HC Deb 15 November 1954 vol 533 cc129-56

8.10 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Major Gwilym Lloyd-George)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty under section eight of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, praying that the said Act, which would otherwise expire on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-four, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-five. It is customary on these occasions, I understand, to seek your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, for the House to have, on the first of the series of five Government Motions on the Order Paper tonight, a general debate on emergency legislation, and, thereafter, to take the other four Motions, the last two of which stand in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Supply, if not formally, at least somewhat more briefly.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

Is that agreeable to the House?

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

It has proved very useful in the past and as far as we are concerned we should prefer that that should be the course tonight.

Major Lloyd-George

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman.

The procedure connected with this annual operation for the renewal of emergency legislation is, I confess, somewhat baffling to a newcomer. The chief proposition to which it is my duty to seek the assent of the House can, however, be put in very simple terms. It is that, on the basis of the Government's record in this matter since the powers were last renewed, the House should agree with our submission that the public interest requires that the limited powers proposed to be continued for a further 12 months should be continued.

To enable the House to reach a judgment on the merits of the case which I now commend to it, we have presented, in accordance with custom, a White Paper on Emergency Legislation. In the White Paper hon. Members will find, set out in detail, what has been achieved since last December in the way of revocations, an itemised list of the powers which we propose should be continued and an indication of the method by which continuance is secured under the various enactments with which the five Motions before us are concerned.

At the outset, I invite hon. Members to be prepared to refer to the latest edition of the defence regulations, which includes all those in force at 27th December, 1953. The edition is the 21st—in the grey cover. Reference to it will be necessary for an understanding of the details set out in the White Paper.

The table in paragraph 5, on page 4 of the White Paper, tells its own story of the inroad made into the surviving regulations since the 21st edition was published. It is a story of 28 regulations disposed of this year, reducing to less than one-third the total of regulations now surviving, compared with the 215 regulations which this Government inherited on taking office in 1951. The House will see from paragraph 6 of the White Paper that the true picture is, in fact, rather better than appears from the purely statistical analysis of the table. Considered in terms of substantive regulations, which is the fairest measure of what remains to be done, the total of regulations to be continued is, in fact, no more than 25, of which only 16 are Defence (General) Regulations.

In giving these figures I confess to the House a sense of embarrassment, for, though I am not, I trust, a "hard" man like the lord in the parable, I am reaping where I have not sown and gathering where I have not strawed. The emergency legislation balance sheet, if I may so describe it, analyses results achieved under my predecessor in a field that he had made peculiarly his own. It is to his endeavours that we should give the largest measure of credit for the striking reduction in the number of regulations now to be continued.

I am sure it would be the general wish of the House tonight that I should take this opportunity to express to my noble and learned Friend our appreciation of the zeal with which he applied himself to this task, in addition to all the other burdens falling to him as the head of a major Department of State. His survey in the corresponding debate a year ago at the beginning of this Session was masterly. We have always recognised that the clearing up of war-time legislation was as much a House of Commons matter as the Government's.

I do not propose to traverse the whole ground of the procedures by which defence regulations are continued. Nor shall I weary the House with an explanation in detail of why we have come to the conclusion that each of the regulations set out in paragraphs 7 and 9 of the White Paper, and each of the enactments mentioned in paragraphs 8, 10 and 11, should be continued.

I can, however, give this assurance. In respect of all the provisions to be continued, we are satisfied that the powers conferred are essential in the public interest. Each has been scrutinised and in regard to each a convincing justification for continuance can be offered. Moreover, I should make it plain that it does not do to assume that the regulations to be continued are in the main restrictive; on the contrary, they constitute, for the most part, provisions enabling things to be done for which, otherwise, no provision would exist. I need only mention the Welfare Food Scheme, for without D.R.'s 55 and 55AB it would have to cease overnight.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, who will be speaking later in the debate, will be prepared to explain the position in respect of any regulation in which hon. Members may express an interest in the course of this debate. There will also be an opportunity on the emergency laws motions, which we shall take later, to raise points on the particular regulations and enactments mentioned in the Order Paper which the form of the parent Act requires to be set out in schedule form in the Motions themselves.

I propose to address myself to three main aspects of the problem; first, the progress achieved since 1951 in dispensing with controls and other powers deriving from emergency legislation; and, secondly, the results achieved by the application of the Government's policy in the last 12 months, with special reference to the Defence Regulations (No. 9) Order; and, thirdly, the outlook for the future.

Let me take the first point, progress since 1951. It is not without apprehension that I have assumed responsibility for directing the general attack on disposing of emergency legislation and getting rid of the controls operated under it, for it is a very complicated subject. I am not, however, without some knowledge of what is involved, because I was the Minister of Food for three years. When I assumed office in the Ministry in 1951, there were no fewer than 106 main orders imposing controls over foodstuffs made under D.R. 55. This regulation has been the main instrument for the operation of economic controls of all kinds, and the Minister of Food is only one of the many competent authorities to operate under it.

In my first year of office, although we were clear as to our objective, progress towards it was slow; there were still 94 orders in force at the end of 1952. Last year, however, the number had shrunk by half to 51 and by the end of this year there are expected to be no more than 11, which, I think, is considerable progress when it is remembered that in 1951 the number was 106.

The House will see from these figures that, in dealing with the people's food, as in other fields of economic administration within the provinces of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Supply, the Government did not set off on any reckless and doctrinaire dash for freedom. Economic recovery was the first objective; thereafter, steady progress could be made towards our goal, but the rate of progress would need to be determined by sober consideration of the facts in each particular case.

In the Government's first year of office there actually had to be a tightening of import controls necessitated by the balance of payments situation. Extra restrictions were imposed under emergency legislation powers. In the Ministry of Food we could at that time do no more than relax controls on a few items such as cakes, biscuits, soap, and so forth. In the following year, as the country, under the wise direction of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, began to recover its economic health, it was possible for the tempo to be quickened.

We were able, in 1953, to secure relaxations in regard to meat products, sweets, sugar, cereals, animal feeding-stuffs, the price of eggs and flour and the licensing of retailers; and now, in 1954, we have been able to dispense with the main structure of rationing, licensing of manufacturers, wholesalers and caterers, and the controls of meat, bacon, fats, cheese and the sale of livestock.

I think that all of us felt—wherever we sit in the House—a sense of relief and thanksgiving when we were able, on 3rd July, to discard our ration books. We had had them for so long that, after 14 years, people had almost grown to accept them as part of their daily life. The 3rd July was a milestone in the realisation of our policy. The disappearance of the ration book symbolised a great deal more than just the end of meat rationing.

While the Ministry of Food was pressing on with the decontrol of foodstuffs, and other Departments responsible for controls of one kind and another were similarly engaged, action in the wider field of emergency legislation itself has been going forward. In the past year Parliament itself has made a very notable contribution. No fewer than eight Bills have been, or shortly will be, enacted which, on coming into effect, either have replaced or will replace emergency powers. Meanwhile, Departments have been applying themselves to dispensing with such other provisions as could be dropped by administrative decision. Perhaps I could give one example.

My hon. Friend the Minister of Works informed the House earlier this month that building licensing can now be dispensed with, with considerable consequential savings in Government expenditure. Building licensing depended on D.R. 56A, an elaborate regulation covering 3½ pages of print, made even more elaborate by the equally lengthy Sixth Schedule which went with it, which was also about 3½ pages. That regulation, having served its purpose, is now dispensed with.

I do not propose to recite further details of the action taken in regard to emergency legislation during 1954, of which the White Paper provides a summary. Hon. Members cannot have failed to notice from their Order Papers with what frequency statutory instruments have been appearing revoking existing orders. There have been at least 30 of them this year, ranging from cold storage to hire purchase, and from ships' stores to knackers' yards. There have also been nine defence regulation orders revoking regulations themselves in whole or in part, and I should like to dwell for a brief moment on the most important of these. This is the Defence Regulations (No. 9) Order, to which a reference is made in the Appendix to the White Paper on page 7.

As I have made plain to the House, our aim has been to reduce these emergency powers to the bare minimum. For reasons on which I do not now need to enlarge, there is no early prospect of getting rid of D.R. 55 itself. But D.R. 55 is expressed in very wide terms. It gives the Government power, for any of the wide-ranging purposes in the Supplies and Services Acts, to regulate or prohibit the production, treatment, keeping, storage, movement, transport, distribution, disposal, acquisition, use or consumption of articles of any description. These powers are in fact, now required only for very limited purposes and in relation to a handful of commodities.

We have, accordingly, thought it right that an Order in Council should be made pruning the number of Ministers who are competent authorities to those who now actually need, or may need, to exercise the powers, and as regards those who remain in possession of the powers, defining in precise terms the purposes for which they may continue to exercise them. I might put it this way: the No. 9 Order applies to the purposes for which the economic control regulations may in future be exercised the same slimming process as we have hitherto used in respect of regulations. I feel confident that the House will agree with me that this is in itself a healthy refinement, and one which is a logical development of our declared object of retaining no more than the minimum of powers demonstrably required in the public interest.

As to the future, I want to turn to consider the outlook as regards emergency legislation. It would be natural enough to feel that, having come so far in a comparatively short space of time, it should be practicable for us, with one final effort, as it were, to dispose of the remaining handful of regulations very quickly. But that would be taking altogether too superficial a view of what is involved. A statistical measure based on the number of regulations to be dealt with is misleading for such a purpose, and the House must not expect that the rate of progress over the last three years can be sustained in the future.

We are now at grips with the hard core of emergency legislation. All the remaining regulations and enactments serve an important, and most of them a continuing, purpose. Very few will wither on the branch and be disposed of by administrative action. It is broadly true to say the powers now proposed to be continued cannot be given up until they are replaced in due time by permanent peace-time legislation. We are beyond the stage where an Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, such as was passed in 1953 to deal with valuable minor provisions, will meet the case. Each provision has to be dealt with more or less on its own, and in some cases several Bills will be necessary before a particular regulation can be given up.

Perhaps the House will understand what is involved if I give a couple of illustrations. Defence Regulation 59 confers a general power on the Minister of Labour and National Service to grant exemptions from the provisions of the Factories Act, 1937. In the course of the year we have narrowed this discretion of the Minister to those purposes for which the power to grant exemptions is, in fact, used—primarily as regards the hours of work of women and young persons. For example, during and since the war there has been a considerable increase in the number of women employed in what are known as "continuous process" industries, notably glass production. Compliance with the provision of the pre-war Factories Act as regards women's hours of work in this and other essential industries would be quite impracticable.

In due course it is evident that Parliament must legislate to deal with the matter, but the form which legislation to amend the Act of 1937 should take equally evidently requires consultation with the affected industries and with representatives of both employers and workpeople. In the meantime, another part of the regulation concerned with mines and quarries has in fact been dealt with in the current Session in the Mines and Quarries Bill, and paragraph (2) of the regulation will disappear when the new Bill is brought into force, which will be probably early in 1956.

Perhaps even more striking in this context is paragraph 2 of Defence Regulation 55 itself, as supplemented by Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) Regulations. Under these regulations the pre-war legislation for the marketing of a number of the main agricultural commodities has been suspended. There is no escaping the fact that each of the commodities involved will require to be dealt with in the future in Bills drafted after consultation with the affected interests. The range is considerable—bacon, pigs, livestock, milk, sugar and wheat. In the meantime, it would be disastrous if the emergency legislation powers were to lapse.

The House will appreciate that, much as we dislike in principle continuing to rest on emergency legislation, a formidable programme of legislation lies ahead of it before we can see an end to these powers. The House will not expect me to forecast how long it will take to get this legislation through. Much of it is controversial and requires careful preparation and discussion with the interests concerned before it is introduced, and all this has to be related to a background of pressure on the available Parliamentary time.

As regards the immediate future, the House will understand that I cannot anticipate the contents of the Gracious Speech at the opening of the new Session, and must beg to be excused any statement tonight on this aspect. But I should be less than frank with the House if I were to let it be thought we were in sight of our goal. I can say that we do not in any way withdraw from our declared aim and purpose in this matter. We shall continue to seek every reasonable opportunity to carry out the task of clearing up the legacy of wartime powers. What we have achieved is on the record. It is a good record. On the basis of that record I confidently invite the House to say that the continuance of these powers for a further year is warranted.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

We have had a clear and, in many ways, encouraging report from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. I join with him in paying a compliment to the last Minister of Food, which he did with grace and emphasis. I can only regret that the last Minister of Food cannot get up and make a suitable acknowledgment and reply, for I am quite certain that when he reads in HANSARD tomorrow what the present Home Secretary has said about him, he will feel that he is not such a bad fellow after all.

I welcome the decrease in the number of regulations, but more particularly I welcome the number for former regulations which have been embodied in permanent Acts of Parliament. I hope that the latter process will continue. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman can rest assured that, while we shall of course have to examine any proposals that may be brought before us, on the whole we welcome that method of dealing with these things which the use of the regulations has shown to be useful, for there are some things now included in the law of the land which, but for their experimental use under the defence regulations, might never have become the law of the land. I mention, for instance, the special arrangements made for seamans' canteens, which were in regulation form last year but have been brought during the present year into general legislation. Speaking as the Member for one of the great seaport towns of the country, I know what a benefit the regulation was and the assurance of continued opportunities for usefulness which the enactment of them as part of the law of the country has given.

I thought it was a bit unkind of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, surveying some of his colleagues, to say that they had shown no reckless nor doctrinnaire dash for freedom in their actions. That was the last thing I would have expected of them in view of the Prime Minister's pre-Election pledge that it was his job to set the people free. He could be no more expected to live up to that pledge than any others given during the Election.

I am bound to say that we view with some apprehension what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said about cold storage. There is, I think, a statutory instrument now lying on the Table of the House which we shall have to ask the House to consider before the period for its annulment expires. I understand that some of my hon. Friends who represent constituencies where this presents a serious problem are very concerned about the proposals that have been brought forward.

Similarly, I have my personal misgivings about the net effect of the with drawal of building licences I am not at all sure that is not going to mean that private enterprise building, whether of a desirable or an undesirable kind, having regard to our general economic situation, will not be carried on to an extent that may be sometimes harmful, whereas public building—say of schools, hospitals and other buildings required for the public services—will continue to be restricted by the non-granting of loans to local authorities for the carrying on of such building. It would now appear that private building can proceed as fast as it can get materials and labour——

Mr. Ralph Assheton (Blackburn, West)

And money.

Mr. Ede

—and money—but the public building programme will still be subject to Government restriction in all three. In view of the drastic economies made during the past few years in this form of public service, it does not seem that fair treatment is likely as between the two kinds of enterprise.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman intimated that some of these regulations, essential to the economic well-being of the country, are likely to remain with us for some time; although he indicated that, as Parliamentary time permitted, efforts would be made to bring some of them into the general legislation of the country. I agree about some. I think that the two examples which he chose are subjects requiring a good deal of consideration, and it would be quite futile to suggest that either of them is likely to come before the House in the form of agreed legislation.

Quite obviously, such a subject as the employment of women in particular industries is always likely to be a matter about which there will be very strong feeling; not necessarily between the two sides of this House, but between people who hold very different views on that social problem. We can only express the hope that the Government will continue their efforts, and that the sooner conversations take place between the various interests concerned and the Government, the better it will be for us all.

I do not think that anyone delights in regulations for the sake of regulations, or in emergency laws for the sake of having them. They give a flexibility to administration which in time of emergency is very useful; in fact, is essential for the proper conduct of public business. I am not sure that we need think that the possibility of an emergency has passed. During the past two or three years we, as a country, have been very lucky in the terms of trade which, in some aspects not under the control of any Government, have been very favourable to us. In the event of their taking a turn against us, through no fault of any Government, we might still need some of the powers dispensed with during the last two years, and some of the powers being dispensed with today.

On that the Government are gambling that things will fall out all right. May I say, in the interests of the nation, and as one who does not mind having a flutter himself—particularly when he can get good information from the stable—that I do not object to the Government taking an optimistic view. But sometimes even the best stable information turns out to be very defective, and in undertaking this gamble the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his colleagues in the Government have so far had luck that cannot always be guaranteed.

We do not propose to move any Amendments tonight to any of these Motions which are capable of amendment. But there are one or two things which still give some cause for misgiving. For instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) will be raising some questions with regard to the use made by the Service Departments of their powers to take land and to apply that land to military purposes. I do not intend to deal with the detailed examples which my hon. Friend may bring before the House as examples of the misuse of powers given by the House, but I must say that this is one of the things that has, throughout the existence of these regulations, given me cause for considerable concern. I sincerely hope that we shall receive from the right hon. and learned Attorney-General an assurance that the powers which continue to be vested in the various Government Departments will be used with discretion and with some realisation of the position of those people who find life irksome under these regulations.

People who desire to use some of the great open spaces in the neighbourhood of the large industrial areas of this country can be very seriously inconvenienced by the misuse of powers given to the Service Departments when those Departments unnecessarily or needlessly impose restrictions on the use of the land taken by them. I very sincerely hope that the Service Departments will realise that, where such misuse takes place, it brings the various Armed Services of the country into some disrepute with their fellow-citizens.

I have every desire to see the best relationships existing between the ordinary civilian population and the three Armed Services of the Crown. It is always regrettable when there is any cause for friction between them, but when the cause is unnecessary and when the difficulty may have been created by the abuse of powers granted annually by this House, it is very greatly to be deplored.

My hon. Friend will develop this case at greater length than I have done, and will give some specific instances. I want to make it quite clear that, generally, we on this side of the House support him in what he has to say. Apart from that, I only want to thank the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for what he has said to us this evening and for the way in which he said it. I conclude, as I began, by joining in the testimony which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman paid to himself in a former dispensation.

8.49 p.m.

Mr. Ralph Assheton (Blackburn, West)

I wish, first of all, to congratulate my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary on his appointment to that high office and, secondly, on the very excellent way in which he introduced this Motion. He paid a tribute, as I am sure we all do, to the Lord Chancellor who so recently occupied the position of Home Secretary. We all know what a great interest he took in this matter. Indeed, the fruits of a great deal of his work are to be seen in the White Paper which is before us today.

Naturally, those of us who are keen defenders of Parliamentary Government do not like the power of law-making to be in the hands of the Executive. We all recognise that in some minor matters this is necessary and may, indeed, be desirable. But in major and important matters, such as many of these regulations cover, surely we all recognise that this is undesirable and can be defended only in the cases of emergency and war.

The Home Secretary has briefly described to us which regulations the Government are dispensing with and which are still to be left with us. Of course, we must all feel that the powers in their remaining regulations—particularly in Regulations 51 and 55—are still very great. I for one was glad to hear what the Home Secretary had to say about Regulation 55. I want to say a word about building licensing. I hope the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will not prove to be right in his fears with regard to the effect of the removal of building licensing. I do not think he will be. The greatest limitation of all on building is finding the money to build, whether the money comes out of public funds, Government funds, or local authority funds, or whether it comes from private persons and companies who find money to erect buildings.

I should have thought that the time had come when we could dispense with these building restrictions and licensing, and I am very glad indeed that the Government has been able to do so. I have a peculiar interest in this, because I had the fortune, or misfortune, to present to the House in 1940 the original regulation for building licensing, and I am very glad to be able to say goodbye to it today. I want to ask two questions. Am I right in thinking that this regulation now being removed cannot be reimposed by the Government? I should like to have a definite answer to that question and the definite assurance that building licensing cannot be reintroduced except by Act of Parliament. The second question is about food rationing. Can the right hon. and learned Gentle man the Attorney-General give an assurance that food rationing cannot be introduced again except by Act of Parliament? Those two matters are extremely important, because there may be Governments in the course of the next 25 or 30 years——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

As I understand it, it is not proposed to continue these regulations. If it is not proposed to continue them, it cannot be in order to discuss them. It can only be in order to discuss those it is proposed to continue.

Mr. Assheton

I am much obliged to you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. On the assumption that these regulations cannot be continued, or re-introduced by the Government, I will not pursue the matter further. But can it be made clear what the exact position with regard to this matter is?

8.54 p.m.

Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

I should like to begin by reinforcing what my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has said about the dangers that may be consequential upon the proposal for the withdrawal of building licensing. I do not want to develop that now, because I hope there will be some other opportunity of debating this, but it is clear that hon. Members on the other side of the House seem to be encouraging in every way they can—so far as one can judge by the sight of one's own eyes—showy, pretentious and tasteless private building, apparently on the grounds that it is paid for out of private pockets and ought not to worry us.

Apparently, all this is to be encouraged still further, while the really vital construction work which is needed for the sake of the country as a whole, both for educational and for health purposes, is being restrained as strictly as ever, if not more strictly, on the grounds that the expenditure is coming out of public and not private funds. I see that it will be unwise to follow this general argument much further now, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I only hope that there will be some other opportunity when I may do so.

Mr. Ede

On a point of order. Previously, when we have had this general debate as a preliminary to the more detailed debate on the resolutions, it has been the custom for mention to be made of those things which the Government were not proposing to continue. The only alternative to that would be to put down Amendments to reinsert some of these orders. In previous years that has been done, and at a later stage, when notice has been given of the Amendments, we have proceeded to a Division. I would hope that what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton., and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) have said will not be regarded as going beyond what has been allowed on previous occasions.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman himself very delicately skirted around it and kept in order, but I do not think that that can be argued in detail from this Motion. Reference might be made to it but, since the order is not included, I do not think that it can be discussed if there is no Amendment on it.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)

On a point of order. Where an Act of Parliament which has been worked by previous Governments will now be changed because a regulation is not to be continued, may we not discuss it?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It is not in order for it to be discussed here at all. We can only discuss the orders which it is proposed should be continued, and any reason for not continuing them.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I hope that you will not bring any charge of indelicacy against me in this matter, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I hoped that I had skirted round this sufficiently satisfactorily to meet the wishes of the House. I would emphasise again the hope that it may be possible to have more detailed discussion of this very important and serious matter.

I want now to turn to Regulation 51, which is being continued and which is certainly within the terms of the order—and some reference is made in Regulation No. 52 in the next set of resolutions—with particular reference to the use, by the Service Departments, both the Air Ministry and the War Office, of the powers granted by it in respect of their main training grounds.

Before I come to the War Office case, I should like, in passing, to refer to the particular instance that is being discussed at present in the columns of "The Times." It concerns the use by the Air Ministry of these powers in relation to its proposal to build, I understand, a new Air Force radio station on Kingston Hill, in Oxfordshire, which is a very famous beauty spot in the Chilterns. That has aroused a great deal of controversy locally where, so far as one can tell, action has been taken in complete secrecy and without any proper information being provided to the local public. Only when the decision has actually been taken has it been possible for objection to be raised.

It is that high-handed kind of action that impairs the sort of relationships to which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields referred. I hope either that someone from the Air Ministry will say something about this at a later stage, or that the Attorney-General, as was suggested by his right hon. and gallant Friend would be the case, will take on his broad shoulders the responsibility for answering all the questions, and that he will be able to reply on this specific point.

Some of these individual instances may seem relatively small in themselves; their importance lies in the effect they have upon public relations. Indeed, it concerns all of us who have some regard for the preservation of the beauty of some of these areas. All of us are anxious that, while proper facilities should be given to the Services, as far as possible we should not destroy the great amenities and other possible interests which should be preserved.

I want particularly to refer to problems that some of us are confronting in the North of England, in relation to the large training-ground area covering a very large part of the Border country—the Redesdale Range. I referred to this in Questions to the War Office, and the Secretary of State himself replied on 9th November. I then asked him about the areas of land which were being held by the War Office under these regulations in addition to the area which had been the subject of public inquiry in recent years. In reply, the Secretary of State for War referred to three specific minor areas actually held under Defence Regulations 51 and 52 and occupied by the War Office at present, in respect of which it was seeking an extended right to use them.

The point I want to emphasise is that the War Office already occupy in this wild stretch of moorland a very large and extensive area—in fact, one of the largest in the country. There was very considerable public feeling some years ago which primarily led to a public inquiry being held to determine what the boundaries of this very large area should be. There was very little criticism of the desire of the War Office to use very large sections of the area, but there was very great anxiety about the way in which this range might in future expand. After considerable public agitation, this inquiry was held, and after a long time a decision was reached as to what the boundaries should be.

Most of us, in our naïve way, thought that that was the end of the matter, but now it seems that it was very far from being the end of the matter, because the War Office have gone on, both by purchase and by the use of Defence Regulation 51, to take over for further use other areas adjacent to, or in some cases some little way outside, the actual range area. If the War Office is to act in this way, many of the public are asking what is the use of having these public inquiries if at the end of the day the War Office merely adds to the boundaries which have been settled after careful hearing and long negotiation, and in which concessions have been made by both sides—by the amenity interests, by those interested in the agricultural interest, as well as by the War Office itself.

Some people are very concerned, because some of the added small areas now bring the range right up to some of the famous historic and religious relics in that part of Northumberland, and, in particular, bring it right up to, if not including, the small village of Holystone, which includes very famous old religious relics of very great significance and interest to the whole area.

I felt that the Secretary of State, when answering my Question, was rather casual about it. The right hon. Gentleman may not have known the area, and I do not necessarily blame him for that, although I would encourage him to go to see it. He referred to it as being sparsely populated moorland in Northumberland, but that description should not be used as a term of denigration, but rather as something for which to be grateful if we do still possess areas of sparse population on which we can walk at times.

Apart from that, this is an area which, from the agricultural point of view, has always been famous for the sheep which it has reared, and it was not purely a question of maintaining an empty, barren waste. Maybe some of the sheep farmers would be glad to get compensation from the War Office, but the real point about which we are concerned is that steadily, year after year, the War Office is increasing its hold, not only upon the original area that was accepted at the public inquiry, but, by carrying out mopping-up operations, on areas outside the original area, including districts of great beauty and very special interest.

It was understood at the time of the public inquiry into the use of this land that if the War Office were to find it necessary in future years, because of the greater range of guns to be used, to have a wider firing range, instead of demanding an increased area of land it would use firing points well outside the range, and even in some cases would fire over public roads, and so on, in certain desirable places. It looks to us as if that policy has been discarded to try to bring the outer firing points within the range itself, within the training area as a whole. If that were to be done, the general public would be denied access to an enormously increased area of land.

This is a matter which concerns us all the more because at this very time the National Parks Commission is discussing with the Northumberland County Council a very big project for the development of a National Park covering a good part of this very area. Therefore, there axe many reasons why the War Office should not go to work in this hole-and-corner way, and should not make use of these special powers without giving a full opportunity of public protest and public criticism.

If it feels that it is necessary to increase the areas it requires, the same procedure should be gone through as was gone through before, and a full opportunity given, by means of a public inquiry, for criticism to be made, so that at least the people may feel that their voices have been heard, and that a reasonable opportunity has been given to come to a satisfactory compromise.

I hope it will be possible, before the debate ends, for us to have an answer from the Secretary of State for War and the Under-Secretary of State for Air, or from the Attorney-General, which will allay our specific anxieties.

9.7 p.m.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), from experience during the war, said that flexibility was necessary in legislating during a period of emergency, and I agree with him—flexibility whereby all one has to do is to write out an order, which some civil servant signs, and which immediately has the force of law. That is easy, and I agree that it is necessary during an emergency. It is all the more important, therefore, that when the emergency is over the House of Commons, as representing the people, should recover from the Executive their freedom, because this flexibility to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is in reality dictatorship, given freely by the House of Commons and by the people to the Government to win a war or to overcome an emergency, but to be taken away, I submit, at the earliest possible opportunity afterwards.

It is as a House of Commons man that I intervene in this debate. Anybody who has read history knows the struggle for power against tyrants in the past. The latest tyrant is the Government. I am not referring only to the present Government composed of my right hon. Friends, but to the Government who took to themselves, but were also given freely, all the powers to win the war. The time has come, 10 years after the war, to restore these powers to the people and to take away from the Government the excessive powers which they possess. I therefore congratulate my right hon. and gallant Friend, and in particular his predecessor Lord Kilmuir, on reducing the number of regulations in force from 215 in October, 1951, to 69 today. That is a great record, and nobody is more glad of it than I am.

My right hon. and gallant Friend said that the time for the abolition of Ministerial powers by this method has come to an end and that any further powers must be abolished by legislation. In general, I do not disagree with that, but I urge him to continue the good work which has been done and, either by administrative action or by the introduction of Bills into Parliament, to take steps to get rid of the remainder of this emergency legislation.

One piece of this legislation I intensely dislike, and it is subsection (1, c) of the Supplies and Services (Extended Purposes) Act, 1947, which reproduces page 71 of the 1953 issue of the Defence Regulations and which gives the Government power generally to ensure that the whole resources of the community are available and are used in a manner best calculated to serve the interests of the community. That is far too wide a power to be given to any Government in peace-time, and the sooner it is abolished the better.

We have only 69 regulations to abolish. Indeed, I think the position is slightly better than that, because some of these regulations are administrative, legal or technical and must remain until the last active regulation has been abolished. There are probably 20 of these, so that if we could get rid of 30 of the main regulations we might automatically get rid of another 30 of the administrative, technical or legal regulations. I hope my right hon. and gallant Friend will not be weary in well-doing in pursuing the great work done by Lord Kilmuir.

I want to ask the Attorney-General to give some information about four of the defence general regulations, particularly as the House has been assured that he will answer all the questions about all the regulations. Personally, I thought that was a tall order. I have been studying these books for some years, and I have never been quite sure that I have found my way round them, but if my right hon. and learned Friend has done so, good luck to him.

The first one in the book is No. 46. Is it necessary to license every ship before it puts to sea? Is it necessary to continue Regulation No. 46? I do not know. There may be good reasons for it; it may be mixed up with the control of strategic materials being taken to Russia or China. It seems to me to be a tall order to license every ship by emergency regulation before it can put to sea.

Let us consider, next, Regulation 50A. Is it necessary to have these powers as to water? We have had the Water Acts in England and Wales and in Scotland since the war and we have a mass of water regulations under which local authorities administer water undertakings. Is it necessary for the Government to come in over the heads of all the statutory undertakers and order water to be sent down a pipe when the local authority is quite prepared to send it down the pipe anyway? There may be good reasons—I do not know. I think that that particular regulation requires some explanation and justification.

The next one is 58A—control of employment. It has been very much reduced in scope, but employers of certain categories of workers are still unable to employ workers except through the employment exchanges. That is a nuisance to the employers and to the newspapers who advertise these vacancies, because the newspapers have to put in something to the effect that these vacancies are being advertised in accordance with this regulation. Is it really necessary to continue this regulation?

The fourth one I do not understand at all. It is Regulation 62—control of cultivation and termination of agricultural tenancies. This applies only to England and Wales. If we can get rid of it in Scotland, why is it necessary to keep it in England; why should England be behind Scotland in this matter?

I should like to say, in agreement with my right hon. Friend, that Lord Kilmuir's work has been answered with striking results, as shown in the White Paper, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be complacent and live in the sunshine of Lord Kilmuir's actions, and that he will be encouraged to get rid of the whole of this volume at the earliest possible moment.

9.16 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)

I thought it rather significant that the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) should be accusing the wartime Government of all sorts of tyrannies, following so shortly upon the speech made by the noble Lord who spoke for the Government in another place. I hope that that will not spread on the benches opposite, because it may well give the impression that there is a split not only in the Commons itself but in another place.

I want to say a word about Regulation 58A—dealing with the control of employment—which empowers the Minister to regulate the engagement of workers by employers. I have never taken any particular exception to this, but it is one of the regulations which is to be continued. I know that during my period at the Ministry of Labour one of the reasons we sought certain control of the engagement of workpeople was the maldistribution of employment in various parts of the country.

We saw the fantastic position, at one period, in which we had many thousands of vacancies which we could not fill because there were far more jobs available than there were people to fill them, while there was unemployment in other parts of the country. Therefore, I approved of this regulation when it was introduced. I should like to know how this regulation can function, once Regulation 56A has gone.

During my term of office at the Ministry of Labour we were very reluctant to permit any employer engaging workers for his factory if there was a large vacancy list—that is, a large number of jobs which we could not fill. We felt that it would merely aggravate the position if, in Coventry or Birmingham, for example, where there were 40,000 registered vacancies and the men could not be found to fill them, employers were to be permitted to enlarge their factories and thereby compete with other employers for the labour which was already in short supply.

We tried, through the Distribution of Industry Acts, to get those employers to erect new factories in parts of the country where there was unemployment. On the whole, we did it very successfully and new hope was brought to areas in which there was chronic unemployment. To do that successfully, it was important that where there was an acute labour shortage we should be able to prevent employers from building extensions to their factories. I suggest that Regulation 58A will not be effective in any way once an employer has power, irrespective of the position of the labour market, to enlarge his factory in an area where shortage of labour exists.

Already, I understand, in parts of South and West Wales there is great apprehension because some of the people who erected factories there as a result of our policy of getting employers to go to those areas are now tending to leave those areas and are concentrating their efforts in the very centres where there is still a great shortage of labour.

If that sort of thing is to continue, it is difficult to know what purpose Regulation 58A can serve. There will be demands by employers for non-existent labour, and there will be chaos. Under those conditions, what possible use can it be for employers to go to the employment exchanges under Regulation 58A to try to obtain the labour? The only thing that they will find is a huge list of jobs for which there are no people anyway. Therefore, it appears to me to be nonsensical to maintain Regulation 58A once building licensing disappears altogether.

I know that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour is as anxious as I am to ensure the adequate distribution of work throughout the country, but I suggest that unless something can be done still to allow the Distribution of Industry Acts to function as they have done and to give incentives to employers to go into the areas where there is fear of unemployment, and where, indeed, unemployment already exists, Regulation 58A will not fulfil the functions which the hon. Gentleman's Department requires of it.

Similarly, we have the position that there are concentrations of industry. In Wales, for instance, the old steel mills are being closed down and the new mills—Margam and the rest—are now going into operation. That, of itself, presupposes a large degree of redundancy. I understand that the old steel industry had to employ at least 8,000 more people than will be needed when the new mills are in operation.

At a time when this sort of thing is happening it is important that the Government should be able to induce employers to go into those areas with new factories and businesses, so that full employment may be maintained. It would appear to me to be somewhat contradictory that while we are maintaining Regulation 58A we are emasculating it by taking away powers which were possessed under Regulation 56A about buildings, enforcing building in certain areas, and so on. We shall now find this great concentration of industrial building tending to be in areas where the parent factory actually is and, at the same time, there will be a diminution in armament orders.

When I was at the Ministry of Labour one of the things we tried to do was to get employers who had armament orders to keep them at the parent factory rather than send them to the new factories in the development areas. We knew that once the armament orders dried up the factories in the new areas would not be used any more and the problem of unemployment there would again arise.

I hope the Attorney-General will be able to answer the long list of points put to him, and I hope that the Government realise that by eliminating controls on all building they are, in fact, tending to emasculate Regulation 58A and encourage the concentration of industry in areas where even existing employers cannot hope to get an adequate supply of labour. I should have thought that by so doing they are damaging the productive effort of the country and our export trade.

I am limited in what I can say on this Motion and I am trying to keep within the rules of order. I hope I have said sufficient to show that there is a problem here. I am not asking for regulations to be kept for the sake of keeping them. Indeed, if Regulation 58A becomes redundant let us get rid of that as well. I hope that from what I have been able to say the Government will see the necessity for keeping control over building labour so as not to recreate the conditions we knew in pre-war days when unemployment spread in certain areas where there was not a sufficient diversity of unemployment.

9.28 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) welcomed the reduction in the number of regulations. Indeed, I do not think anyone has criticised Her Majesty's Government for the progress they have been able to make in dispensing with the emergency regulations and the other regulations referred to in the White Paper.

But the right hon. Gentleman expressed the view that perhaps we were taking too much of a gamble and that a certain amount of luck had been with us. during the last three years. I do not think it would be accurate to put every thing down to luck, and I should like to deal with the point that we might have need of some of these powers, and there fore, in dispensing with them we were indulging in some slight form of gambling. I do not share that view.

In the past, this House has shown itself ready to pass emergency regulations when an emergency arises, and if an emergency should arise in the future, then it will be, of course, for the Government of the day to come to the House and ask for such specific powers as may be necessary. I am sure that that is the right course; much better than keeping locked away for possible use on some future date in an emergency wide and extensive powers like those granted in an emergency by this House.

In moving this Motion, my right hon. and gallant Friend said that I would explain the position in respect of any regulation. That rather alarmed me, because I thought it might involve me in making a long speech and dealing in detail with every regulation. However, the House has been kind to me because I have not been asked about many regulations.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) asked whether it would be possible to make a fresh Regulation 56A. The answer is that it would require legislation because, once a defence regulation has gone, existing legislation does not permit of that being done. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) commented much on Defence Regulations 51 and 52, giving instances of the use which had been made of powers under those regulations. I am sure that what he said about the exercise of those powers on those occasions will be carefully considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War.

Here, of course, one is seeking to justify the continuance of the regulations, and I can make this general observation: no regulation is continued in this list without a very strong case having been made out for its continuance. The questions in relation to each regulation have been carefully and closely considered. For instance, it is necessary to have Regulation 52 to enable the use of land for training and firing practice without requisitioning or purchasing it. If that regulation went, we would have to rely on the Military Manœuvres Acts of 1897 to 1911, which are unsuitable for modern training requirements. Therefore it is necessary that this power under Defence Regulation 52 should remain until replaced by permanent legislation.

Mr. Blenkinsop

On that point, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, wherever possible, it is desirable that a further public inquiry should be held if proposals are being put forward for further extensive use of these emergency powers, especially when boundaries have already been laid down by previous public inquiries?

The Attorney-General

I do not think I am in a position to answer that question this evening. It is one for my right hon. Friend to consider, and I will ask him to do so. It is obviously desirable, when any proposal of this kind is brought forward, that full regard should be had to public opinion in the locality. In some cases it may be desirable, in other cases I can conceive it might not be possible, to have a public inquiry into the need for using a specific piece of land for some service purpose. However, I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to what the hon. Gentleman has said.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) sought to test the statement of my right hon. and gallant Friend that I would explain every regulation by giving the longest list that any hon. Member has given in this debate. He started with Regulation 46 and asked whether that was really necessary. The answer shortly is, "Yes." It is under that regulation that the Control of Trade by Sea (China and North Korea) Order was made in March, 1953. The possibility of bringing that control to an end depends on the international situation and on agreement amongst the powers concerned about the freeing of trade with China and North Korea from restrictions.

Then we turn to Regulation 58A. I should like to make it quite clear that I do not resent it if I am asked questions about these regulations, because it is important that people should realise, first of all, that the matter has been most carefully considered, and, secondly, that a strong case exists for the continuance of such one of them. During the war we were not able to make the usual provision for new water supplies which are normally made in peacetime years, and of course there has been a greatly increased demand from industry for water. It is essential in time of drought that there should be a quick method of authorising the taking of water for essential purposes. If we get rid of this Regulation, we shall not have such power available.

Mr. Lee

Does the Attorney-General mean Regulation 50?

The Attorney-General


Mr. Lee

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said "Regulation 58."

The Attorney-General

I am sorry. I meant Regulation 50A. This regulation has been used 171 times since the end of the war, in circumstances where there was not time to follow the procedure described in the Water Act, 1945. There is no need to rely on this regulation in Scotland, because there reliance is placed on Orders under Defence Regulation 56 suspending obligation in respect of compensation water.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus and the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) referred to Regulation 58A, which is called "Control of Employment." It deals now only with the Notification of Vacancies Order which was made under it. The question of the continuance of that Regulation has been carefully considered by the Minister of Labour, his Parliamentary Secretary and many others. It is considered that that Order on its own serves at the present time a very useful purpose in enabling the Minister, through the various employment exchanges, to give advice and to exercise perhaps some degree of persuasive influence in trying to fill important posts in the defence programme.

The hon. Member for Newton suggested that this order would really be of no value now that building licensing has disappeared. I do not think that that point is valid, for the reason that although building licensing has disappeared there are still the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act to be taken into account. I will not go into them tonight, because the House would be very weary if I did—even if I got them right.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus referred to Regulation 62. Only two paragraphs of that regulation remain. The regulation has to remain for a time because some 20,000 acres of land are held under requisition for farming purposes, of which 5,000 acres are in course of purchase. There is also a residue of common and other land, 4,000 acres of which are held for temporary allotments. Power to make arrangements for cultivation is ancillary to power to hold the land. Paragraph 3 (A) of this regulation is to be retained until land can be purchased or released from requisition.

Captain Duncan

Are the Government getting on with that?

The Attorney-General

The whole process in relation to that is being actively, carefully and fully considered. I hope that I have now dealt with all the points that have been raised in the debate. I should like to join in the tribute extended by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary to the part which the Minister of Food played in this matter.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty under section eight of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, praying that the said Act, which would otherwise expire on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-four, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-five.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.