of the Government's intention.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) has constantly referred to me. Surely the difference in principle between us is simply that we on this side believe that capital investment should be financed from savings and that current expenditure should be financed by taxation, whereas hon. Gentlemen 1434 opposite continue the Socialist shibboleth that was practised between 1945 and 1951 of saying that capital investment must be financed by taxation, which in our view is fundamentally wrong.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Surely, the reason that private individuals' and corporate savings are insufficient in aggregate to finance the scale of capital investment that we all desire, is genuine and direct evidence that the scale of taxation is much too high.
§ Mr. Albu
If one took the reduction of taxation so far and removed the taxation from those classes who are not now able to make direct savings and from a very small number of those who would have large incomes, one would then be able to restore very large private savings. But I do not believe that even the hon. Gentleman imagines that in this century it will be possible to restore large private incomes as the main sources of savings and investment in the community. If that is not done, we have to find other methods of doing it. There are all sorts of ways, but it would be out of order for me to discuss them now.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Surely, the principal source of saving is by corporate savings—that is, by company saving. That is not a question of large reductions in taxation accruing to a few rich, private individuals. It is a matter of sane economic policy.
§ Mr. Albu
Of course, company savings have been the largest source of savings in the last few years. But even if they were to be increased now, I do not think, in view of the enormous demands for new investment in plant and machinery, that any increase of company saving by the reduction of taxation on companies would find its way into the market for colonial loans, local authority loans, and so on. [Interruption.] All I can say is that the companies do not know their job. They are all complaining, the whole time, that they have not enough savings to use in their own business.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
Surely, this must be elementary. If, in fact, com- 1435 panies are being forced to go to the London market to borrow in considerable quantities, and if instead of that, because of the reduction of taxation, they are allowed to meet their capital requirements out of their own resources, it takes them off the London market; and that source is, therefore, available for local authorities or somebody else. That, surely, must be elementary.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Albu
That is so, but of course I understood that industry wanted large funds itself, and that there is in fact a large shortage of general capital, even if industry were allowed to retain more of its profits. But it is not as simple as that. If profits are retained then eventually they reach the shareholders of the companies.
§ Mr. Pitman
The hon. Gentleman has been giving way courteously, but he has been asking for interruption. If in an inflationary state of affairs the stock of a company is priced up four or five times, as has happened in this inflationary situation, then that has to be financed. There is the same quantity of goods in stock, but they are worth five times as much. Merely to finance those inflationary increases in stocks out of income tax or out of profit and loss account balances left after tax is not to put any benefit into the hands of the shareholder at all. In fact the shareholder has been losing ownership of his stock by reason of inflation and it is he who is on the slippery slope about which the hon. Gentleman has been talking, although he is not now going down quite so fast for a change.
§ Mr. Albu
In those circumstances I should suppose that both sides of the balance sheet would increase in money value, and that also applies to the shares. Anyway, I leave it at that. Whether it is just that that should happen I will leave to another occasion. I had not intended to go on for so long, and I would 1436 not have done so but for interventions, and I should now like to hear what the Financial Secretary has to say about general financial policy.
§ Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)
While my hon. Friends appear to be concerned about whether the Government's intention is to compel local authorities to go to the market, I feel that the Amendment is justified more by the observations of the Minister during the Second Reading of the Public Works Loans Bill in which he indicated that Members who had spoken in favour of the Government's proposals and those who had criticised them had both to some degree exaggerated their significance. He said:I do not think on the one hand there will be the budgetary consequences which some of my hon. Friends appear to hope, nor equally …. are there behind this Bill either the sinister motives or rather odd consequences which certain hon. Gentlemen appear to fear."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th Nov., 1952; Vol. 507, c. 1074.]I take it that the question of budgetary consequences would refer to substantial budgetary savings with the possibility of reducing taxation, and I assume that the reference to sinister motives relates to placing local authorities at the mercy of the open money market, or alternatively a rise in the rate of interest to the Public Works Loan Board.
On that occasion the Financial Secretary indicated to one of his hon. Friends that he would give serious consideration to the question of reducing the Stamp Duty and fees. I look upon the Public Works Loan Board as being a very expensive instrument for local authorities and, indeed, it is one of the most profitable departments from the Government's point of view.
I find that local authorities are being asked to pay fees at the rate of 4s. per cent. and Stamp Duty at the rate of 5s. per cent. I find that in 1950–51 no less than £672,000 was collected in respect of fees and £839,000 in respect of Stamp Duty. Indeed, in two years the Government collected £1,500,000 for fees and £1,800,000 in respect of Stamp Duty and yet the total operational cost of the Public Works Loan Board in these two years amounted to £146,000.
Obviously, there is need for serious consideration to be given to the issue by the Financial Secretary, because I am 1437 satisfied—and I think he should be satisfied—that an investigation into the matter would prove that fees at the rate of 6d. per cent. would be adequate to cover all the operational and administrative costs relating to the functions of the Public Works Loan Board. I have intervened merely in order to see if the hon. Gentleman could give some assurance that that aspect of the problem will be investigated.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I support the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) because his experience and mine of local government finance are not dissimilar. It is plain that he has had bitter experience of the Public Works Loan Board, and he rightly protested against the expense and the costly methods to which they have resorted. It is within the knowledge of the Committee that Glasgow and Edinbugh welcome the opportunity to ventilate their views. These two proud cities never did require to be suppliants at the door of the Government's lending Department.
It is gratifying to have not only the support of the hon. Member for Glasgow. Central but also the powerful support in an earlier debate of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell). He has as great a knowledge of local government as anyone in this Committee. This opening of the money market is a real step towards freedom, and, whatever may be said by some less informed Members of the Opposition, it is undoubtedly true that local authorities everywhere will welcome it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has given me a very apt quotation from the OFFICIAL REPORT. The hon. Member for Leeds, West stated:I will not hide the fact that this Bill will be generally welcomed by the local authorities …and at this point my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster interrupted to say:Hear, hear; honesty itself.The hon. Member went on:Broadly speaking, this Bill will be welcomed, because it does restore a degree of flexibility to the local authorities which was not necessary when cheap money was obtainable from the Public Works Loan Board, but which now, when interest rates are rising, is certainly a very great advantage."—[OFFICIAL 1438 REPORT, 12th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 1039–40.]I cannot imagine a more general commendation for the proposal before the Committee.
Whether local authorities must borrow is a question which many connected with local authority finance ask. Must we go on at this rate of progress, borrowing, borrowing, borrowing, and laying burdens on unborn generations? It is borrowing to an unwarrantable and justifiable extent which has created the higher rates in the money market. Withdrawal would cause the rates to fall. If there is objection to a possible increase in the rates of interest in the open money market the remedy is simple; do not borrow. There is no compulsion to borrow.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Is the hon. Gentleman advocating that local authorities should abolish building as well as borrowing?
§ Sir W. Darling
The hon. Gentleman thinks he has caught me. I would say that it might well be that there are certain local authorities who boggled at building houses, who retired when they should have gone forward, and who built when they should not have done, who are behaving unwisely in this matter. We may be over-building. Whether we are over-building or not, we are certainly over-borrowing.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
I think that no one could accuse Edinburgh Corporation of borrowing to too great an extent in recent years to build houses for the working classes. However, I think the Committee will agree that the speeches from this side of the Committee so far have shown that we have put down this Amendment so that the Financial Secretary might clarify the position. Do the Government intend to force local authorities increasingly on to the open market, and to create circumstances which make it necessary for them to borrow at rates of interest in excess of 4¼ per cent. in respect of money borrowed for a period of 15 years from the Public Works Loan Board? There have been conflicting statements.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes), in making his inquiries into the matter of Stamp Duty, and the fees paid to the Public Works Loan Board, wrote to the Financial Secretary 1439 to the Treasury some little time ago, and received from him a letter in reply dated the 27th August. I want to quote what the Financial Secretary then said. After giving the statement on the cost of the operation of the Board, he said:It should be borne in mind, however, that the fee charged has been calculated on the estimated cost of making the advances and maintaining the loan accounts over the full period of the Board's loans, together with the corresponding costs of the National Debt Commissioners and the Treasury in debt management over the same period. You will, therefore, appreciate that if at any time the Board ceased to make new advances and thus received no further income from fees, they would still have to maintain the bulk of the outstanding Housing accounts for the remainder of 60 years …It was clear to me from the terms of that letter that the Financial Secretary, as recently as 27th August, foresaw the time when the Board would cease to make advances to local authorities. However, a little while ago, when he was moving the Second Reading of the Public Works Loans Bill, he made it quite clear that the amount of money to be so borrowed by the local authorities in the ensuing 12 months or the period covered by the Bill would exceed the amount provided for in the Bill passed just about a year ago. But this letter seems to me to make it clear that if the Government can manage it the amount of £1,050 million provided for in the recent Bill will cover a period far in excess of 12 months.
The Government would appear to have been bent upon squeezing the local authorities progressively on to the open market and requiring them to pay interest charges far in excess of the 4¼ per cent. ruling at the present time. The Financial Secretary not only needs to make more clear than has been made hitherto what his right hon. Friends and he himself have been trying to do in recent weeks and months but to tell us what is behind this reference in his letter from which I have just quoted.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
As was said by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) when he moved this Amendment, it is different both in form and substance from those with which the Committee have been dealing during the 1440 earlier part of today. As he has pointed out, whereas all the previous Amendments have sought to take words out of the Schedule and therefore to take Acts of Parliament out of the Statute Book, what this Amendment seeks to do and would have the effect of doing is to bring into the Schedule and therefore continue in force a provision which the Government suggest should come to an end at the end of the year.
That raises a real point of substance, because whatever may be the intentions of the hon. Gentleman in moving this Amendment and however it may be a convenient vehicle for the discussion of matters in which he and his hon. Friends are very much interested, the issue raised by this Amendment is simply, aye or no, whether the restriction imposed by Section 1 of the Local Authorities Loans Act, 1945, shall continue to operate after 31st December.
Though I shall seek—I hope within the rules of order—to deal with some of the broader issues raised, I say at once that I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) into the interesting speculations on the subject of taxation into which he was somewhat ingeniously led. The hon. Member is an innocent abroad who gets into trouble in that way.
Nevertheless I am bound to remind the Committee that when all is said and done in respect of the other points connected with local authority borrowing, the essence of this debate is that the Opposition have put on the Order Paper—and it is for them to decide whether they press it further than the Order Paper—a proposal that a restriction should be continued upon the local authorities in respect of borrowing which my hon. Friends and I say should be lifted from them.
I thought that in one or two speeches from the benches opposite to which we have just listened there was a suggestion that it was hon. Members opposite who were champions of the local authorities. That forces me to remind them that it is their Amendment which would impose upon local authorities a restraint upon their financial operations which is not imposed upon private individuals, public companies or nationalised industries. Hon. Members have sought to suggest—and the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon- 1441 Tyne, East made it quite clear that this was the real purpose behind his somewhat paradoxical proposal—that by dropping Section 1 of the Act of 1945 the Government were motivated by some obscure and sinister intention to cripple local authority finance.
That, if it means anything, would mean an intention to cripple housing activity since, as the Committee will remember from the figures I gave to the House on the Second Reading of the Public Works Loans Bill, a large proportion of the money issued from the Public Works Loans Board goes, and will continue to go, in support of the housing programme. I should have thought that if there were one matter on which it does not lie in the mouths of hon. Members opposite to criticise it was on our devotion to the housing programme.
It was not this Government, at any rate, which imposed restrictions on housing development which screwed down the output of houses to 200,000 a year or less.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Surely the hon. Gentleman did not care to listen to his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), who spoke so vigorously on that matter.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
My hon. Friend speaks for himself and I certainly did not understand my hon. Friend to criticise the housing programme, which is one of the triumphs of this Government and which it is really rather remarkable that hon. Members opposite should seek to suggest we desire to hamper.
As I understood it, the criticism made on other occasions from the benches opposite has been that we were building too many houses. It really does not lie in their mouths to suggest that behind the perfectly simple proposal contained in this Bill to open up further sources of local authority finance there could possibly lie any intention whatever to interfere with local authorities in the active co-operation which they are giving to this Government in carrying out the housing programme by which this Government set so much store.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that the Government are inevitably creating conditions, because of their dearer money policy, by which local authorities will not be able to build the number of houses they so urgently need to build?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That point, even if it were accurate, is mainly irrelevant to this proposal because, the hon. Member must appreciate, the fact is that the Government's proposal is simply to open an additional source to local authority finance. I am quite prepared to debate with the hon. Member on the Government's financial policy until the cows come home—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Well, the bulls or bears—but I doubt if I should be permitted. The hon. Member must realise that it is really extraordinary to suggest, as has been suggested from the benches opposite, that this Government should seek to do something which is so completely inconsistent with the whole policy in respect of housing on which we have concentrated so much energy during the last year.
I think it was the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East who asked if I would state a little further the results of our contacts with local authorities on this matter, to which I referred on the Second Reading of the Public Works Loans Bill. The Committee will recall that, at the request of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) I subsequently circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT a copy of the circular sent to local authorities on the subject. The Committee, therefore, may be interested to know the present position.
Since that circular has been sent it has been possible to arrange a meeting of all the associations concerned for 18th December to discuss, as we have indicated to them, any points that they may wish to bring up. Not all the associations to whom we wrote have yet had time to consult their executive committees, but such information as we have so far received suggests that the proposed lapsing of Section 1 will be welcomed by them, and we have heard nothing that suggests that any authority would prefer the Section to remain in force until the end of next year. I think that may be of assistance to the Committee.
1443 It may also be pertinent to record that this provision was never intended to be permanent. When the original Local Authorities Loans Act was before the House in 1945, at the suggestion, I think, of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor), a definite period of five years was inserted as a result of a Government Amendment in Committee. This five-year period expired in 1950 and has twice been extended, in the Expiring Laws Continuance Acts of 1950 and 1951.
The provision has therefore lasted already two years longer than it was originally contemplated would be necessary, and we have come to the conclusion that the time has now come when this restriction—together with others with which we have been able to dispense—should go. I really think that the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East must be of a very nervous disposition. The amount of reassurance he seems to need is quite considerable. I am sure he is the sort of person who always looks under the bed when he goes to bed at night.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I doubt whether my reply would be in order.
I think the hon. Gentleman really does worry himself a little unnecessarily because, quite apart from the very full and detailed indication of our attitude in this matter which I gave to the House during the Second Reading and Committee stages of the Public Works Loans Bill—and the Committee will recall that the proceedings on that Measure were of quite reasonable length—the fact remains that any such intention as seems to worry the hon. Member—interference with the right of local authorities to finance themselves—would immediately imperil the major element of Government housing policy. If it is of any assistance to say it again, I gladly repeat that it is not the Government's policy to force authorities into the stock market. We aim at a borrowing programme agreed with those concerned, and my assurances, which have been given at far greater length during the two debates to which reference has been made, are in HANSARD to read.
1444 The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) referred to the expense of borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board. I think he raised very interesting points, but of course their relevance to this issue is against the Amendment moved from his own benches because, if the Public Works Loan Board is from the local authority point of view an expensive place to which to resort, it is surely a good service to them to make available some alternative. The hon. Member referred to the Stamp Duty. I made some mention of the matter during the previous proceedings, and my undertaking to look into that matter most certainly stands.
§ Mr. McInnes
In addition to the Stamp Duty, I asked the hon. Gentleman to look into the matter of fees.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I gave no previous assurance as to that. The hon. Member is quite right. I am not tonight in a position to say anything except that the hon. Gentleman, who is experienced in local government, has mentioned it, and it will naturally be examined. That should not be construed as an assurance that action will follow. What the hon. Gentleman has said is in HANSARD and, as he has great experience of local government, it will certainly be looked into.
That brings me to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), who quoted from the letter I wrote on, I think, 27th August, to one of his hon. Friends. I am bound to say that I have rarely heard a structure of argument poised so delicately on so unsubstantial a foundation. The hon. Member referred to the fact that I mentioned, as being among the factors affecting the charges made by the Board, that calculations were made allowing for a time when the Board might not be lenders; and he built on that remark a structure of argument that we were planning to shut down the Board.
He must know perfectly well that in an institution which is lending money, as the Board does, for as long a period as 60 years, the actuarial calculations have to include all sorts of contingencies, including, no doubt, the contingency that the body, however august, might not be eternal. Even the hon. Member is not eternal. The possibility of changes in the course of nature and time is some- 1445 thing which we must contemplate, and to suggest that, because the normal calculations are made for a responsible lending body, there must be read into that some sinister indication that the Government intend at an early date to close down local authority borrowing from the Board is, if I may say so, a fantastic suggestion.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman knows that this instrument and comparable instruments have been lending money since 1817. He admitted in the letter from which I quoted that the Public Works Loan Board were receiving in fees each year 10 times the operational cost of the Board. Is he suggesting that it is necessary to make that kind of profit on the operation of the Board on the chance that the Board will cease to lend money in a few years' time but will continue to administer the loans already issued?
If the Government have any confidence in the Board being used by local authorities, they should have confidence in there continuing to be income from fees for many years to come—indeed, throughout the whole period of the loans—to meet the operational cost of the Board from year to year. That is the point I was making, and I hope the hon. Gentleman sees that it is substantial. Will he bear in mind that this instrument has been in existence for a very long time? We are merely afraid that the Government will do their utmost to throw local authorities away from this instrument and on to the money market.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The Board has existed for a long time and, as far as I know, throughout the greater part of that time it has been operating precisely the policy which appears now so to agitate the hon. Gentleman. The factor referred to was, as he knows, one of the factors which caused fees to be assessed at this level but not the only factor. This policy having been pursued by the Board, who take the initiative, in the first place, in fixing their fees—not the Treasury—the hon. Gentleman should be reassured. But I cannot and do not propose to interfere with the Board in acting as they do, in very sensibly settling their level of fees on the ordinary basis of sound commercial policy. Indeed, were they not to do so, I am sure the hon. Gentleman him- 1446 self—certainly if he were sitting on these benches—would be the first to suggest that we ought to intervene.
I have already said that, although I am not in a position tonight to say anything about the accuracy or inaccuracy of the level at which the fees are assessed, in view of what has been said I am prepared to look into the question of the amount as a practical and business question. It seemed to me that that was a reasonable proposition. But the hon. Member for Hamilton seems to be passing beyond the bounds of reason into the realms of fantasy when he seeks to construct his extraordinary hypothesis upon so slender a basis.
The point of the Amendment is extraordinarily simple. It is this. Is it now justified, seven years after the end of the war, to maintain on local authorities a restriction which is special and peculiar and which imposes an additional restriction over and above those which fall upon other potential borrowers? That is the issue raised quite clearly by this Amendment. We say that the time has come to remove this restriction that the time has come to give to them the opportunity, as other bodies have, of, in appropriate cases, going to the market—not only the stock markets but to the mortgage market, which is also involved.
I put it to the House that restrictions of this sort, imposed in the very different circumstances of 1945, really ought not to be maintained unless it can be shown, and shown conclusively, that there is an overwhelming case for maintaining this special and peculiar restriction upon local authorities. We say there is no practical need; we say that it is right to give them this freedom, this opportunity, and that therefore this Section should lapse at the end of this month.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The Financial Secretary has such an acute mind that I can only assume that this incredible inversion of the realities of this argument has been done because he realises that he has a singularly weak case. I think I can expose his 20-minute exposition in about two or three minutes, and I think it is worth while showing what is happening to local authorities in this connection. The hon. Gentleman speaks as though he were conferring upon them a favour, as though he were restoring to them a freedom which is denied to them.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I see that the hon. Gentleman has for a moment the support of his hon. and learned Friend. Let us examine what this freedom springs from, and what is the reason for giving it. The Financial Secretary knows that local authorities had no concern about their freedom and their inability to borrow from the stock markets as long as they were able to borrow money from the Public Works Loan Board at a low rate of interest. He has had to confer this freedom upon local authorities because the Government's dear money policy has put local authorities in the position where they must search round for some cheaper money to borrow.
During the whole period of the Labour Government, local authorities could borrow at rates which varied between £2 10s. per cent. £2 12s. per cent. and £2 19s. per cent. Over the whole of the last three years they could borrow at less than £3 per cent. They did not want their freedom then; they were not concerned about the fact that they were restricted to the Public Works Loan Board. Of course they were not. They knew that even if they went out into the market they would not get any cheaper money for long-term borrowing, and so they were content with the position.
What the Government have now done is to say, "With one hand we lift the rate of interest so that you may borrow, and now you may go elsewhere and see if you can do so a bit more cheaply." What is the Government's policy on this? Are they trying to raise the rate of interest against local authorities as they have already done through the medium of raising the rate of interest of the Public Works Loan Board? Or do they want them to be able to go into the market, to institutions who can get money more cheaply, so that local authorities may borrow at something like the same rates at which they were borrowing under the Public Works Loan Board when the Labour Government were in office?
It seems to me that there is some incoherence in Government policy in this. I see that the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) takes the point. Either they want the local authorities to borrow at a dear rate or they want them to borrow cheaply 1448 and are giving them this freedom in order that they may borrow more cheaply. This is why my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) is suspicious of the Financial Secretary, because he is unwontedly incoherent; incoherence is a defect we do not normally associate with him.
We are suspicious of the Financial Secretary because we believe that the way in which the Government will get local authorities to pay a high rate of interest is by raising yet again rates of interest to be paid to the Public Works Loan Board. If the Financial Secretary thinks that my hon. Friend is unduly suspicious in this matter, may I quote from that well-known organ in the City the "Financial Times." It is frequently the case that views one hears expressed in the T.U.C. have sometimes been uttered from this side of the House. Similarly, views which we read in the "Financial Times" and in the other organs in the City may sometimes be found coming from the other side of the House.
The "Financial Times" says on this matter:The present rates structure of the Public Works Loan Board is so competitive that even local authorities of the highest standing would not find much inducement to go elsewhere for their capital needs…. It might be desirable to establish a system of rates for official lending which would take account of the credit standing of every authority applying for aid. But the Public Works Loan Board's minimum rates should at least be adjusted to ensure that the larger local authorities can see a definite prospect of borrowing more economically from the market.What does that mean unless it is an invitation to the Government to raise the rates charged by the Board so that it will then become cheaper for the local authorities to go outside to the market and get their money?
What a curious financial set-up this is. The Financial Secretary says that this is not his intention. I hope not, and I take his assurances that it is not—but then I really fail to see that the Government's credit policy and borrowing policy in relation to this matter makes any sense at the moment. The consequence of the Financial Secretary's policy has been that when the interest rates of the Board were raised, the market immediately called in all the short-term loans that local authorities had. They called them in because they had been able to get seven-day money at 2¼ or 2½ per cent.
1449 In some cases that seven-day money was retained by local authorities for borrowings. They were able, therefore, to borrow that money more cheaply than they could through the Board at that time because it was very short-term money. Now the insurance companies and the other interests in the market have called it in and are re-issuing it to local authorities at a higher rate. I suggest that the Financial Secretary should have instructed the Board to issue loans for shorter periods than the period of the loan sanction guaranteed by the Treasury.
One of the shortcomings of the Board at the moment is that it will only issue loans for periods provided for in the loan sanction; but a local authority that is building houses does not wish to borrow money, say, for a housing programme spread over a great many years, at 4¼ per cent. for 60 years, when it knows there is a certain prospect of the return of a Labour Government with a cheaper money policy long before the end of that time. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh but believe me, borough treasurers are hard-headed men and there are many borough treasurers who are saying to themselves, "How long is the Government going to last? How long are these high rates of interest to be in existence? And how long, therefore, have we to go on borrowing for a period of 60 years, if we get loan sanction, when we may get the loan much cheaper later on?"
The Financial Secretary could have avoided these considerations by not indulging in a dear money policy. Having indulged in it, what he should have done was to have given the Board sanction to issue loans for less than the period of the loan sanction and then he need not have told us that he was restoring to them freedom which, in fact, they had been deprived of by the Government through the Government's own decision in raising the rate of interest.
§ 12 midnight.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
We have listened with great care to what the Financial Secretary has said, and I must disappoint him by saying that he has far from removed what, I think, are our perfectly justifiable suspicions. His insistence tonight that he and his Government, for whom he speaks, have no intention of forcing local authorities—I take it that he would couple with that the giving of such 1450 encouragement as was tantamount to forcing local authorities—on to the open market, will not be well received by many of his hon. Friends behind him.
We on this side of the House would wish to give the Financial Secretary every support in his struggle with his hon. Friends in insisting that local authorities shall not be forced upon the open market. I hope that he will take that assurance from us of our very limited good will for that very restricted purpose. In spite of the assurances that the hon. Gentleman has given us, we are still, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has pointed out, far from satisfied that it is not the intention of the Government to follow policies which would in fact encourage, if not finally force, local authorities on to the open market; and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall certainly follow with the greatest care and interest the further development of policy which, no doubt, will become clear as the months go by.
On that understanding, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
I do this for the very substantial reason that we have made progress. Those of us who have been sitting here since 3.30 this afternoon know the amount of work that the Committee has got through in that length of time. We have disposed of half the work that is set for us on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. Five of the Acts which the Government have asked us to discuss have, in fact, been discussed; explanations have been given, statements of policy have been made, and we can all claim that we have taken part in a very useful day's work.
It has been notable because we have had some statements of Government policy that had we not pursued these debates we should not have had. We were very glad indeed to hear, for example, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport promise us that we were about to get a Road Traffic Bill. I hope that the Leader of the House has heard about it in the present state of the programme. At least, we were glad to know that this was likely to come. We 1451 were also glad to hear the Home Secretary say, on the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1939, that he did not propose to use his power to issue any more orders for the time being. Those were very substantial advances, for which we are grateful, and we think the debate has been worth while if only for this.
We are now half-way through our work, and I suggest that it is a good moment for the Government to tell us what are their intentions. We are about to embark upon a number of Acts that deal with Scottish matters. It would not be for me to comment upon the loquacity or otherwise of Scotsmen. What is undoubted is that they are pertinacious if not loquacious. Quite apart from the merits of entering upon Scottish business at this time of night, about which I have no doubt some of my hon. Friends will have views—and, I expect, beyond the border they will re-echo at the week-end—there is also the case that we should consider whether this is the appropriate time to start work that is bound to be prolonged and arduous. For myself, I feel much like Wellington must have felt at the Battle of Waterloo, when he saw Marshal Blucher arriving at dusk. And the Scottish cohorts have arrived—
§ Mr. Callaghan
In that case they have been distinguished by their silence. Soon no doubt, the claymores will be wielded. I see the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling). The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) appears to be trembling on the verge of speech, and no doubt he will be honouring us before long. The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) looked in with a pile of papers as if about to take part in a debate on the Transport Bill. He departed when he saw what we were doing.
It would be really too bad if the supporters of the Leader of the House were so drugged with lack of sleep as to be unable to witness the horrible guillotine proceedings. For those reasons, I would suggest to him the time has come to accept this Motion. We feel we have done a good day's work. There has been no waste of time. Points have been put 1452 briefly and with considerable force. They have attracted adequate replies, and in those circumstances I hope we shall secure a statement of the Government's intention with regard to the progress during the second half of this Bill tonight.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)
I have listened very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has had to say, but I think, as there are so many Scottish Members here who have been waiting all this time to have their opportunity of raising some point or other that may be in the remaining parts of the Schedule, it would be just as well perhaps to start on the Scottish section and carry on with the debate. It does not look at first sight as if there was any particular reason for any prolonged debate. As far as is known they are Acts which hon. Gentlemen in all parts want to see continued. I know that technically they have to move their deletion because it is the only way of securing a debate, but up to now none of these objections have been pressed; and assuming that hon. Gentleman from Scotland wish the debate to be continued and wish to raise one or two inquiries, which my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends will be prepared to answer, it will be just as well to carry on a little longer.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will re-consider this point because among the matters still to be discussed is the important question of the whole treatment of rent tribunals, a serious subject of concern to Members on both sides of the Committee, affecting both Scotland and England, and one that should be taken at a reasonable hour when proper consideration can be given to it.
§ Mr. Rankin
I should like to reinforce that plea. The Leader of the House must not treat Scottish business in the lighthearted way he did just now. He said that we might now go ahead with Scottish business because his impression was that all that remained were one or two minor matters on which we had assembled here to put one or two points of inquiry. I want to assure him that if that is his impression, then it is totally wrong. We are not here merely to inquire and get answers to one or two questions. The matters which are before us now are matters of particular interest to a great many people in Scotland.
§ Mr. Crookshank
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that he is going to press that these Acts should not be continued?
§ Mr. Rankin
It is not for me to reveal the secrets that lie in the breasts of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. He will just have to follow a well-known maxim and wait and see.
There is another point that I should like the right hon. Gentleman to consider. It is now 11 minutes past 12, and I would advise him that it certainly will create a very bad impression in Scotland when it gets out that this is the way in which a Tory Government treats Scottish business. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I hope that the support that I am eliciting will provoke some helpful response from the Leader of the House. I do not think it is fair either to Scotland or to the interests of Scotland that we should be commencing Scottish business at this hour, when the House ought to be thinking of finishing its business for the day. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will now give me his ear. He cannot talk to someone on his own Front Bench and listen to me at the same time. I plead with him to re-consider the matter and agree to the Motion.
§ Mr. Ross
The Leader of the House has not shown himself in the past to be peculiarly sensitive to the wishes of the Committee from the point of view of English Members. Tonight I am perfectly sure that he has failed completely to grasp the importance of this matter to Scottish Members. He seemed to imply that suddenly Scottish Members had come into the Committee and that the Scottish business is now about to begin. He should appreciate that the Acts that we have been discussing in this Bill include at least two which are of considerable importance to Scotland.
If he had mentioned the fact that probably for the first time we now have the presence of almost a full Scottish Office contingent, he would have been quite right. This is the first time today that we have seen the Secretary of State for Scotland, whereas Members on this side of the Committee have not only been here during the whole of the proceedings but have been addressing themselves to the problems of the Bill. If the right hon. 1454 Gentleman suggests that we can deal with the Scottish questions in a short time, it is time that he learned something about the nature of Scotsmen. We are not prepared to be fobbed off as if our business were of secondary importance and could be considered at any time in the space of about five minutes.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman saw the Scottish papers after the Guillotine debate last week, but he certainly was not awarded full marks in his appreciation of the importance that Scotland places upon Scottish matters. Having got himself into bad grace over that, I would advise him seriously to reconsider this question of forcing Scottish matters through at nearly 15 minutes past midnight.
§ 12.15 a.m.
§ Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)
I should like to reinforce the plea which has been made by my hon. Friends because the Leader of the House has offended every one of us by the casual way in which he referred to the three Scottish Acts which we have to discuss in the content of this Bill. They are of serious importance to us. They are not Measures on which we want to make one or two cursory remarks, one or two casual phrases, or ask one or two passing questions. They are of fundamental importance to the majority of people in Scotland.
The Education (Exemptions) (Scotland) Act is one which affects schoolchildren in the cities as well as in the rural areas. That is an important Act to a large number of people, in fact, to the majority of people in the country. The Tenancy of Shops (Scotland) Act affects small shopkeepers throughout Scotland. It is an important Measure in which I would have thought hon. Members opposite would have especial interest. I have a special interest in it because I served for many weeks on the Committee of Inquiry which produced recommendations on which this Act was based. Does the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) wish to interrupt?
§ Sir W. Darling
The hon. Member is making an interesting speech, but I suggest that we could get on with matters if he cut it short.
§ Mr. Taylor
I am trying to put one or two reasons to the Leader of the House why he should change his mind. I cannot pretend to do that in a second or two. It takes some time to change his mind. I am trying to put to him what I hope are powerful reasons why he should not write off in such an off-hand way Acts which affect our fellow countrymen. Another Act which affects Scotland is the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act. That is the Act on which the English Act was based after experience of the Measure in Scotland. Then there are two important English Acts which follow, and which affect licensed premises and furnished houses rent control.
The party opposite has more reason to fear Scottish Nationalism and its growth than have hon. Members on this side. People with an inferiority complex are always looking for some slight to Scotland to exaggerate. By his attitude tonight, the Leader of the House has given them ample ammunition. I ask him to re-consider his decision and to give us an occasion when we can discuss these Scottish matters fully when we have been refreshed by some rest.
§ Mr. Bing
I intervene only because I see the Lord Privy Seal is on the Front Bench and I want to take the earliest opportunity to apologise for something I said on the last occasion he was there. I accused him of going off and leaving us, but the fact was that he had an engagement. I appreciate that now, and I am sorry if I gave a wrong impression.
Now may I address a practical argument to him. Surely the last thing he would want to do, after the unfortunate publicity which the brewers' organisation got in the last Parliament, is to run this debate in such a way that the brewers' matters are discussed at a time when they can be reported in the first editions of the evening Press and when Scottish matters, about which the Government hope to have a rather better record, are not reported.
Secondly, surely he does not want this debate to be conducted in such a way that the voice of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) is stilled. Up to now we have never been able to discuss a Scottish matter without the debate being enriched by some contribution from that quarter. It would be very 1456 unfair on all those hon. Members opposite who very rightly and properly stayed in order to take part in this debate if it were conducted in such circumstances that they were prevented by their own Chief Whip from making the contributions which they, in their own particular way, intended to make.
In those circumstances I hope that an opportunity will be afforded for these matters to be discussed by both sides of the Committee and that the right hon. Gentleman will consider the pleas which have already been made to break off our discussion at this time and continue on some other and more appropriate occasion. It is quite wrong, as so many of my hon. Friends have said, to discuss Scottish matters at this time of night. I say that as somebody who has not a particularly vested interest in Scotland. If there is any order of priority the Acts should be re-arranged so that Northern Ireland and its affairs come last or, like Questions to Ministers, are made to revolve so that they are never reached and more important Measures are taken first.
At this particular time hon. Gentlemen opposite should remember what they said in their election addresses. They should recall these long-forgotten documents, in which they said they were prepared to have these matters discussed by Parliament and subjected to a thorough Parliamentary review. They should ask themselves whether a discussion at this time of night, in which none of their hon. Friends are able to participate—perhaps because they are not allowed to speak at this time—is a proper Parliamentary discussion, with the give and take which I know the right hon. Gentleman the Patronage Secretary likes to encourage.
I hope that in those circumstances they will reconsider their decision and break off this discussion now, so that we may have an opportunity to discuss these matters at a reasonable time. The country does not approve of its affairs being discussed at a time when hon. Members opposite are not fully able to concentrate on them. They are only capable of a moderate degree of concentration and they have now lost it, for they have made no contribution at all, and I will wager that there will be no contribution from the benches opposite for the rest of the night.
1457 It may be that on this side of the Committee we are of stouter stuff and can discuss these things without feeling the fatigue which prevents proper consideration being given by hon. Members opposite; but there should be give-and-take in this matter and we should discuss these things at such a time that not only hon. Members on this side of the Committee but hon. Members opposite are capable of taking part in the debate. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, excusing me for my quite unjustifiable attack on him last time I spoke, will pay attention to the arguments which I have advanced.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
My hon. Friend has taken a little of the edge from the complaint I have to make against the right hon. Gentleman. He was very clever in raising the hare that it was only Scottish affairs that we were to deal with when we carried our discussions forward. I ask him to remember that there is a country south of the border; that it is worth taking into account now and again, and that there are Acts which have been passed dealing with England in which even Scotland is not concerned.
Indeed, as the Home Secretary will be able to bear out, there is a Measure we are waiting for—I expect he is waiting for it; I am certainly waiting for it—which took a whole Parliamentary day on its Second Reading, which is of the greatest importance and regarding which, in 1945, an explicit promise was made that it should not operate any longer than five years. Those five years have long gone and the Measure ought to come to an end.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been asking whether we intend to push our opposition against these Measures to the point at which we expect them to be dropped. I tell him quite frankly that the Act I am waiting for, dealing, as he knows, with licensing reform, I should certainly like to see dropped. I think it has brought about a method in the licensing world of such a character that we ought very carefully to consider it—
§ Mr. Hudson
I do not want to go further into the merits of it, Sir Charles, 1458 except to say that it is important enough to have proper time given to its discussion. As my right hon. and learned Friend has said, consideration of another Bill dealing with kindred matters, was pushed into the middle of the night and when we reached the middle of the night we found we could not dispose of it in two or three minutes. Serious speeches were made in its favour and against it and serious speeches could be made upon the Measure in which I am specially interested.
I feel the more inclined to press the matter at greater length because of the utter disregard of the case which can be made on purely English Bills. If I may say so with great respect to you, Sir Charles, as a Scotsman, I have been sick for a very long time at having to listen to so much time being devoted in this House to Scotland. With great respect, I feel it is time for a little bit of English nationalism. We might raise the case now and again for greater attention to that downtrodden country south of the border which so frequently recedes into the background when Scottish questions are waiting to be discussed.
I make the case that the Act in Part II of the Schedule to which I have referred is the most important of all these Measures and that time ought to be given to its discussion. I do not see that any time will be given at all if somewhere far into the morning the right hon. Gentleman is of the same mind as he is now, supposing an English Bill to be of no consequence to the hon. Members of this House. I say to him that it is of great consequence to me and I am waiting with the greatest earnestness, since he will not give proper time to discuss it at a more appropriate time, to discuss it at whatever time of the night it may come forward.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I hope that the Leader of the House will listen to the poignant appeal made to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). I do not imagine he yet realises the significance of the point raised. The hon. Member has asked to be defended against Scottish eloquence. Supposing this revolt against Scotland spreads in the House. We have here the possibility of the Committee having to listen for several hours early in the morning to very complicated arguments on matters affecting Scotland.
1459 There are two items in the Schedule which may look very innocent but which are very sinister from the point of view of English and Northern Ireland Members. There is the Education (Exemptions) (Scotland) Act, 1947. I do not know whether the Leader of the House realises the complexity that underlies the innocent title of that Measure. We have the Minister responsible for Scottish education here, and the Act deals not only with education but with agriculture, so that it may range over the whole question of Scottish education from John o' Groats to Dumfriesshire, and the comprehensive question of agriculture.
§ 12.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am pointing out to English Members the need to support the Motion to report Progress. I am quite sure that hon. Members representing London constituencies—I see a number of them here—and hon. Members representing Lancashire constituencies, will wish to give impartial consideration to the agricultural affairs of Scotland, because I am sure their Scottish colleagues will not wish it to be said that the Committee was in a somnolent state when dealing with the intricacies of educational and agricultural Scotland. I am quite certain this is a point of view which appeals to you, Sir Charles.
There is another innocent looking Measure, the Tenancy of Shops (Scotland) Act. We have hon. Members from Scotland who are anxious to discuss the whole range of shops in Scotland from pawnshops to bucket shops—
§ The Chairman
I think the hon. Gentleman knows that the Motion is very narrow. He must only refer to why or why not the Motion to report Progress should be carried. If he looks at Standing Order 25, he will see that.
§ Mr. Hughes
I only thought I was doing a good service to the English Members by warning them of things likely to come. If we vote on the Motion, I do not wish to see the Leader of the House having a rebuff such as he had last week. There is a wider point. As the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) pointed out, this situation may result in a great increase in the desire 1460 for Home Rule for Scotland not from the point of view of Scottish Members, but of English Members. The Leader of the House has not grasped the significance of this very formidable revolt by the 1922—or the 1622—Committee which may result in a demand, in self-defence, that Scottish Members should be sent back across the border.
I ask the Leader of the House to accept a reasonable compromise. I am a man of peace, and do not wish to see bitter feeling develop across the Floor of the Committee about 7 o'clock in the morning. I suggest that the Leader of the House should earnestly consider the argument I am going to put to him, that these two Measures in all their details and complexity should be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee.
Hon. Members opposite will not only have to listen to those who feel very strongly on these points; they will have to listen to no fewer than four Ministers from Scotland addressing this Committee in the early hours of the morning. That is a terrible prospect. Hon. Members may have to listen to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to his three deputies. The Government may even bring the Lord Advocate from some recess in the House. That final argument should appeal to every hon. Member—and I believe that the Leader of the House will now agree that we should report Progress.
§ Mr. Callaghan
We had hoped to have a further reply from the Leader of the House, in view of the very eloquent plea which has been made to him by my hon. Friends. I am sorry that we do not seem to have attracted it. All I can say is that reason bounces off him, argument will not prevail with him, he is impervious to cajolery, he pays no attention to flattery and, indeed, he is determined to keep his supporters out of bed. We have done our best to see that they get to bed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide."] They are wasting their own time now.
If they do not wish to go to bed, we shall continue to apply ourselves assiduously to the tasks which lie ahead of us throughout the night. We are quite certain that the Government would not wish us to scamp the consideration which these Acts merit. I am certain that 1461 Scottish public opinion would not desire us to do so. In those circumstances, I can only recommend to my hon. Friends that they continue the debate. As we have no wish to save the Government from the consequence of their own folly, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Mr. James Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 22 to 24.
During part of the last discussion I had a feeling that I should now be half-way to my bed, but in view of the obstinacy of the Government, it is quite possible that we shall take the opportunity at some other hour to consider dividing the Committee, and I hope that hon. Members opposite who are so anxious for a Division now will be in their places later in the morning.
This Amendment seeks to delete from the Bill the Education (Exemptions) (Scotland) Act, and perhaps it would be as well if I refreshed the memory of hon. Members about the Act. It isAn Act to make temporary provision for the exemption of children from attendance at school to enable their employment in gathering the potato crop.In other words, it permits schoolchildren to help in the harvesting of the potato crop. At the end of the Act it states:This Act shall continue in force until the thirty-first day of October, nineteen hundred and forty-eight, and no longer.The Act has been in operation since 1947.
Probably the first reply which I shall get from the Government benches is that the Act was introduced by a Labour Government. Today that argument is a bit hackneyed. Surely any effort at social progress must involve changes taking place from time to time. I opposed this Act on Third Reading, but I was unable to divide the House because on that occasion I was the only Member of a party and I could not get sufficient Tellers. At that time there was not a hon. Member on either side of the House who did not regret the necessity for the Measure. All the arguments were submitted on the basis that it was of a temporary nature, but when it lasts for six years and the Government again come 1462 along and require its continuance, we are entitled to take stock of the position.
I object to the Measure for two reasons. First, on the technical and administrative ground that it excludes the local authorities from any power. It is a direction of child labour, and I can remember the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) protesting very strongly at a Labour Government introducing any Act to direct child labour. The local authority has absolutely no power at all. All authority is vested in the Secretary of State for Scotland and the parents, and I say that has a very serious effect on our education work.
My second objection to the Measure is on the ground that it handicaps children in their education. Every authority recognises it interferes with school curricula. Not only has it been stated in this House, but every education authority in the country accepts it. At the beginning of September the school staff are compelled to take the necessary administrative steps to organise the children whose parents have granted them permission to go potato harvesting, and as a result of that early organisational arrangement for harvesting the ordinary school work is held back. When children who have been away potato harvesting come back they have to be fitted into the curriculum on which the other children have been engaged while they were absent—a most difficult job for a teacher handling children in a secondary school.
On many occasions it has been argued potato harvesting is a healthy recreation and has educational value. I shall not argue that potato harvesting makes children's minds completely blank, or that they do not gather knowledge of some kind or another—although the strong advocates for this type of hard work, who emphasise it is of great physical importance, are usually people who themselves do no work of that kind. I have recognised since I came here six years ago that the people who have been in the main engaged in hard physical work are rarely men in the 5 feet 10 inches or 6 feet class: they are the people who have avoided the hard work. One can regard them in the main as the leisured class, of which we have a first-class example in the Patronage Secretary.
1463 I want to emphasise my case by giving some facts about the city of Glasgow, and I have no doubt they could be multiplied again and again by hon. Members from every county and city in Scotland. In 1951, 2,651 children were sent to the potato harvest: I want the Secretary of State for Scotland to pay particular attention to these figures. Boys from the senior secondary schools totalled 620 and boys from the junior secondary schools 1,697. Girls from the junior secondary schools numbered 334, but there was not a single girl from a senior secondary school.
In other words, 76.6 per cent. of the children who went potato-harvesting in 1951 came from the junior secondary schools. All the educationists know that the junior secondary schools are regarded as the Cinderella branch of education—the schools where the ordinary working children are pushed because it is only a short time before they will be put into the factories and workshops. During that year not a single child came from any of the fee-paying schools in Glasgow, and if a medical examination were taken of the children in the Glasgow schools it would show that, notwithstanding the great improvement in our health services and the great improvement in children's health, the best-built children in terms of height and weight came from the fee-paying schools. Therefore, if it is a question of getting children to engage in this labour, surely we should have expected some of the children from the fee-paying schools and many more from the senior secondary schools.
When we come to 1952, we find that the total number of children sent to the harvesting was higher than in 1951. The number of senior secondary boys was 400; and of junior secondary boys, 1,765. In 1952, there must have been some special move in connection with the senior girls, because they made a contribution of 70; but the girls from the junior secondary school numbered 440. In actual percentages junior boys contributed 81.5 of the total number of boys, and the junior girls contributed 86 per cent. of the total number of girls, sent to the potato harvesting.
Surely, that evidence clearly indicates that this business of harvesting is 1464 carried on mainly by the poor children from the City of Glasgow and other parts of the country. I know the argument will be submitted, "Well, if their parents permit it, the education authority has no right to interfere." But let us be quite frank about it. Constantly we pass laws in the House to make it essential for parents and for others in the community to observe certain laws which they would not otherwise observe. In fact, the whole system of education has been developed by pioneers who have had their ideas enacted by legislation in the House of Commons. I say frankly, even to the people in my own area, who send hundreds of children, that it is quite wrong to send their children potato harvesting; and that the Secretary of State for Scotland should not be a party to a policy of that kind.
I have said the education authority has no direct powers, but I have a very interesting document from the Glasgow education department, and I want to give some figures from it. I might as well give them, because we shall be here for quite a long while. I take the case of the fee-paying schools. Allan Glen's recommended four children, or four children in Allan Glen's agreed to go, but when the final quota was demanded from the Scottish Office they did not require as many as they thought in the beginning, and so there was a reduction in the num-to be sent; and for some reason that I have not discovered, the four children from Allan Glen's did not go.
The Glasgow High School did not make one contribution from the boys, neither did the Girls' High School make a single contribution. Hillhead High School made no contribution of any kind. North Kelvinside made a contribution of 26. Again, by the process of reducing the numbers, none of the 26 was sent to the potato harvest. Strathbungo made a contribution of 20, but by some mysterious method, again the 20 were not sent.
I submit to the Secretary of State that there are just grounds for a very serious examination of this problem. I know the argument has been submitted by both sides of the House that labour cannot be obtained. It is precisely the argument that was emphasised more than 100 years ago, when we tried to take child labour out of the factories. It is the important 1465 job of responsible statesmen to examine this problem much more seriously. The right hon. Gentleman must seriously consider the position of working class children. First, they suffer a handicap by being at junior secondary schools. That is a big enough handicap. Second, because of the inducement of a small wage certain parents allow their children to go. Why should the farmers be permitted to ingather their crops at a wage no able-bodied person would accept?
Some people argue that the labour cannot be found. Look at the employment exchange statistics for Glasgow alone. I am satisfied that if a decent wage was offered the labour would be found. As far as adult labour is concerned, Stewart and Lloyds every year, without encroaching on the holidays of their staff, permit many persons in their offices to go potato harvesting. If the Secretary of State took steps to sound big firms in Scotland and see how far, for a period of two or three weeks, they could deplete their staffs then the children could be excluded from this work and given the opportunity of getting all the education they can during the short period they are at school.
I seriously believe this because if one examines even the senior secondary schools one sees that the quota also comes from working class districts—Govan, Maryhill, and Bridgeton. The Secretary of State, in all his approaches to the many Scottish problems, has a strong humanitarian point of view, and I beg him to look at this problem again. Everyone recognises that if we are to build decent citizens the essential thing is to give the children a decent educational background. Without that the country suffers, and I beg the Secretary of State to abolish this Act.
§ Mr. Manuel
I want to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) has been saying in connection with that part of the 1947 Act dealing with the exemption of schoolchildren for the potato harvest. I am well aware of the importance of Scottish agriculture, and the amount of public money that is being poured into it, as I am aware also of the great need for a greater productivity in every aspect of farming in Scotland.
I have heard no argument in this House or in local authority circles which has 1466 convinced me that it is necessary for children to be employed on lifting potatoes. As a member of an education committee of a large local authority, I always had the impression that economic reasons in the main were the cause of the great proportion of children volunteering for the ingathering of potatoes. When I have examined the homes of these children and the schools they attend—and a great proportion of the children attended primary schools—I have been convinced that the economic conditions of the homes and the necessity for more money has caused the children to ask permission from their parents to be allowed to undertake potato lifting.
I do not know if my farmer friends would agree with me—I have many farmer friends up and down Scotland—when I say that it was a great mistake that the Women's Land Army was disbanded. The Joint Under-Secretary of State, who has such an intimate knowledge of farming and who has experience of the work of these girls, can help in this aspect of the matter. Much time and public money has been spent on building up an army of land girls in Scotland who, so far as I know—and there has been no public statement to the contrary—have performed great work in the ingathering of the potato harvest. They proved their worth.
If I am told that it is not possible to undo the harm that has been done by disbanding the Women's Land Army, this question of available labour, including girls, must be re-considered. Our unemployment figure has risen, and I am certain that many responsible people In Scotland closely connected with this problem will be far more prepared to see suitable unemployed labour organised to undertake this work than to see school children going to the farms.
A great deal of organisation on the part of the schoolteachers is required before the children get to the farms, and many of these arrangements are breaking down. Teachers are refusing to undertake this work, and I think there is justification for their attitude. I am certain that there would be no additional organisation necessary to obtain suitable unemployed persons, male or female, for this work. I always throught it deplorable that education committees should be 1467 asked to devote time to discussing this problem. It is true, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) said, that the Secretary of State can override the education committee: but in the first place the committee is charged with arranging for the exemptions and arranging the procedure regarding children gathering potatoes.
It is deplorable that the committees, instead of seeing that the children are properly educated, have to waste time organising the lifting of potatoes in the areas under their jurisdiction. That is something for which they were not selected. They were selected because of their knowledge of education, not agriculture. Members of education committees were disturbed that so much of their time was spent on this matter, and that they were not concentrating on arranging proper education.
I have seen the injurious effect of such employment of children at schools with which I have been closely connected in Ayr County. Most of the classes in the primary schools of the county are too large. Headmasters have complained bitterly to me about the number of children withdrawn for potato lifting. They have said that the organisation of the school has been thrown into chaos. A proportion of a class would be away for three weeks or so lifting potatoes, and when they returned, the teacher could not give them individual tuition to bring them up to the standard achieved by the class during their absence. Either they had to be neglected, or the whole class had to go again over the work it had done in the previous three weeks.
I appeal to the Secretary of State to make alternative arrangements. He belongs to a part of Scotland in which is a great agricultural area. He and I were about that area when we were much younger—in our bare feet on occasions. I am certain that he never lifted potatoes at that age. As one who spent a great deal of his younger years in the Highlands, among the Highland communities, I say that at that time there was the greatest scarcity of labour but that in a crofting township the crofter would never have thought of using children at the age at which we are using them, and would have gone to great lengths to avoid using his own children for potato lifting. I am 1468 certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) could substantiate what I have said.
I hope that we are to have some promise that if alternative methods cannot be found at least there will be some hope of a speedy solution to this continual conflict with educational interests in Scotland, arising from the fact that agriculture is understaffed and cannot meet its commitments at certain periods of the year.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Henderson Stewart)
It might be for the convenience of the Committee if I intervened for a few moments at this point. I am sure that hon. Members opposite are aware of the consequence of what they are proposing. If their proposal were carried the Education (Exemptions) (Scotland) Act, 1947, would cease to operate. That is an Act, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) pointed out, which makes it possible for children over 13 years of age to be employed in this work. I would point that out to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel).
§ Mr. Manuel
I said that if the hon. Gentleman knew Ayr County and many of our counties in Scotland he would know that, so far as educational arrangements are concerned, many children of over 13 years of age are kept on at primary schools and do not go to senior schools.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Member is off the point. We are talking about a certain Act. If this suggestion were carried through it would not be possible to make available for potato gathering in any year the large numbers of children needed to lift our potatoes. I am sure that is not what the Committee or even hon. Members would want. I am sure that everybody recognises that we have to have potatoes lifted. It is essential, and if there is no other labour available we must take the same view as was taken by our predecessors, including the hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), the hon. Member for Hamilton 1469 (Mr. T. Fraser) and the then Secretary of State for Scotland, that in the circumstances there was nothing to be done except make schoolchildren available.
If I understand correctly the argument of hon. Members opposite it is not so much that they object to that point. They do not like the idea of children, even those over 13 years of age, being used on the potato fields. They wish it could be avoided and they have asked if there is any alternative. Lots of people have asked this question. We have all been concerned with it, and I was very glad that the previous Government in 1949 set up a committee to inquire into this very matter—to ask and to answer the question whether there was any real alternative to the use of these schoolchildren.
The committee was presided over by Sir Garnet Wilson. It was a very good committee. It was representative. When it reported on the situation, what did it report? It reported that it could see no alternative to the employment of schoolchildren at potato-lifting time for some years to come. It recommended that all other possible sources of labour should be drawn upon to the full, but it thought that it would not be possible to lift the crop unless the services of schoolchildren continued to be made available. Progress with the evolution of satisfactory potato lifters had not been so rapid as to suggest that mechanisation could solve the problem of potato lifting in the near future.
May I address myself to those two possible alternatives? In the past I have had a little knowledge of the mechanical alternative and I tell the Committee that although vast sums of money have been spent and a great deal of time and scientific thought has been devoted to a universally usable potato harvesting machine we have not yet succeeded in getting a perfect article. Some machines are suitable for some areas and soils but not to all, and we have not by any means reached a point at which machines are able to take the place of human labour. The hon. Member for Bridgeton made the interesting suggestion that we might approach the large firms, and on behalf of my right hon. Friend I undertake that we shall look into that.
1470 But, as the hon. Member and others know, adult labour has not been found to be available in anything like the numbers needed, and, in any case, adult labour is not so suitable for this as children. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The hon. Member for Hamilton knows that very well because of his farming experience. The fact is that adult labour is not available. I remember very well a moment of panic in East Fife when I had to ask the hon. Member for Hamilton, who was then Under-Secretary for Scotland, to come to help us as we had not enough children or any kind of hands to lift the potatoes. I was very grateful to him for coming from Hamilton to Cupar to make alternative arrangements.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton has raised the matter by Questions in the House. As he said, he opposed his own Government on it. I remember one Question he asked on 19th July, 1951, only last year. He asked the Secretary of State about alternative labour and his hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton replied that in Scotland farmers needed about 90,000 additional workers for potato lifting. It was impossible, he said, to do this without the services of children. The same was said by the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil), who said at a National Farmers' Union meeting in Scotland in March, 1951:I repeat my deepest regret and reluctance, but I think any ambiguity on the subject would be most unhelpful at this time.I trust the Education Authorities, teachers and parents will appreciate that this is the only practicable course"—that is, making children available—in the interests of securing the potato crop which is so essential for the country's food resources.I can give the two hon. Members the piece of comforting news that in recent years the numbers have steadily fallen. In 1948, 1949, 1950 and 1951 there was a, not very marked, but nevertheless steady, fall. I have not the figure for 1952.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
Could the hon. Gentleman say why, without scoring any debating point? Is it because the acreage has fallen?
§ Mr. Stewart
I was about the give the explanation. The numbers show a small but steady decline. Now the potato acreage, as the hon. Member for the 1471 Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) says, has also fallen, and that may be the explanation. It has fallen from 207,000 acres in 1947 to 172,000 acres in 1952, that is to say a fall of 35,000 acres since 1947.
§ Mr. Stewart
I have not the pre-war comparison. I will, of course, send it to the hon. Member as soon as I can. I am sorry that I have not the figure by me. The acreage is now down to 172,000. It is the Government's intention to maintain that acreage and not to let it decrease. That being so I cannot—I am sorry—meet the wishes of hon. Members opposite and say that we can do without children. The truth is that now, as in past years, it is not possible, although every alternative will of course be resorted to.
My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary whose chief interest is agriculture, made an extensive tour this autumn of many of the potato fields. He met the children, the teachers, the supervisors, the farmers, the agricultural people and the education authorities. The impression he formed was that the scheme this year was working very well. As hon. Members will know, we issued, this year, a new circular designed to ensure that greater care was taken of the children. I have the circular here. No doubt on account of that, and also because of the very careful arrangements made by local education authorities, my hon. Friend found a very happy state of affairs. What he found was, I notice, confirmed by the Director of Education in Fife, who said the other day that he was quite staggered by the smoothness with which this scheme had proceeded.
§ Mr. Carmichael
I should not like it to go from this Committee that any remark made by myself reflected on the conduct of those supervising the scheme or on the agricultural people. I am against it on the ground of education and I am bound to admit from all the evidence I have that the conditions are mainly very good and the children are treated very well in the districts to which they go.
§ Mr. Stewart
All those responsible will be grateful to the hon. Member for that very generous tribute. The hon. Member for Hamilton is entitled to take some of the credit because he and the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North laboured for improvement. We have all tried to do the same thing and, gradually, year by year, we are getting nearer to perfection.
I would not wish to enter into the argument as to whether it does children physical harm. There are two sides to that story. I do not argue that taking children away for two weeks in the middle of the school term does not upset their education. There are two sides to that question. Too much should not be made of it, for in many schools the summer holidays are shortened by two or three weeks, and the time is made up in the autumn. We must not exaggerate the effect on the children's education. I feel it is essential that we should have this labour, but at the same time I give an undertaking to continue to search in the field of mechanisation, and elsewhere, to ensure that the greatest amount of alternative picking labour is made available.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. P. G. T. Buchan-Hepburn)
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The Committee proceeded to a Division.
§ Mr. BUTCHER and Mr. OAKSHOTT were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, The CHAIRMAN declared that the Ayes had it.
No point of order can arise.
Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Schedule," put accordingly, and agreed to.
The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot move that Motion. He can only move to report Progress.
§ 1.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Wheatley
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
My reason for moving this Motion is that, manifestly, we cannot continue to discuss the matters before the Committee with any semblance of decency, in view of the conduct to which we have just been subjected.
When a similar Motion was moved previously the Leader of the House proceeded on a quite wrong premise. In resisting that Motion he came to the conclusion that the three Acts affecting Scotland would take only a very short time because the points concerned in them were only minor matters which should not delay the Committee. He was informed from various parts of the Committee, particularly by my hon. Friends, that there were points of very great substance which, if justice were to be done to Scotland, would require a long and careful examination.
We then began to discuss the first of these Acts at 12.37. At 1.25 the Closure was moved by the Patronage Secretary. If that is the manner in which the Patronage Secretary, aided and abetted by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, supported by the three Joint Under-Secretaries, all of whom are on the Government Front Bench at the present time, thinks that serious and important matters affecting Scotland should be treated, then, manifestly, the Government have no regard for or appreciation of the interests or the feelings of Scotland.
§ Mr. Wheatley
When the Leader of the House last addressed the Committee we were led to believe that the Government were prepared to go on all night in order to give full opportunity to discuss these matters. Let me make it clear 1474 to the Patronage Secretary, who has merely flitted in and out of the Chamber, that we have been discussing these matters fairly and fully, we have raised very important matters during the discussion on the previous Amendments, and that we got two very important statements of policy, one from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and another from the Home Secretary. We discussed Acts affecting England for as long as hon. Members wished to discuss them; yet when we come to the very first Scottish Measure contained in the Schedule, after having discussed it for only some three quarters of an hour the Closure is moved by the Patronage Secretary. That is a discrimination, not only against Scottish Members, but against Scotland, which does not reflect any credit on this Committee.
What we are considering at present is whether anything can be achieved consistent with the dignity, purpose and decency of this Committee by continuing to discuss these other Measures, at least two of which affect Scotland, having regard to the attitude of the Patronage Secretary. In considering this matter we must have regard to the conduct of the Patronage Secretary. I do not want to anticipate a future debate, but I must say the Patronage Secretary is providing ample ammunition for a certain Motion which will be discussed later in the week.
If we are not to have any better treatment in the consideration of the other Measures affecting Scotland and the subsequent Measures, then there is no purpose in our continuing. Therefore, unless we can get a firm undertaking that the same opportunity will be given to discuss fully the Measures that still lie before us as we have had in relation to the Measures which have gone before, then I would submit that the proper procedure is to report Progress and allow us to resume at a subsequent time or a subsequent date when there will be sufficient time in the estimation of the Patronage Secretary to enable us to give full consideration to this Measure—[Interruption.] I notice that all this badinage is coming from the English Tory Members opposite. I would like to know—
§ Mr. Wheatley
If the hon. Gentleman will just bear with me he will realise that there will be a little time longer unless the Patronage Secretary has the common sense and decency to give effect to the Motion I am now moving.
I am glad to see the Leader of the House here. When he decided to carry on on the last occasion he did so on false premises. He proceeded on the premise that the Scottish Measures we would have to discuss would be very, very short indeed. [An HON. MEMBER: "Tedious repetition."] An hon. Gentleman opposite said, "tedious repetition": it is not tedious repetition. I want to consider this matter very seriously indeed.
I am sure that when the Leader of the House made his decision to carry on the debate, he had in mind that the same latitude would be given to the discussion of the Scottish Measures as was given to the discussion of the previous Measures of a United Kingdom or English character. I am sure he must have been horrified when informed that his Patronage Secretary, after only three-quarters of an hour's discussion, moved the Closure on the first Scottish discussion. It is really shocking.
I must tell the right hon. Gentleman—because this will certainly be bandied through the length and breadth of Scotland—that the Government have treated Scottish matters cavalierly and cynically and that the Secretary of State for Scotland and his Under-Secretaries cannot escape from the criticism. I move this Motion because it is not in the interests of decorum and decency, and not consistent with the tacit undertaking given by the Leader of the House, that we should carry on with our deliberations when we are being subjected to such cavalier and cynical conduct by the Patronage Secretary supported by the cohorts behind him. I can assure the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), the Joint Under-Secretary, that he will have plenty of opportunity of speaking before the night is out if this Motion is not carried.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. James Stuart)
The right hon. Gentleman says that I and my hon. Friends will be held up to something or other throughout the whole of Scotland, but as the Opposition did not oppose the Government's Motion, what is the point?
§ Mr. Wheatley
The right hon. Gentleman cannot ride out on that argument, because the responsibility rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders, first, of the Patronage Secretary, and then on the Government, in moving the Motion.
There are various methods of showing one's disapproval, but we know exactly where the onus and responsibility rest so far as this is concerned. I do not think that this is a matter in which the Secretary of State for Scotland should try to make debating points, because he will find, when he reads the Scottish Press after this debate, that the action of the Government will receive the castigation that it deserves. Those who exercise all their endeavours to cover up the failures of the present Administration will try to cover this up, but the independent newspapers in Scotland will certainly have something to say about it.
As, obviously, the Scottish Measures, which were promised the same amount of consideration as the Measures which had preceded them, are not going to get it; and as, manifestly, we cannot do justice to the various Amendments which we have on the Order Paper, in view of the tactics employed, I have moved this Motion.
§ Mr. Rankin
The Joint Under-Secretary, when he sat down, felt so ashamed of himself that he could scarcely lift his head to look at those of us sitting on this side of the Committee. He knows that what I am saying is true, because he, the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart), tonight discredited himself and discredited every practice of common courtesy which is accepted on both sides during debate.
I want to recall to the Committee the fact that with your permission, Mr. Hopkin Morris, the Joint Under-Secretary of State rose to his feet and, while three Members were standing on this side, anxious to take part in the debate which we had been promised, caught your eye by saying that in order to help hon. Members on this side, he was "only intervening" in the debate. That was a lie.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am very sorry, Mr. Hopkin Morris, that in stating the truth. I should violate the practices of the Committee.
The hon. Member stated accurately that he violated the practice of the Committee, and I must ask him to withdraw that expression.
§ Mr. Rankin
In obedience to your Ruling, Mr. Hopkin, I withdraw my statement that the hon. Gentleman told a lie, but I think I can say—
I must ask the hon. Member to withdraw that expression. That is confirming the expression that I have already asked the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) to withdraw.
§ Mr. Manuel
My hon. Friend said that the hon. Gentleman told a lie. What I said was that my hon. Friend told the truth. Should I say that he told a lie?
I asked the hon. Member for Tradeston to withdraw the expression, and he did withdraw it. The hon. Member for Ayrshire, Central (Mr. Manuel) must not reaffirm it.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
All that my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, Central (Mr. Manuel) said was that my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) told the truth. Had he said that the hon. Gentleman had told a lie, he would have been out of order.
§ 1.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Rankin
I return to my point that the Under-Secretary deceived the Committee. He certainly deceived the Opposition in intervening in the way in which he did. I would hope that he also deceived the Chair, and misled you, Mr. Hopkin Morris, and did not give you the impression that he was closing the debate by arrangement.
It is grossly disorderly to suggest there is some connivance between the Chair and the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Rankin
That is the last thing in my mind. I have the greatest possible respect for you, Mr. Hopkin Morris, but I do suggest that it is possible that not only did the Under-Secretary deceive the Opposition, and perhaps some of his own friends—
The hon. Gentleman must not continue in this strain. If he does I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.
There is no point of order. There can be no point of order arising from the Ruling I have just given.
§ Mr. Carmichael
Surely I am entitled, because you have given a Ruling on something that has happened, to raise a point of order on the thing that did happen, Mr. Hopkin Morris.
I have ruled upon what happened. A point of order would be concerned with my Ruling, and I cannot accept that.
§ Mr. Rankin
I hope hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will realise that a very serious thing happened tonight—[Interruption.] It is not right that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have no knowledge of what has occurred, should come here, in response to the lash of their Whip, and start to interrupt on matters upon which they are entirely ignorant. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did you not divide?"] The hon. Gentleman is inviting Bannockburn over again by his attitude. A serious thing happened tonight, because it is usual for any Minister who his closing the debate to do so at that point when both sides realise they are listening to a winding-up speech.
We were told deliberately this was merely an intervention, and in the course of that intervention the Under-Secretary made some very serious statements to which we on this side should have been afforded some time, if we had no right, in which to make our reply and declare our attitude. We have been robbed of that. The Minister has left us with the impression that the Tory Government are now re-introducing child labour to Scotland as a permanent feature of our industrial life. That is the position into which he has landed himself by refusing to give us a chance of exploring his statement.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart rose—
§ Mr. Rankin
No, I will not give way. The fact that the hon. Gentleman is deprived of any reply on this issue is the fault not of myself but of his Patronage "Manager," his boss.
The Under-Secretary told us that children are needed to lift potatoes—
I would remind the hon. Member that he cannot go back to that discussion. What we are now discussing is the narrower point relating to reporting Progress.
§ Mr. Rankin
The reason I am putting forward this argument is that if we are not to be allowed to reply to the very point that the Under-Secretary himself now wants to clarify, what is the use of going on with the debate?
Let me refer to the words that fell from the hon. Gentleman. He said that children are needed to lift potatoes. He—not we—posed the question "What is the alternative to child labour?" and he said that there was none for years to come. He did not allow us to ask for how many years. Therefore, I am quite entitled to suggest that the only logical conclusion to be drawn from his speech is that child labour is now becoming a permanent feature of the industrial life of Scotland.
I would draw the hon. Member's attention to the fact that the only question that can be discussed is that I do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Mr. Rankin
I shall obey your Ruling, Mr. Hopkin Morris. I was trying to put forward substantial reasons, derived from the Under-Secretary's speech, that if we have to debate behind the iron curtain created by the Patronage "Manager," then debate is useless. The very basis of democracy itself has been shattered tonight by the Tory Party, and in those circumstances I submit that we ought to report Progress.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
It is very evident that not only are the ineffective Scottish Ministers suffering grave disabilities but that hon. Members behind them are suffering, too.
1480 I wish to support the Motion that has been moved by my right hon. and learned Friend. It seems to me that this is the most serious indignity that has been made against the Scottish people and the whole Scottish nation. Many of us have sat for many hours in this Committee—[Interruption]. I am in the habit of speaking to working-class audiences, like miners, and so on, where I am usually given the courtesy of silence. Many of us have sat in this Committee for many hours, waiting to discuss these Scottish Measures. After little over 45 minutes, this Measure, which to some of us is far more important than some of the previous Measures, is the first to have the Closure moved against it after a much shorter time than any other Measures have had.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) has been informed that what he said about the intervention of the Joint Under-Secretary of State must be withdrawn. Perhaps I may say that the Joint Under-Secretary of State unwittingly misled the Committee, because the impression was that he was merely intervening to help us in this debate. A number of us had important questions to put, questions which are of the greatest importance to those of us who are interested in the welfare of children and in the equality of children who attend junior and senior secondary schools.
We have been given no chance to raise these matters. It seems clear that the present Scottish Ministers are treated by the Patronage Secretary and the Leader of the House as Ministers of no importance; as the type of Ministers to whom the Patronage Secretary can say, "We are going to give you so many minutes, and not a single minute more." Many on this side of the Committee have been perturbed at the way the Scottish Ministers have been knocked about in the present Government. Time and again, when a United Kingdom Bill has been discussed an English Minister has moved it, and an English Parliamentary Secretary has wound up the debate. That rarely happened in the years of the Labour Government.
I say to the Scottish Ministers, to the Leader of the Government, who has trotted in and out to do a little managing but has not listened to anything, and to 1481 the Patronage Secretary, who has behaved similarly, that this grave indignity to Scotland will be long remembered; that our people will remember that the Scottish Secretary of State seemed to agree with the pressure—if it were pressure—which was put on him by these two Ministers, when he ought really to have seen that Scotland got a fair chance.
If that is the way the other Measures which apply to Scotland are to be treated tonight it would be much better that we should report Progress, and that at a more suitable time, when, perhaps, the Patronage Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland are feeling that they can give a little more time to Scottish Measures, we should deal with these matters.
§ Mr. Crookshank
If hon. Members are anxious to discuss the further items about Scotland which are in this Bill it seems rather unnecessary to spend so much time now on a Motion to report Progress, while complaining that the debate on the first two items was curtailed by the acceptance by the Chair of the Motion for the Closure.
If they feel so strongly about it, I cannot understand why they did not take the usual Parliamentary course of going into the Lobby and voting against it. Then they could have been on record as having made their protest and the Committee could have proceeded with the business. As, on the other hand, they did not oppose the Motion in the ordinary way in which it should have been opposed I think this Motion is quite uncalled for.
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put accordingly, and negatived.
§ 2.0 a.m.
§ Mr. Wheatley
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 25 to 27.
No doubt all the hon. Gentlemen who were absent from the Chamber when the incident which gave rise to the recent discussion took place will now again leave the Chamber and return only when their presence is required by the Patronage Secretary.
1482 I would remind the Secretary of State for Scotland and his colleagues that in moving this Amendment we are not merely raising one or two desultory points. I express the hope that greater consideration will be given to this item than was given to the previous one, and I trust that what was said to the Patronage Secretary will have a salutary effect and that he will at least give Scotland a better deal with this Amendment that he did with the previous one.
Should there be any doubt about that I enlist the sympathy and support of the right hon. Gentleman, knowing of his great influence in Government circles, and I ask him to impress on the Patronage Secretary the fact that he is doing no good to himself, to the Secretary of State and to the Government by adopting these tactics in relation to these Measures.
Turning now to the item in the Schedule, I assure the right hon. Gentleman and his Under-Secretary that in moving this Amendment to delete the Act we are in no way attempting to deprive the shopkeepers of Scotland of its protection and benefits. What we want to do is to see that the protection and benefits should not be dependent on a form of legislation which is carried on from year to year, but should be enshrined in permanent legislation. To provide a justification for that submission I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of the origin of the problem which gave rise to the Tenancy of Shops (Scotland) Act, 1949.
As the Committee will appreciate, before the passing of that Act no protection in any shape or form was provided to shopkeepers in Scotland. No protection analogous to the Rent Restriction Acts was available, nor did they have the benefits such as are provided by the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1927, which is purely an English Measure. But in the years following the war, with full employment, we found that there was a very heavy demand for shops. Arising out of that demand there developed a pernicious feature in our Scottish life, because the landlords in some cases—though not all—having regard to the very heavy demand for shops, were issuing buy or quit notices and virtually holding shopkeepers up to ransom.
These tactics often affected people who had spent not just two or three years but, 1483 in many cases, a lifetime in building up a business. Yet, although an, elderly couple might have been in business for 40 years—all the while attaching to that business the very keystone of their economic existence—they were liable to be turned out on receipt of the requisite notice without any protection or compensation. Not only did it affect those people, but it had a vital effect on the social conditions of the people generally.
Originally, we dealt with this matter by invoking the requisitioning powers contained in the Defence Regulations because the tactics employed by these landlords were stopping the flow of essential supplies and services to the community. That, however, was not regarded as a satisfactory method, although it was a necessary expedient at the time. The matter was referred to the Taylor Committee, who recommended that no action be taken. But the growth of this problem gave rise to so much public disquiet that the matter was again referred to the same Committee under the chairmanship of the gentleman who is now Lord Guthrie. They recommended, in an Interim Report, that legislation should be introduced.
The Act we are now considering was passed on the recommendations of that Report, but that Report was of a very limited nature. The terms of reference confined consideration to the question of shops and did not extend to the broader question of business premises generally. Accordingly, when we introduced this Act as a Bill during the lifetime of our Administration, we confined it in the terms of the recommendations of the Guthrie Committee to shops. When it was being considered on Second Reading, the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), now one of the Joint Under-Secretaries of State, said that he was surprised that we had not extended it to cover business premises other than shops and made a speech in which he made it quite clear that he did not think it desirable to confine the Measure to shops but that it should be extended to other business premises.
However, having regard to the fact that at the time it was only a temporary Measure, and that we were proceeding purely on the recommendations of the Guthrie Committee, we decided to confine 1484 it to shops, to make it a temporary Measure and to remit the fuller question of business premises to the Guthrie Committee for further consideration.
The Guthrie Committee reported against extension. The matter has again been considered by another Committee under the Chairmanship of Lord Guthrie, which considered leasehold reform. It is only fair to say that that Committee also recommended against the extension of this type of legislation to cover other business premises. The reason is that they say there was no evidence to justify the extension, but hon. Members interested in the matter will recollect that that was exactly the line taken by the Taylor Committee in their original Report. Notwithstanding that recommendation, the matter was referred again to the Guthrie Committee and they did approve of the initiation of legislation. Despite the fact that the Taylor Committee did not think it necessary, hon. Members on all sides of the House were of the opinion that this legislation should be introduced.
§ Mr. J. Taylor
I do not suppose it has escaped the memory of my right hon. and learned Friend that, although the Guthrie Committee recommended no action because of lack of evidence, there was a Minority Report which examined the incidence of the lack of evidence and did, in fact, recommend that legislation should be introduced.
§ Mr. Wheatley
I remember that perfectly well and I remember that my hon. Friend, who was a member of that Committee, was a signatory to that Minority Report. I was hoping that if he were fortunate enough to catch your eye, Sir Charles, he might explain that at greater length. But it seems to be a race against time between people who have the interest of Scotland at heart and the Patronage Secretary.
In these circumstances, it seems to us that various matters fall to be considered. First, is the present method of continuing the provisions of this Act from year to year through the expedient of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill a desirable one? Secondly, has the time not come when, in the light of our experience, it may be desirable to review the whole position with a view to amending legislation? This procedure of 1485 merely perpetuating from year to year by the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill prevents any amendment of the existing law. Therefore, for these two reasons, it seems to us that the present method is undesirable.
The Tenancy of Shops (Scotland) Act has been in operation for over three years and any Scottish Member who has interested himself in this Measure will know it has been a very great success. It gave protection to the shopkeepers and while that protection is of only a modified nature, it is, nevertheless, very substantial. Perhaps the greatest virtue of the Act is not in the number of cases it has produced in court, but the number of cases it has solved without going to court at all. The mere fact that the machinery is there, and that the shopkeeper now has this protection, has driven many people, particularly the landlords, to seek a compromise agreement acceptable to the tenant which has enabled them to resolve the difficulties and to prevent litigation from ensuing.
The Under-Secretary nodded approval when I put forward that submission. It seems to me, in these circumstances, that we are more than half way towards making the case that the time has come when it is necessary for this legislation to be made permanent.
§ Mr. Wheatley
I realise that the hon. Gentleman did not nod at that. We are not quite sure what nods mean on the other side of the Committee, and we are very apprehensive about them, but when he nods approval of the fact that the Act was working well in court—and without going to court, that it was having a desirable and salutary effect on solving the problem which exercises the minds of many people in Scotland and hon. Members on all sides—surely we are entitled to consider whether this should not be made permanent and regard had to whether or not, in making it permanent, something broader might also be contemplated.
This is not just a question of giving a certain amount of protection to shopkeepers. There are involved here social and economic considerations because, now that the shopkeeper knows that he can only get the protection of this Act 1486 from year to year, that might have a deterrent effect on the extension of his business. If he thinks he can carry on only from year to year, and that this Act might be dropped, his intention to expand capital development might very well be deterred. The making permanent of such legislation would, in the first instance, give an assurance to shopkeepers.
It was argued at an earlier stage that in other circumstances, when there was not this heavy demand for shops, it was better to allow the economic law of supply and demand to operate. That, of course, is not the principle to which the various parts of this House have always subscribed. If the law of supply and demand operates harshly in respect of necessary social service, Parliament has not been slow to intervene and say that it would take control of that.
For evidence of that, hon. Members should turn to the Rent Restriction Acts to which parties on all sides are committed. If this is necessary when there is a shortage of shops; if it may even be necessary, to avoid exploitation, even when there is not a shortage of shops; then the desirability of having permanent legislation becomes obvious. I should have thought it was obvious even to the Joint Under-Secretary.
There is no sign of this problem easing in Scotland. The difficulty of getting shops is substantially the same as it was in 1947–48. It may be that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will say that the position is easing, and certainly if the economic position of many people in the country deteriorates much further as a result of recent administration, then it is possible that there may be some substance in that argument; but I doubt whether it is an argument of which the hon. Member would wish to avail himself.
Do the Government think it justifiable to carry on this legislation year by year now that it has stood the test of time, now that it has formed an efficient and effective part of the legal administration in Scotland, and now that it has given a modicum of security to the shopkeepers of Scotland? By a policy of full employment, we gave them economic security. By virtue of this Act we gave them security of tenure. Those were benefits 1487 which the shopkeepers had never received from Tory Administrations in this country. We are anxious to see whether they can be made permanent, with such modifications as may be necessary, and, in particular, we wish the Government to state their views about taking advantage of the procedure which I am suggesting—to incorporate types of premises other than shops in such legislation.
I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) has entered the Chamber because, as I reminded the Committee earlier—but I will repeat it for his benefit—on the Second Reading of this Act, when it was a Bill, he made a very strong plea for the inclusion of other business premises. I trust that he will bring pressure to bear on his hon. Friends to give effect to my plea at least for serious consideration of this matter. It is not just a question of what evidence we get, because there are many people who may be unwilling to come forward and give evidence, for a variety of reasons. Anyone who knows the problem, and who has experience of business premises in Glasgow, knows that the difficulty of preventing exploitation in connection with business premises in Glasgow may be very serious.
Here is a great opportunity for the Government. If they gave effect to my request, then at least and at last they would have a piece of legislation for Scotland during the life-time of this Government. We looked in vain in the King's Speech for some legislation for Scotland. What did we get? Merely some machinery Measures which had been left over from the previous Administration. We looked in vain in the recent Queen's Speech for an indication of some legislation for Scotland. What did we find? Nothing. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite made great play, before the Elections of 1950 and 1951, of their ideas for greater legislative devolution for Scotland. It would seem, from the recent Speeches from the Throne, that their idea of greater devolution for Scotland is to have no Scottish legislation at all.
Here they have an opportunity, and I hope that we shall get some support in this matter from hon. Members opposite. 1488 I am glad that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. M. Macpherson) has a book open; I trust that his vow of elected silence will be broken and that we shall hear representative views. At least, we trust that if he decides to intervene he will manage to do so before the Patronage Secretary starts his capers. The difficulty about the Patronage Secretary is that, without knowing what is taking place he comes in and moves the Closure. That is one of his great disabilities. He has not even the courtesy to sit and listen to the nature of the debate. He walks in, sits down and then rises in his place and moves the Closure without knowing what has passed.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart) must have felt very uncomfortable indeed when the Closure was moved on the last occasion, because I am sure he is fair enough to admit that he had purposely intervened with a view to making things clear in order that the line of that debate might proceed in a more orderly fashion. He must have been not only surprised but disgusted, having regard to the nature of his intervention and the manner in which he prefaced it, that the Closure should have been moved immediately after he had spoken. Now I do not think he knew about it; I think, quite frankly, that it must have come not only as a surprise but as a matter of disgust to him.
Manifestly, this will determine our attitude towards Ministers in this regard. If Ministers have been misled, they will have our sympathy. But if they are party to these tactics, they will have our castigation. I remind the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok, who seems to regard this is a matter for amusement, that he will not find it so much a matter for laughter when it is duly thrashed out in Scotland.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)
It happened during the time the right hon. and learned Gentleman was in office.
§ Mr. Harris
I do understand. All the time I was here when the Socialist Government were in power the same thing happened time and time again, so this is nothing new.
§ Mr. Wheatley
What we are discussing is the question whether or not the Tenancy of Shops (Scotland) Act should form part of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill or whether it should be made permanent legislation. This affects the livelihood of a large number of people in Scotland; all shopkeepers in Scotland are affected by it; and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) is not here, because he made a great plea for them during the Second Reading debate on this Act, saying, "We are a nation of shopkeepers and this is a vital matter for us." This is very vital for the shopkeepers of Scotland, and for the people of Scotland as a whole.
All I am trying to secure on this vital matter is whether we can be given a reassurance of permanency, and also whether in making this legislation permanent instead of transitory from year to year an extension to premises other than shops ought not to be considered.
I express the hope that the deplorable conduct exhibited on the previous Amendment concerning a Scottish Measure will not be repeated on this occasion. I trust that the Joint Under-Secretary, who, I understand, is to reply, will reply on the understanding that the debate will continue, because many of my hon. Friends I know are interested and anxious to carry on the debate—
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
Is my right hon. and learned Friend implying that no one else is to get in? Is he inviting the Joint Under-Secretary to reply now? I have sat here all night trying to get in.
§ Mr. Wheatley
I was suggesting that the hon. Gentleman can take one of two courses, either of which would be acceptable to us. Either he can give a preliminary reply immediately, followed by contributions from my hon. Friends and then a further reply—in that event, we could at least know the Government's mind before my hon. Friends make their contributions—or, if he prefers to wait and wind up at the end, that is a matter within his discretion.
All that I am anxious to preserve is the right of my hon. Friends to have an opportunity of making their contribution on this vital question before the Patronage Secretary adopts the tactic he 1490 adopted on the last occasion. I am sure that, whatever influence the hon. Gentleman has in the affairs of his party, he will see that the previous conduct is not repeated, and that full and adequate opportunity is given—subject, of course, to you, Sir Charles—to those Scottish Members who have sat here faithfully and regularly, on and off, for the whole of the day in order to discuss these matters of such great and vital importance to Scotland.
§ Mrs. Mann
I am very pleased to have caught your eye, Sir Charles, because I do not want this discussion to degenerate into a Front Bench debate. The Front Benches on either side have nothing whatever to do with this Act. It had its birth from the back-benchers on both sides of the House. It had no assistance whatever from the Taylor Committee and if it had come through from the Guthrie Committee, as they recommended it, it would have been no use whatever to the shopkeepers. We were very glad indeed that our Front Bench in the Labour Government did not follow too minutely the recommendations of the Guthrie Committee. The Act was born from the sheer labour-pains of the shopkeepers: the analgesia it might have had from these Committees proved to be nothing but gas and air.
The reality was forced on backbenchers on all sides of the House by shopkeepers who unexpectedly faced an entirely new situation from 1945 to 1949. It was a new situation because, in Scotland, we had been confronted year after year with rows of empty shops. Our problem was not only our very bad rating system, but it was always accompanied by the complaint of owners that they had to pay rates on empty shops. The situation underwent a revolutionary change when we were approached by shopkeepers who said that they were threatened with "buy or quit."
I am very glad to say that when I first raised the question in this House—and I raised it time and time again—I had the support of hon. Members on the other side who said, "If you go on with this agitation we will do our best to see that what legislation you can get will not be controversial"—so we got the Act.
Hon. Members opposite, however, are always telling us about the little shopkeeper who does well and how he deserves 1491 to be assisted. The little shopkeeper was finding that the owner of the property had his eye on the goodwill of the business that the little shopkeepers throughout Scotland had steadily worked up and hoped to pass on to their sons and grandsons. Alas, the owners looked on that little business and its goodwill for their sons, so those shopkeepers were threatened with "pay or quit."
It was shocking to know that an owner who was merely interested in a return on his investment could put his son into a business that had been steadily worked up for 23 years by a private trader who was really enterprising. So we got the Act, in spite of Front Benches and in spite of alleged committees whose terms of reference, incidentally, did not arise in any way from the necessity for the Act.
The shopkeepers agitated and organised exceedingly well. So did the people who were interested in business premises. We regret that business premises have not been included in the Act. Nevertheless, the Act is very successful indeed, unless in one respect. It is in that respect that I wish to speak and to support the Amendment.
I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite are interested in the Act, but do they know that when shopkeepers are challenged and take the case to court, the sheriff, in several towns in Scotland, has said, "Of course, I can only grant this for a year"? That makes the position of the shopkeeper very insecure indeed. An Aberdeen hairdresser wrote to me the other day and told me that the Aberdeen court sheriff has constantly pointed out that the Act will come to an end.
That hairdresser had incurred great expense in getting in equipment and machinery. With the sheriff's pronouncement over his head that the Act terminates at the end of the year, he wrote to me frantically. He and others keep writing about this position. A shopkeeper requires a good deal of capital, not merely to re-stock, but very often to modernise and to put in a new frontage, and that sort of thing cannot be done with the shadow hanging over his head that the Act will terminate in a few months, with the sheriff's warning that he has no power to continue it beyond the end of the year.
1492 I think that hon. Members on the Government side might seriously consider conferring a great boon on the small, enterprising shopkeepers of Scotland by giving them a little further security. The Act has been very successful, and I do not think there is any reason why it should be kept going from year to year. Therefore, I have much pleasure in supporting the Amendment, and I hope that it will find favour with hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. J. Taylor
Perhaps I might be permitted, in a sentence or two, to express the hope that if the Patronage Secretary comes in to move the Closure, his hon. Friends the Joint Under-Secretaries might endeavour to stop him until the debate has completed itself, because of this important fact: that the Act which we are now discussing is peculiarly important to Scotland, inasmuch as it is largely a result of the system of tenancies that we have in Scotland and these circumstances could not apply in England and Wales. This Act is important and we ought to have ample opportunity for discussion.
I was a little shaken by the first few sentences of the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) when she so emphatically dismissed all the patient and careful work of the Taylor and Guthrie Committees. We sat for a period of about two years. There were numerous and lengthy meetings and a good deal of evidence was collected.
§ Mr. Taylor
I will refer to that point in a moment.
To understand why this Act should be made permanent it is necessary to examine the background briefly. There were three main factors in the all-party agreement for the need for the Act. First, the prevailing scarcity of shop premises, particularly in cities and large burghs in Scotland. Secondly, the temptations thus offered to owners of shop property to give tenants notice to quit in order to re-let at rents double and sometimes treble the existing rents. 1493 Thirdly, the Scottish practice of annual leases, running from the May term.
That last-named factor, operating in conjunction with the two former circumstances, meant that each year, about February, there was a danger, mainly for the small shopkeepers, that large numbers of them would receive notice to quit. This created great hardship. It did more. It increased the incidence of the problem because the threatened shopkeepers feverishly searched for alternative premises where none could be found. This inflated the demands, rents continued to rise, and the spiral grew more vicious. It was to combat this evil that the committee of inquiry was established.
As the hon. Lady said, their first report was non-conclusive because no evidence was forthcoming. It is very difficult for a committee, given certain terms of reference by Parliament, to recommend what action should be taken when very little evidence is presented. That was my impression at the time, but I was convinced from further evidence presented to me as an individual that this evil did exist. It was with considerable reluctance that I, as a member of that Committee, agreed to sign the original report.
I see that the Patronage Secretary has arrived. I hope his presence does not indicate the closing of this debate shortly. This evil was obvious to Members. They had more direct contact with individual shopkeepers who were frightened and scared to present that evidence individually on their own initiative to the Committee members, and eventually pressure was brought to bear so that the Act was passed on 29th March, 1949. It does provide temporary protection for shopkeepers. It provides that the tenant of a shop who receives a notice to quit may apply to the sheriff for renewal of his tenancy provided he applies within 21 days of the receipt of his notice. The sheriff may renew that tenancy for a year on such terms and conditions as he thinks reasonable. The sheriff may remit specific questions, if he thinks fit, to a "man of skill" under the normal procedure of a Small Debt Court, according to the law of Scotland.
There are numerous safeguards for the owner in the Act—too many, perhaps. The sheriff may, if he so desires, dismiss the application. He may, in certain 1494 specified circumstances, refuse to grant renewal of a tenancy.
These circumstances are: if the sheriff is satisfied that the tenant is in breach of tenancy or is bankrupt; or that agreement has been reached with the tenant to purchase the premises; and that agreement has been reached at an agreed price or at a price fixed by an arbiter agreed by the parties or appointed by the sheriff; or that the landlord has offered alternative accommodation; or that the tenant has himself arranged to move and the landlord would thus be prejudiced or inconvenienced and had to make other arrangements; or, lastly, that if, in the opinion of the sheriff, greater hardship would be occasioned by granting the application than by refusing it. Thus it will be seen that the sheriff has very wide discretionary powers.
It sounds paradoxical to claim that the effectiveness of the Act has been proved by the comparatively small number of applications lodged in sheriff courts. This fact may produce the argument that the Act is not necessary and should expire, or at least that it should be extended only for the minimum period. But the contrary is the case. The fact that the flood of notices to quit suddenly ceased almost entirely showed that the Act was serving its purpose. The very existence of protective legislation induced speculating landlords to hold their hand.
When an Act of Parliament is designed to deal with an injustice, and when, after its passing, the incidence of that injustice suddenly ceases entirely or slows down almost to vanishing point, that is sufficient justification for the Act. It may be argued that the Act need not be prolonged because more shop premises are now available. But that is not a tenable argument. So long as two factors exist, this Act will be needed. These factors are, first, so long as there are restrictions on shop building in favour of housing and other more essential building; and, secondly, so long as the practice of yearly tenancies on annual missives continues in Scotland.
But even if both those factors were to disappear, there would still remain the question of the shopkeeper's goodwill. That is a permanent and not a passing factor. A shopkeeper, especially a small one, builds up his goodwill in the area around his shop. Even if he can secure 1495 other premises he cannot take his customers with him. He must start again from scratch to build up a new clientele.
Also, he may not be able to find premises in a district suitable for his trade or business. It may be that shops in the same line of business are there. In such circumstances, it would probably be financial suicide to open a shop in competition with existing shops, in a restricted area, in the same trade. For these reasons the shopkeeper needs continued protection.
Another, perhaps incidental, reason is that established protection may induce shopkeepers and the owners of shop premises to consider longer leases. It would be to the advantage of both to do so. Obviously, it would be an inducement to the shopkeeper to speculate a little money on the improvement of his premises—on the more regular painting and decorating and improvement of the amenities of the premises. With the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head year by year he feels unable to spend money on these things.
Another reason why the Government should introduce comprehensive tenancy protection legislation is that there are other business premises which require protection. Office premises have been mentioned. The Guthrie Committee's terms of reference extended to all premises which are let on tenancies—shops, offices, warehouses, every kind of business premises.
I want to support the plea to the Government to include especially, in a comprehensive tenancy protection Bill, office premises. In Scotland's cities there is an acute famine of office premises. It is true that the Guthrie Committee decided by a majority that no extension of the Act to office premises was required. I disagreed with that, and I was not alone in disagreeing. I was joined by a knowledgeable member of the Committee who had long experience of these matters, namely, Mrs. Jean Roberts, who is now honorary treasurer of the City of Glasgow.
The sole reason that the majority did not agree with office coverage was lack of evidence offered. If any committee 1496 ought to have been convinced that lack of evidence offered could not be accepted as a proof that evil did not exist, it was that Committee.
There was the same lack of evidence with regard to shops at its first sittings. I have mentioned that individual shopkeepers were frightened to lay evidence. It was only when their trade associations got busy that they gave support and evidence poured in. The Committee had to be recalled, and there was no shortage of evidence at its second series of sittings. That convinced me, and I think it ought to have convinced the majority of the Committee, that lack of presented cases was an insufficient basis for dismissing a case.
For that reason I wrote a minority report, which was also signed by Mrs. Roberts. It advocated the extension of legislation to cover office premises. I remain convinced today that that Act ought to be so extended. There was a very good reason why evidence did not present itself at that time in the case of office tenants.
§ The Chairman (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Order. I have listened to the hon. Gentleman for a long time. There is nothing about office premises in this Act. I have been very lenient with the hon. Gentleman and I hope that he will leave that point now.
§ Mr. Taylor
It is rather a frightening experience to be called to order by the Chair. It is the first time it has ever happened to me, so it seems very serious. I have the greatest respect for you personally, Sir Charles, and for any occupant of the Chair, and I shall therefore endeavour to obey your Ruling.
I had almost reached the end of that point and I was about to advance what I consider to be the piéce de resistance of the argument by asking the Government to take this Act and remould it nearer to the heart's desire of all tenants of occupied premises. I hoped that it would be in order to argue a case in favour of an extension and to give reasons why this Act should be allowed to expire in favour of a more comprehensive Act, and I was particularly anxious to put in a word for the very large number of tenants of office premises.
1497 I must obey your Ruling, Sir Charles, but I wonder if you would permit me to explain the extent of this famine by giving a single instance, after which I will leave the point. I should like to quote the case of a block of offices. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] If Sir Charles pulls me up, I have no more to say. I think this is an important example of what is happening and why there is need for legislation—and we have no other opportunity to ask for legislation except in this discussion.
I quote the case of one single block of office premises up for sale in separate lots, and one buyer who bought two small two-roomed offices and paid £3,500 each for them and immediately sold them for £11,000—a clear profit, in a few weeks, of £4,000. That indicates the famine and the scarcity of office accommodation in our cities and large burghs.
This is the only section of tenants of any kind which remains unprotected and if the Act is good to protect one class of tenants with a set of tenancy conditions it should be equally good for all classes of tenants with exactly the same tenancy conditions. I am convinced that the notice to quit lever is still being used and is producing unreasonably high rents in tenanted premises other than those protected by this Act. It is reasonable, proper and good that this excellent Act, which proved to be immediately successful, which killed at once the evil which it was designed to kill, and which is now in a state of suspension, should be made permanent.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie has said, sheriffs are now inclined to be just a little casual in their treatment of applications because they think this is merely a temporary Act. If it were know that a permanent Act was being designed and would shortly be presented to the House it would give great satisfaction and a feeling of protection to that very deserving and hardworking section of our Scottish community, our small shopkeepers. For those reasons and others which I think it may be reasonable to leave to other Members to adduce, I hope this Amendment will be accepted.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
The right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Wheatley), in moving this Amendment, said that he had no intention of 1498 trying to prevent shopkeepers from continuing to get the benefit of this useful Act. Nevertheless, as he knows quite well, if the Amendment were carried they would cease from the end of this month to get the benefit of the Act.
§ Mr. Wheatley
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that this is one of the Parliamentary expedients of raising a question and is the only method by which this question can be raised. I pointed out that we employed that expedient because we think the Act should be extended.
§ Mr. Stewart
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right. I am merely showing him that it would not do to carry this matter to a Division because that would be against what we all want.
The debate, so far, has been confined to three points. Hon. Members opposite have all said, first, that this is a very good Act and should be continued; secondly, that it continued not from year to year but made permanent; and, thirdly, in the words of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor), that it should be made a comprehensive tenancy protection Act.
I agree at once that the Act has worked very well and has been successful. The figures are very interesting—the figures for 1951, which are the latest I have. The figures for Scotland are estimates; those for Glasgow are firm figures. In Scotland, in 1951, there were 400 applications to the court of which 130 were granted, 35 refused and 235 otherwise disposed of, a very remarkable figure.
In Glasgow, the figures were: applicants 192, granted 28, refused 10 and otherwise disposed of 134. In other words, the effect of this Act giving recourse to the sheriff, has resulted, as the right hon. and learned Member said, in a great many cases being settled out of court, which, I understand, is what every good lawyer likes to be done. We are all agreed that it is a successful Act.
§ Mr. McInnes
Would the hon. Gentleman concede that in the first year of the Act those figures could be multiplied ten times?
§ Mr. Stewart
I know that they were considerably larger.
1499 As regards making the Measure permanent, I have listened to the arguments of right hon. and hon. Members. As they know, a number of committees have gone carefully into this matter and, as the right hon. and learned Member admitted, they all recommended against making it permanent. The interesting thing is that the final Report of the Committee, of which the hon. Member for West Lothian was a member, said:We do not, however, think that the evidence which we have received would justify us in recommending that the control should remain in force indefinitely.The hon. Member for West Lothian signed that part of the Report; what he wrote in the Minority Report was another matter altogether. He agreed with this part of the Report. The Leasehold Committee, which reported only this year, confirmed that view when they said:With regard to shops, we should perhaps note that we have not received sufficient evidence in this field, nor has the time come for it to be appropriate that we should make a recommendation as to whether the Tenure Committee's suggestion that the protection of the Tenancy of Shops Act would not be required beyond 1955 ought to be reviewed in the light of later developments in this field.In other words, the Committee's final Report said it should not continue beyond 1955.
§ Mr. Stewart
Oh yes, it is here. The Leasehold Committee said:The time has not come for us to make any comment upon that view.There is no question about that.
§ Mr. Woodburn
But is it not the case that both Committees might be mistaken in that view? The great success of this Act was that putting the Act on the Statute Book made these cases disappear altogether and people ceased to a large extent to try to take advantage of shopkeepers, just as in the case of criminal justice Acts many are deterred from committing crimes because they will be punished if they commit crimes. But fewer crimes are not a reason for abolishing criminal justice Acts.
§ 3.0 a.m.
§ Mr. Stewart
The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to suggest any reasons which may have occured to him. I do not know whether he is right or wrong. I only give to this committee the con- 1500 sidered views of these two important Committees.
§ Mr. Ross
I should like to say, as one of those who signed the last Report of the Guthrie Committee, that it is perfectly clear that the Committee said they did not even look at the problem and were making no comment. The hon. Gentleman has no right to draw out of that some recommendation which suits him at the moment.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Gentleman must not use language like that. I resent it. I quoted the words, and I did not make any comment. I quote them again—without drawing any inference. This is the Report of the Scottish Leases Committee of 1952. On page 43, paragraph 4, they say:With regard to shops, we should perhaps note that we have not received sufficient evidence in this field, nor has the time come for it to be appropriate that we should make a recommendation as to whether the Tenure Committee's suggestion that the protection of the Tenancy of Shops Act would not be required beyond 1955 ought to be reviewed in the light of later developments in this field.That seems to be as plain as a pikestaff.
The view of this Committee was that they did not think it right to suggest any change in the recommendation of the previous Committeee, namely, that this Measure should not continue after 1955. I must make it plain to the Committee that all the authoritative recommendations available to Parliament are to the effect that at the most this Act should not go further than 1955.
That being so, with great respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman whose views upon these matters we all understand and admire because of his knowledge, I cannot recommend the Committee to go beyond that. We are doing all we can do. We are seeking to continue this Act from year to year. This is sensible and reasonable. We see how things are going and if, by next year, it looks as if it can be extended for another year, we shall extend it for another year. That is the only proper course the Committee can take.
As regards the third proposition, that we should have a wider and more comprehensive tenancy protection Act, here again, I am afraid, all the evidence available to Parliament is to a contrary sense. 1501 The Committee of which the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) was a member came down against the extension of this Act to other premises—although the hon. Member himself did not. The Leasehold Committee took the same view. They were also against it.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Member has forgotten about his own Committee. On page 44, paragraph 2 says:We do not recommend that the protection still afforded to tenants of shops by the Tenancy of Shops (Scotland) Act 1949, as continued in operation by means of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, should be extended to tenants of business premises other than shops.Nothing is clearer than that. It is a clear negative.
In these circumstances what could any Government do but accept these weighty recommendations? We cannot at this stage produce the more comprehensive Measure for which hon. Members opposite have so politely and reasonably asked. All the Government can do, and all any Government could do, in present circumstances, would be to extend this Measure year by year, keeping a very careful watch on developments. If there is need for extension, then extension will be brought about. If, as is recommended to us, by about 1955 the need has disappeared, then there will be no further need for this Measure. For those reasons, I suggest to the Committee that it reject the Amendment.
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The Committee proceeded to a Division.
§ Major CONANT and Mr. OAKSHOTT were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, The CHAIRMAN declared that the Ayes had it.
§ Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Schedule."
§ The Committee proceeded to a Division.
§ Mr. Buchan-Hepburn
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question, 'That this Schedule be the Schedule to the Bill,' be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question, 'That this Schedule be the Schedule to the Bill,' be now put."
§ The Committee proceeded to a Division.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
(seated and covered): On a point of order. I wish to call your attention, Sir Charles, to the fact that there is an important English Measure included in those Measures which it has now been moved that we may not discuss at all. It raises an extremely important issue for the people of this country. I have been sitting here faithfully in order to put an important point on it. I submit this to you, with great respect. I gave notice that I was here for this purpose, and although I cannot, of course, reflect upon your Ruling, the action of the Patronage Secretary has been such that, knowing that this was involved, he has given us no opportunity to make reference to it. Can nothing be done by you, Sir Charles, to safeguard, not only the interests of minorities but the interests of all Englishmen in the Committee?
§ Major CONANT and Mr. OAKSHOTT were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, The CHAIRMAN declared that the Ayes had it.
§ Question, "That this Schedule be the Schedule to the Bill," put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Preamble agreed to.
§ Question put, "That the Chairman do report the Bill, without Amendment, to the House."
§ The Committee proceeded to a Division.
§ Major CONANT and Mr. OAKSHOTT were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, The CHAIRMAN declared that the Ayes had it.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment.1503
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ 3.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Wheatley
Before we pass from this Bill, I think we should consider the circumstances in which these Acts are being perpetuated for another year. Manifestly the expedient of continuing an Act from year to year by virtue of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill is one which should only be resorted to in exceptional circumstances.
One notes with a certain amount of apprehension that an Act as early as 1919 is still being perpetuated. If you go through the Schedule, the discussion on which was so abruptly terminated by the action of the Patronage Secretary, you will find that not only an Act of 1919 but two Acts of 1934, as well as Acts of 1938 and 1939, are being perpetuated by virtue of this procedure. Therefore, I think we should consider very very seriously indeed whether or not there is justification for giving approval to this procedure which, in my opinion, is one requiring a great amount of justification, and I trust it will receive that justification from the Government Front Bench.
I am particularly anxious about the post-war Acts carried on by virtue of the Schedule, because among them are three Acts which apply to Scotland. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where are the Scottish Ministers?"] Manifestly, if these Acts are to be continued, we want to receive assurances from the Government Front Bench that, where appropriate, action will be taken to enshrine Acts which are in themselves desirable in permanent legislation.
We have heard from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the only member of the Scottish Office still left on the Front Bench, that the Tenancy of Shops (Scotland) Act, 1949, is a most desirable Act. Therefore, having received that admission from him, and having regard to the fact that the measure of the value of an Act is not to be judged merely by the number of cases it covers but by the effect it has, I think it is for the Government on Third Reading to justify the continuation of this Act by annual instalments rather than in the form of permanent legislation. It seems to me to be a false argument to say that merely because few cases may fall within 1504 the ambit of a statute, there is no justification for making that Statute permanent. That is a very wrong and false reason.
There is, for instance, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885. By and large, there are very few prosecutions in Scotland under that Act from one year's end to another, but it would be quite wrong to suggest that because there are few cases which come within the ambit of that statute, it should no longer be on the Statute Book. Accordingly, the whole basis of the hon. Gentleman's argument seemed to me to be quite fallacious.
What we have to look at is this. Would the provision of this protection, which has already been given in temporary form to the shopkeepers of Scotland, give a greater degree of security, not in relation to the cases that come before the court, but in relation to the shopkeepers in Scotland as a whole? If it were going to give them that confidence which is a very desirable thing, if it were going to give them that security which they need if they are to develop, the mere fact that it might not be so necessary by 1955 as it is in 1952, or as it was in 1949, is no argument for not making the legislation permanent. I think that we should have a greater and better justification for the continuattion of this Act by annual instalments than the one already advanced.
The other matter which is exercising my mind is the procedure invoked under the Bill whereby the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act, 1943, is merely being carried on from year to year. I wonder whether the House should be giving approval to this method of procedure when the actual facts of the situation manifestly indicate that legislation of a permanent nature, and not this annual repetition, is the proper form of dealing with this problem.
It was a great pity that the Patronage Secretary, in his wisdom, sough to exclude a full discussion on this matter—[HON. MEMBERS: "There was no discussion"]—in the Committee stage. I said "full discussion in the matter" because what I had feared was that since the Guillotine had fallen on the first Scottish Measure to be reached, we expected no better treatment on subsequent Scottish Measures under the Bill. We found that although the Closure was moved after three-quarters of an hour in relation to the first Act under consideration, it was 1505 extended to one hour and four minutes before it was moved in relation to the second Act. I had thought that by the process of arithmetical progression we would have at least something in the region of an hour and a half to discuss the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act, 1943, at that stage. But we did not get that opportunity, and therefore it is only desirable that we should try to avail ourselves of the opportunity of Third Reading to see whether, in the circumstances, we should give our approval to the continuation of that Act by the expedient of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.
After all, that Act has been in operation for nine years. It was a paving Act. It was an Act which preceded the English Act of 1946 by three years. It had been so successful in Scotland that England, in its wisdom, as it usually does, improved the situation by copying Scotland. I am quite sure that the precedent, if it does not appeal to the Leader of the House, will be appreciated by the Home Secretary.
So, for nine years, we had this Act which was introduced with a view to meeting a serious difficulty which had arisen during the war; but after the war it was found necessary to extend it, and it was extended to England in 1946. It has been carried on annually since 1948.
Despite any housing progress that may have been made, the problem not only exists with us, but must, from the very nature of things, continue to exist for many years ahead, for until we overcome the tremendous leeway and gap in the housing problem we shall inevitably find people living in accommodation covered by this statute. Having regard to that fact, it is absolutely necessary we should make this Measure permanent. The expedient of merely repeating it from year to year is not one which should commend itself to us.
That was recognised in 1949 when the original powers of these tribunals were extended by the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, 1949. The powers of the tribunals were extended and certain matters were made clear which had been in dispute as a result of decisions in the courts. For instance, where accommodation is shared with another tenant, the Act stated that the tenant would have 1506 the protection of the Rent Restrictions Acts; and where the tenant shares the accommodation with the landlord the tenant has the right of recourse to the tribunal. Moreover, the 1949 Act gave power to extend the tenancy by successive periods of three months. This power was vested in the tribunals, and it has been of great value.
But the difficulty of this method—and this is why I wonder whether this is the right method of perpetuating legislation—is that the statute must remain in its original form, and there is no opportunity of bringing it up-to-date to meet changing needs in the light of changed circumstances. It might well be more desirable for the Government to introduce new legislation to bring this subject up-to-date in the light of experience. It might well be that the scope and jurisdiction of these rent tribunals ought to be extended. For instance, it might be thought that the power of the tribunals to continue the tenancy for three months should be extended, and that a three-month period is too short and puts the poor person in an invidious and unfortunate position. For this reason alone it might be justifiable for the Government to decide not to continue this Act in its present form, but to replace it with permanent legislation of an up-to-date nature, bringing in some of the features I have mentioned.
Another thing which concerns us in Scotland is that, by virtue of this rather hole-in-the-corner method of carrying on legislation, obviously sufficient publicity is not being given to the provisions of the Act in Scotland, because I notice that in the Financial Memorandum it is stated that the continuance of the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act, 1943, will involve expenditure estimated at £1,300 for the financial year 1953–54 in respect of fees and allowances to members of the 29 rent tribunals set up under the Act. In the following paragraph one finds, in relation to the continuation of the corresponding English Act, that itwill involve expenditure in respect of remuneration and salaries and allowances payable to the members and staff of the Tribunals set up under the Act. On the assumption that the sixty-eight Tribunals will continue to operate as at present, it is estimated that the cost will amount to about £120,000 in the financial year 1953–54.1507 The disparity between these figures is amazing, because apparently it is contemplated that the figure of £120,000 will be spent on these tribunals in England, whereas only £1,300 will be spent in Scotland. By no formula which I know—the Goschen formula or any other formula—can these figures be reconciled except for one reason. Even taking into account the different housing conditions in the two countries, it is manifest that the people of Scotland are not availing themselves of these rent tribunals, which we are carrying on for another year, to the same extent as the people in England. One naturally wants to know why.
The reason seems to me to be quite clear, because if one looks at the figures recently given by the Secretary of State for Scotland to my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, Central (Mr. Manuel), it will be found that the number of cases appearing before these tribunals is surprisingly small. We find, for instance, that in the City of Dundee for the last year under consideration there was one meeting of the tribunal and no cases were referred to it. As one looks through that list, one finds examples of cases where the tribunal never sat at all, and when it did sit they had only one, or two, or three cases referred to it.
If we have only one sitting of the tribunal in Dundee and no case is referred to it, or, as in the case mentioned in the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Clunie), no sitting of the tribunal and two cases referred to it—how that came about I am not quite sure—manifestly full advantage has not been taken of this arrangement.
If we are to continue this Act by this Bill, then, if it is to be an effective instrument at all, we have to try and ensure—and I make this appeal to the solitary remnant of the Scottish Office left on the Government Front Bench—that greater publicity of the Act is given to the people of Scotland. Otherwise, the Act is merely there as an ineffective piece of legislation when it should be effective.
I could analyse the figures and show to what extent the disparity is even greater as between England and Scotland, but I will just make this suggestion. For many months, as we came off the train from Scotland at King's Cross and made our way to Westminster, we could see on the notice boards of St. Pancras Borough 1508 Council, or Holborn Borough Council posters indicating what were the rights of people in relation to recourse to these tribunals. The posters could be seen all over the place. The tribunals were advertised by the local authorities.
Whenever we have raised this question with the Scottish Office, we have been told that the mere fact that we raised the question would, no doubt, give sufficient publicity. The Joint Under-Secretary of State knows that that just is not so. I therefore say that if he is going to make it worth while for us to include this Act in this Bill, he has to start a campaign in Scotland to make the provisions of the Act more widely known so as to let the people of Scotland have a greater knowledge of the right of recourse to these tribunals. That can be done by enlisting the co-operation of the local authorities in giving greater publicity, perhaps in the form I have mentioned, or perhaps through the post offices, into which almost everyone goes at some time.
If that were done, I am sure that the figures would rise considerably in Scotland, and the Act would become an effective instrument instead of being a comparatively dead letter. We would then be justified, despite our view that this should be permanent instead of temporary legislation, in giving full, unqualified sanction to carrying on the Act for another year pending the introduction of some final legislation.
§ 3.37 a.m.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise on Third Reading a matter which we have not had an opportunity to raise because of the disgraceful conduct of the Government at an earlier stage. In the past the opportunity has always been taken of discussing the working of the rent tribunals in England. Hon. Members on both sides have always taken part in that discussion, for which a Labour Administration always afforded opportunity. Oddly enough, under the new form of democratic procedure of the present Government, this opportunity is largely denied to the House. That is a matter which no doubt will be considered later.
Two urgent and important matters arise on the question of rent tribunals in England. Reference has been made to the position in Scotland.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I regret that my vocabulary does not equal that of my hon. Friend, but it can be taken that anything he says has my support.
I was going to say that there are two main issues regarding rent tribunals which hon. Friends of mine have raised often at Question time, but to which they have received unsatisfactory answers. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) has put Questions on more than one occasion.
First, there is the matter of the closing of tribunals in England. I understand that already some 16 have been closed in England and Wales, and we understand that there are further proposals being put forward. It may be argued that in some areas there are not enough cases to warrant the continuance of separate tribunals; but I suggest that one reason cases are not coming forward is because some new decisions by the courts have rendered largely inoperative the kind of protection which was envisaged by the 1949 Act.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) moved the Second Reading of the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1949, he referred to the necessity for giving extra protection to tenants, and in fact the 1949 Act amended the 1946 Act in relation to the protection given. It was made clear in my right hon. Friend's speech, and in the rest of the Second Reading debate, that it was intended that there should be not merely an initial three months' security of tenure for the tenant, but that that should be continued on a three-monthly basis indefinitely, should circumstances warrant it.
But that understanding, which was quite clear during the passage of the Measure through the House, has been wholly negatived by the action of the courts, which have now ruled that no further protection can be given to a tenant provided that the landlord puts in his notice to quit after the expiration of the initial three months' period of security. That has made for quite a serious position.
I understand from the tribunal in the area where I live that it has had the undoubted effect of decreasing the num- 1510 ber of cases coming forward under the principal Act as well as those coming forward for extension of security under Section 11 of the 1949 Act. I gather, also, that at a recent meeting of tribunal officials it was commonly commented that this was found to be the case throughout the country; and, unless some amendment of the 1946 Act is made in order to ensure that the original intention of the 1949 Act is carried out, the responsibility must clearly lie with the Government for having allowed the breakdown of the operation of this very valuable protection which up to now has been given to tenants.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government will be able to indicate tonight—even in this wretchedly attenuated discussion of this most serious matter, which there has been no other opportunity to discuss in the House—that the Government are willing to put forward an amendment to the principal Act, and that, while we may pass this particular Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, he will give an undertaking to review of the whole matter and be prepared, on behalf of the Government, to bring in amending legislation to ensure that the original intention of the 1946 and 1949 Acts will be carried out.
§ 3.42 a.m.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
We have been told that this is our opportunity to raise some points which we attempted to raise earlier. I am very upset, as I think everybody in the House must be except those who have attempted to gag the whole proceedings, that we have not been able to discuss in detail some of the Acts contained in the Schedule.
At this very late hour I want to say at once, as I tried to point out to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, when he became somewhat queer in his replies, that there is an absurd suggestion in the Financial Memorandum to the Bill which either could not, in my view, have been thought out at all or which was deliberately intended to mislead. The Financial Memorandum says:The continuance of the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, will involve expenditure in respect of remuneration and salaries and allowances payable to the members and staff of the Tribunals set up under the Act. On the assumption …1511 When I referred to that last time, I am afraid that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury got a little fussed and worried about it. I am sorry to say that he did not understand my point.On the assumption that the sixty-eight Tribunals will continue to operate as at present …In view of the fact that we have been told by the Government that it is intended to cut down the tribunals which are at present operating, how in heaven's name could a calculation be made of a sum of £120,000 on the assumption that they would continue to operate the tribunals as at present? If that is not misleading, I do not know what is.
We know that 15 to 16 tribunals have been closed down already and we have been told in this House that it is intended to investigate the closing down of further tribunals. If I am not mistaken, since this Bill had been already printed, some tribunals have been closed down, or it is intended to close them. Yet we are told in the Financial Memorandum that, on the assumption that the 68 tribunals will continue to operate as at present, it is estimated the cost will be £120,000 in the financial year 1953–54.
This method of perpetuating the 1946 Act by the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which also means perpetuating the 1949 Act, is clearly wrong and should never have been undertaken in view of the action which is being taken by the Government to crush the whole system of the Rent Acts. I say that deliberately because the object of the Acts was not only to give protection, but the 1946 Act contains a specific provision whereby local authorities are to publish information regarding the contents of that Act, and that is also contained in the other Rent Acts.
What steps have been taken by the Government to make local authorities inform the public of their rights under the 1946 Act? Why do the Government want to continue it from year to year if the Minister intends to stop the public from exercising their rights under the 1946 Act, first by reducing the number of tribunals, and secondly, by not giving the information that is essential for the population so that they may go to tribunals and know what service they can get from them? That is why we are 1512 concerned about this provision being continued annually by the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.
That is not by any means the end of the story. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing knows very well that millions of pounds have been extracted wrongly from tenants because they did not know of their rights under the Acts. They failed to go to tribunals, not because they had not the right to go, but because they did not know they had that right. Now the Minister is closing down tribunal offices which enabled them to ascertain their rights. I am not speaking without the book. On the contrary, I am speaking not only from my personal knowledge, but as I have often quoted, from the experience of the rent tribunal in my constituency. I make a further quotation from a letter received by me from the Chairman of the Leicester Tribunal. Another piece of information which I received from him some time ago reads as follows:I do ask you to communicate with the powers that be and urge upon them the absolute necessity for something to be done, and that quickly. The position is really serious and, with the winter approaching, many of the people who have already been to the Tribunal and obtained security of tenure will be faced with notice to quit and have nowhere to go. The worst cases are those where there are any children because there is a very large number of heartless people who turn down applications for accommodation as soon as they know there are any children, or that one is expected. We have had numerous cases where tenants have been told to find other accommodation when it has become known that a child is expected. It makes one's blood boil to experience such heartlessness…. The tribunal was proceeding so satisfactorily with its work; then came this bombshell which put an end to it all.These are not my words. They are the words of a man who has control of a tribunal and who deals with it day by day. The Government knows that the case of Pickavance has definitely decided that the further security intended to be given to tenants by the 1949 Act has become, by the opinion of the courts, absolutely ineffective. They have interpreted—rightly, I suppose, according to the powers they have, that the wording of the Act does precisely the opposite from what was intended when the Act was put on the Statute Book.
We know that it was enacted because there were difficulties throughout the country. The three months' security of 1513 tenure given under the 1946 Act was insufficient because, as soon as the three months expired, landlords were turning tenants out, mainly, I assume, for spite, because they had taken their cases to tribunals. The outcry against this was such that the House of Commons, in its wisdom, decided to bring in a Section of the 1949 Act specifically for the purpose of extending that security. There is no doubt about that.
We were not capable of finding the correct wording apparently; I suppose we are not to blame in that sense because very often the courts interpret the terms of Acts differently from what was intended by Parliament at the time legislation was passed, because they have no right to go behind the wording of the statute to look at the reasons which prompted it. At that time we intended to increase the security of tenure. Now the courts say we did not do anything of the kind. What is the good of perpetuating a situation of that sort? The Government should have said that this Bill is not at all the proper place for this Act, and that they would take action to deal with remedying this wrong and other wrongs.
The Government are going to get the Bill passed. They will badger the House to get it. If we had had a full debate on the Amendment the Government would not have got the Bill through because even their own supporters would have seen that they could not let their constituents down, having already voted for the continuance of security. The Government should stop closing down tribunals because, if the 1946 Act is to be continued, they are wrecking it by this means. If the Government continue in their present attitude towards the tribunals, they will be making the Act of 1946 useless.
I urge them immediately to bring in a Bill to amend the Acts of 1946 and 1949 so as to give to the people what the House intended to give them by those Acts. They should not continue on the lines of false economy, trying to close down offices available for the benefit of the people. Of course, if they close down the offices of tribunals and other amenities—and the Government are well along that road—then, naturally, there will be economies effected but the result will be to ruin the people of this country in their daily and general life. The Gov- 1514 ernment could not face such a situation with equanimity.
The matter is of such urgency that, although the Government are forcing this Measure through, they must within a short time take steps to see that the Act of 1946 is revised and that the people of this land are restored to the position which they occupied under the Labour Government, who did everything possible to help them to retain their homes and to help them to lead happy lives under a roof which was not in danger of being taken from them.
§ 3.58 a.m.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
I count myself fortunate, Mr. Speaker, that you are in the Chair, for you probably know more about the Act to which I wish to refer than anyone else except the Home Secretary. You had the good fortune to be present during the debate following which the Bill became law, and you commented at length upon the effects of the Bill. You used a resplendent phrase which greatly pleased me when I read it—and, indeed, when I heard it, for, although I was not then a Member of the House, I watched the whole of the proceedings from the Box, from where I was trying to supply what I thought might prove to be improvements to the Bill. I heard you say,The whole purpose of the Bill is to resolve, if we can, a diarchy in administration between the licensing system and the planning system, to resolve it at the very root, so that the two authorities do not go on pursuing contrary policies which then have, with great difficulty to be reconciled."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1945; Vol. 407, c. 770.]That is the central purpose of that Act. On Third Reading of this Bill, I am compelled to refer only to matters in that Act. I was at that time full of suggestions for other things which could have gone into it, but which in fact did not go into it. The Licensing Planning (Temporary Provsions) Act, 1945, made arrangements of an entirely new character for the planning of licensed premises in areas which had been blitzed and in overspill areas into which the populations were being moved. Instead of relying, as in the past, upon the licensing justices and the ordinary processes of objection, the plan was to have a new joint committee, half-planning authority and half-licensing authority, joining the two public bodies under an impartial chairman—we have 1515 heard about this more recently in connection with another Measure, and we are beginning to see now where this all came from—to work out the problem of how the new licensed premises should be restricted.
It was a very large job, but the Government, who had considered the matter carefully, thought that it would be completed in five years. That was part of the Act; it was to last for five years. That was 1945. Well, we have had it for seven years, and if the intention of the Government of that day had been carried out the operation of that Act should have finished by now, and I suggest that that is what should now take place, for after all the arrangements made we may assume that in the seven years that have elapsed, despite the big job Hitler left us to face in connection with public houses, certainly the planning—I will not say the rebuilding—which this new authority was set up to deal with would have been completed.
There were 1,600 public houses to be built, and they were to be dealt with in 25 towns. Presumably the work is provided for in the 25 towns by now, or it ought to be. In some of the towns as many as 50 per cent. of the total number of public houses were wiped out by enemy action. I admit the job was a big one, but the Government knew that when they put the period of five years into the Act; and I say that the matter ought to have been dealt with in that period. I am specially interested in this matter, because I followed the proposals from their emanation in the Morris Committee. That Committee was an extremely unsatisfactory body. I know that the Chairman was a very capable lawyer who became a distinguished judge, and I pass no comment upon him; but the Committee itself was a mixture of representatives of the Home Office, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, local authorities and, as would be expected, the brewers.
We were so dissatisfied in the temperance movement—and we early became alive to what was going on—that one big section of the movement, known as the United Kingdom Alliance, flatly declined to approach the Committee and put any evidence before it. They said that a Committee so constituted would act only in the interests of the brewers. I thought 1516 they were mistaken then, and the Temperance Council of the Christian Churches thought so, too, and they sent representatives to put proposals before the Committee as to the steps that they might take in the problem that faced them.
The Rev. Henry Carter, now passed on, but then a great leader in the temperance movement, presented the evidence of the Temperance Council of the Christian Churches. None of it was accepted: therefore, none of it got into this Measure, though, as the Home Secretary said then—and he was responsible for piloting the Measure through the House—the Bill practically followed exactly the proposals that the Morris Committee made. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Gentlemen are naturally thoroughly well satisfied to help proposals that come from places where the brewers have so much opportunity.
A whole series of alterations have been made in long-established processes for the granting of licences which, I think, have the gravest effect on the development of new houses that have come into being as a result of this Measure. Under the old system of licensing courts, where people had objections to make to licences being granted they had their opportunities to make those objections. One of the proposals made by the Temperance Council of the Christian Churches was that that might have been altered, with the opportunity for the will of the people in an area to be discovered before decisions were made by this joint committee, but that suggestion was not accepted.
You yourself, Mr. Speaker, at the time you were Minister, when objection was made during the Second Reading that it would be desirable that local opinion in the districts within the petty sessional divisions be ascertained, thought that that was provided for in the terms of the Measure. You suggested that there was the possibility of setting up a sub-committee under the terms of the Measure whereby that question of local opinion might be dealt with.
I think that was a perfectly justifiable observation, but actually it does not in any sense approach what I am suggesting, which is that the great need now is that when licences are being granted, the opinion of the people themselves—not in sub-committees of authorities that are set up to represent the people—can really 1517 only be obtained finally by some definite consultation with them in the form of a poll or by other methods of the character of a poll.
In the same way, the Act is especially defective because the planning authority takes into account only a very small field of the institutions that should be covered. Since the days when the licensing courts began, on our behalf, to face these problems of building and of permission for building licensed premises, there have come into being all sorts of other institutions which make up the general provision of drinking facilities in any district.
In a blitzed area, where the authority had to consider the problem to be faced, they had no chance to arrive at a fair decision because the question of bottle shops, of drinking clubs—[Interruption]—Hon. Gentlemen opposite probably have not heard of those institutions. In fact, the bottle shop today is a regular part of the provisions of supplying the people with drink. It is possible to get that provision, not by an appeal to the planning committee or to the licensing magistrate, but merely by paying a small fee to the Excise authorities. As long as a person sells liquor in bottles of a certain size, he may carry on retail trade in the distribution of liquor on a large scale. Indeed, the bottle shops are doing that at present. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I notice that some hon. Members know all about it, although others, apparently, are perfectly indifferent to the existence of these things.
That ought to be taken into account by a joint planning authority when deciding the number of public houses they might allow in an area that has been blitzed, or in the over-spill area into which the new populations have moved. But no opportunity is given for them to do so. Therefore, a very one-sided opinion must inevitably be arrived at by these committees and an unfair decision made, when there should be taken into account all the institutions where drink is being supplied.
It is because of this inadequacy of the Measure that I suggest, first, that we ought now to consider bringing it to a definite conclusion. I have, however, another and stronger reason. This Measure has become the model for Tory Governments in their approach to the 1518 problem of licensing in these modern times. The Home Secretary knows to what I refer. Out of their conversations with the brewers, which took place at the beginning of the Government's period of office, there came into being the Measure that we were dealing with last year. The Home Secretary told us that the plan that was adopted for that Bill was the plan that had been taken over from the Morris Committee and was adopted in this Measure which is included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. Without proper appeal to the electorate, without any reasonable explanation to the country, with no reference in their programmes, the Government foisted on the nation a new method of procedure in the problem of the granting of licences which, if it is allowed to continue, will throw the whole licensing system into confusion.
I suggest that the continuance of this Measure, against which I am protesting, will give before very long an effective excuse for some entirely new process of dealing with the supply of liquor over and beyond whatever now exists. The Government are going to make it easy a little later for the extension of the scheme which now exists in Carlisle. The confusion which this Measure brings into existance will make people feel that something else must be tried.
It is because a sort of travelling rot has set in in the licensing system with the acceptance of the process that came through the Morris Committee, that I think the Government should be reconsidering now carefully the whole process. There is a claim in the country today for a consideration of the rights of the people, especially where they have been deprived of facilities which under the law have been accepted.
I am not approaching this problem—although I am often accused of doing so when I make speeches of this kind—in any way as a prohibitionist. I agree that the law allows the provision of liquor under certain well-defined restrictions to all manner of people in all manner of places, and I know that as long as it is the will of the people that that should be so, the authorities set up to deal with the problem of public order and drinking facilities, which are so closely related, must act strictly in accordance with the law.
1519 I am saying that in the working out of the laws that should provide effectively for this problem much more attention should be paid in legislation of the future to the rights of the people, and that their opinions should be obtained directly through a proper appeal through the polls, than we can possibly get by setting up any type of public authority.
Another evil has been brought in the train of this proposal by mixing up the problem with local politics. If the electorate is really dissatisfied with the work done by the planning authority representatives on these licensing planning committees, they ought to be willing at municipal elections to report to the people what they have done, and accept the judgment of the people on the steps they have taken. We have then really brought into local politics this question of licensing to the general disadvantage of local politics, in a way that did not exist in the past when we depended on the licensing magistrates. I once talked to the Premier of New Zealand on this very point, and he told me that one of the greatest benefits that New Zealand had secured from their special legislation was one which removed entirely from local politics the problem of decisions about drink, by letting—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member has gone a long way, but he has gone too far in bringing New Zealand into this matter.
§ Mr. Hudson
Of course, I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I am trying to show that one consequence of the plans that were adopted in this Bill is inevitably a shift of influence to the platforms of local elections, and I think it is bad that the drink question should come into local elections in any form whatsoever. Out of respect for your Ruling, Sir, I will say no more on this matter.
I believe that hon. Members opposite are anxious to get to the end of this debate because they have no ideas about the subject at all. They face a great public evil with jeers. They know that efforts have to be made by someone to deal with it, and when efforts are made by Members with some experience to explain what might be done about it and what are the weaknesses in the Measures that come before the House, hon. Mem- 1520 bers sit tight in their places—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may wear on their heads the cap which they think fits.
I was only saying that they sit tight in their places at a time when they ought to be making their own contributions, and if they have none of their own they ought at least to listen to those who have tried to understand the difficulties of the problem. The time has now come to bring this Measure to an end, and I hope it will be found possible for the House to accept that view.
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House proceeded to a Division.
§ Mr. DREWE and Mr. OAKSHOTT were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.
§ Question put accordingly, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ The House proceeded to a Division.
§ Mr. DREWE and Mr. OAKSHOTT were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.