HC Deb 14 November 1955 vol 546 cc31-44

3.31 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-five, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-six. This is the first of five Motions on the Order Paper, three of them in my name and two in the name of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply. It has been customary on previous occasions that the debate should take place on the first Motion, and I take it, Mr. Speaker, that you would approve of the same thing happening this time.

Mr. Speaker

If the Opposition have no objection, it might be a convenient course to have one general discussion on the first Motion covering all five Addresses.

Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)

Yes, Mr. Speaker. We have no objection to that, which has been the practice we have followed for several years.

Major Lloyd-George

The purpose of these Motions is to keep in being for another year a number of Defence Regulations and emergency provisions which would otherwise expire on 10th December.

In accordance with custom, we have presented a White Paper on the Continuance of Emergency Legislation, which contains a list of the particular powers which we propose should be continued. It also contains indication of the methods by which continuance may be secured under the various enactments with which the five Motions are concerned.

When I moved the corresponding Motions last year, I gave an account of the progress we had made since 1951, and particularly in the preceding year, in disposing of these wartime powers. I will not weary the House with going through that story again. It will, perhaps suffice for me to say that of the 215 Regulations which we inherited when we took office in 1951, 146 had gone completely by December last year, and, of the remaining 69, over half were of the nature of formal and ancillary provisions.

The extent of this achievement is reflected in the decline in the total number of persons found guilty of offences against Defence Regulations. In 1951, the number was 6,049. In 1953, it had dropped to 2,397, and last year it was only 642. In the first half of 1955, it was only 119.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman considered repealing all the laws relating to traffic offences? He would be surprised at the drop in crime which would follow.

Major Lloyd-George

That may well be, but that is an entirely irrelevant observation which has nothing whatever to do with what we are talking about.

These are emergency Regulations which were produced in wartime and I was indicating to the House what we had done since 1951 with the inheritance which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues left to us. I was also pointing out at the same time, what an excellent effect it had had upon the reduction in the number of people who had committed offences against them. The right hon. Gentleman, as far as I could make out, suggested that if we did away with traffic Regulations we might do away with a lot of offences, but I should think that that would be hardly to the good of the country, whereas to drop these Regulations was to the good of the country. I said that in the first half of 1955 the figure was down to 119.

As I forecast last year, we have now come to grips with the hard core of emergency legislation, and the swift rate of progress which has been achieved in the last three years can hardly be maintained. It is broadly true that the powers now proposed to be continued cannot be given up until Parliament replaces them by permanent legislation. For this purpose a number of Measures, some of them presenting points of very great difficulty, will need to be prepared and allotted a place in the legislative programme. For this reason, we are proposing to the House that all the regulations that were renewed last year, except Regulation 60D, to which I shall refer presently, should be renewed for a further period. This does not mean that the force of our drive to dispose of emergency legislation has slackened.

It has, of course, been necessary for the Government to reshape their legislative programme as a result of the General Election but, as I shall show later, several Measures to modify and replace emergency powers are either already before Parliament or will be introduced shortly. Inevitably, however, the process of converting emergency regulations into permanent legislation must be slower than the outright revocation of powers which are no longer needed.

I mentioned a moment ago Regulation 60D as not requiring renewal. This Regulation enables aliens to be employed in Crown service and will be revoked on the passage of the Aliens Employment Bill, which is now awaiting consideration of Amendments made in another place. The ending of several other Regulations is also in sight. The nine surviving Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations will be revoked as regards England and Wales when the Food and Drugs (Amendment) Act, 1954, is brought into force.

As regards Scotland and Northern Ireland, they will be revoked when the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Bill has been brought into force and corresponding legislation has come into operation in Northern Ireland. This should be accomplished during the present Session. It is hoped that a Water Bill can be introduced this Session to supersede Regulations 50A and 56.

Regulation 60A and paragraph (2) of Regulation 59 deal respectively with the safety and welfare of millers and quarrymen, and with the exemption of premises and operations from existing legislation relating to mines and quarries. They will be revoked when the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954, is brought into operation, which, I hope, will be next year.

Regulation 26 of the Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) Regulations, which relates to milk marketing, is no longer in use in England and Wales, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has already revoked the Orders made under it. The Regulation has to be preserved in force as regards Scotland, but only until the amendments to the schemes of the three Scottish Marketing Boards have been made, a task which it is hoped to accomplish during the course of next year.

This means that 13 of the 68 Regulations we wish to have renewed on this occasion, together with part of one other Regulation, should all be revoked during the present Session. Of the remaining 55 Regulations, 35 may be described as ancillary and formal. This, therefore, leaves only 20 Regulations which may be described as substantive, 12 in the Defence (General) Regulations and eight in other codes. I should, perhaps, say a few words about the main groups of these substantive Regulations.

Regulation 46 deals with the control of trade by sea, and Regulation 55 is used for controlling import and export transactions abroad and the construction of ships. Regulations 46 and 55 are needed in accordance with international arrangements to control the supply of strategic goods to the Soviet bloc, China, North Korea and North Viet Nam. Despite recent improvements in international relations I expect there will be general agreement that these powers must be retained, at least for the present.

Regulation 55 and its ancillary provisions 55AA and 55AB are also used for the maintenance of certain economic controls. One of the Orders made under these Regulations imposes the very necessary restrictions on hire purchase with which the House is already familiar. The scope of the other economic controls is now limited by the Defence Regulations (No. 9) Order, 1954, to the strategic goods which I have just mentioned and to a few commodities such as coal, tinplate, and some foodstuffs which are named in the Order.

It would take some considerable time to go into details of the reasons for retaining controls over each of the main commodities, though, of course, this can be done if points about any of them are raised during the debate today. I can, however, assure the House that efforts to reduce their number are continuing, and that powers will be preserved only as long as they are absolutely essential.

Another group of Defence Regulations consists of Regulations relating to land. that is, Regulations 50, 51, 51A, 52 and 62. These can be disposed of altogether only when fresh legislation can be passed, but the extent to which they are used is constantly decreasing. Perhaps I could mention as an example Regulation 51, under which premises of many kinds were originally requisitioned. This Regulation is still required mainly in order that land and premises may be acquired at short notice for defence purposes.

By reason of Section 14 of the Requisitioned Houses and Housing (Amendment) Act, 1955, this Regulation may no longer be used for taking possession of land for housing purposes. The number of buildings requisitioned by Government Departments under this Regulation and retained under provisions of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945, fell from 3,858 in 1951, to 1,267 in 1954. There was a further fall to 676 as at 30th September of this year, a reduction of 82 per cent. since 1951 and 46 per cent. since last year.

This covers the Defence (General) Regulations apart from the three relating to employment. These are used for the notification of vacancies, the maintenance of the Industrial Disputes Tribunal, and for exemption from certain outdated provisions of the Factories Acts.

There remain the supplementary codes. The Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) Regulations provide for the marketing of bacon and livestock, and the modification of the milk marketing schemes. They will have to be continued in part until permanent arrangements have been worked out with the interests concerned and, where necessary, given statutory effect by Parliament. As I mentioned earlier, Regulation 26, which deals with milk marketing, is now required in Scotland only, and should not have to be renewed next year.

The one remaining substantive provision of the Defence (Finance) Regulations is required to supplement the existing powers of exchange control in Hong Kong.

The Defence (Armed Forces) Regulations are reduced to a solitary provision enabling members of the Armed Forces to be employed on agricultural work and other urgent work of national importance.

This leaves only the Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations, which, as I have said, we expect to revoke during next year, and the Defence (Patents, Trade Marks, etc.) Regulations. I should like at this point to enlarge a little on the replacement of the Defence (Patents, Trade Marks, etc.) Regulations. The House will recollect that legislation which would replace these Regulations was introduced in another place but withdrawn in order that its provisions could be discussed in detail with representatives of industry.

Discussions have been held with the representative associations interested in industrial property matters, and I am authorised by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to say that, as a result, he has decided to appoint a committee to consider whether the Crown should have permanent powers over the use of unpatented material for defence purposes, and, if so, under what conditions they should be exercised. When this committee has reported, which we expect it to do quickly, we can take a decision on the question of legislation.

The continuance of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, the subject of the first of the Motions, also extends for a year powers under three other Acts. Of these the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act enables requisitioned property to be temporarily retained. The powers under the Ministry of Supply Act, 1939, are needed to enable the Ministry of Supply to carry on some of its functions and to enable the Board of Trade to wind up its trading operations in raw materials and to continue public trading in imported jute goods. The third Act, the Supplies and Services (Defence Purposes) Act, 1951, is required for temporary closure and diversion of highways for defence purposes.

The third of the Motions is for the presentation of an Address asking for the extension of provisions relating to wheat, land drainage, and sugar. The land drainage provisions are no longer needed, but the form of the legislation does not permit them to be repealed independently. The wheat provisions enable the guarantees of cereals to be continued until permanent statutory arrangements have been made. The sugar provisions maintain interim arrangements for the sugar industry until the Sugar Bill now before the House can come into force.

I hope that in this short summary I have been able to convey to the House the two main considerations that have to be kept in mind in this matter. On the one hand, there is the real need to renew each of the Regulations and emergency enactments referred to in the Motions. The Government have examined them again individually and they are satisfied on that score. On the other hand, this legislation ought not to be continued in its present form for one moment longer than is necessary.

I have tried to demonstrate the extent of our efforts in the past and in the present and what we propose to do in the future to dispose of this emergency legislation as soon as possible. I certainly would not wish to deny that these Regulations and enactments that are to be renewed, though immensely reduced in number from what they were when we took office in 1951, are still a substantial total; and I would not wish to minimise the amount of work yet to be done before we can get rid of them altogether. We can claim, however, that this residue comprises the minimum powers needed to carry on until permanent legislation can be introduced. I assure the House that we are making every effort both to prepare that legislation and to reduce the use of the powers that are still retained. I invite the House now to say that the continuance of these powers for a further year is warranted.

3.51 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)

This debate has become an annual event. It has now gone on in one form or another since the original legislation of 1946 and 1947. Therefore, it is no criticism of the Home Secretary's speech to say that it had a very familiar ring and was very similar indeed to what he said last year. As he himself pointed out, it is inevitable that the changes between one year an another tend to become less. In the early years of this process large numbers of regulations were being swept out of the way. As we get nearer and nearer to the hard core, it becomes more and more a case of keeping on a small number of these Regulations pending their being superseded, one by one, by permanent legislation.

I am sure that the House would agree that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman should give us the figures each year, but he will probably agree that they do not convey very much. I am not at all sure whether the right hon. and gallant Gentleman should be congratulated either on the numbers of regulations that have gone since last year—there are very few of them—or are going in the course of the coming year. Mere figures do not convey much as to whether the record is good or bad.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), I was somewhat baffled to know what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman thought he was proving by mentioning the fall in convictions. It may mean that many people who were previously infringing the regulations are carrying on exactly as before but those infringements are no longer offences. If we investigated the matter, we might have to inquire whether there are convictions for similar offences under the legislation which has superseded the regulations which the Home Secretary has swept away. In any case, it does not take us very much further.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman indicated that during the coming year we are likely to get rid of a few regulations, but it is clear that we shall have to go on with this annual debate for a year or two longer. I take no exception to that. We who are now on this side of the House started this procedure and we always knew that this was likely to be the case, but I cannot help recollecting some of the gibes which were thrown at us in 1950 or 1951, largely by the present Leader of the House who seemed to think it extraordinary that we could not undertake in a single Session legislation to supersede all the regulations which required to be made permanent. Here we are, five years later, and still the Government cannot get rid of them all. That is what we always expected, but if the present Government expected it, that is certainly not what right hon. Gentlemen opposite said.

We try to keep a watch as best we can on the use of these powers. On the whole, we welcome the embodiment of regulations gradually in permanent legislation, but I think it right to say that what we perhaps fear almost more than the occasional misuse of a power is that the present Government may be inclined to relinquish some powers too readily and quickly in pursuance of their general flight from planning. In that connection, it is relevant to recall briefly some prophetic remarks which were made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields last year when he referred to the dropping of Regulation 56A, relating to building licences—something which has become very relevant in the last few weeks.

My right hon. Friend pointed out that it seemed to him that the Government were gambling that things would turn out all right. He pointed out that there might be some economic difficulties, perhaps due to no fault of their own, which might make the Government think it well if they had retained those powers. The present economic difficulties justify that criticism with regard to building licensing. Therefore, we have to be on watch to make sure that the Government are not depriving themselves of necessary powers so that when difficulties arise in future, whether out of their own policy or not, they are able smugly to say, "This is nothing to do with us. We have no powers to deal with it," when they are criticised in the House of Commons.

The remaining regulations are relatively few in number, but they are still very wide in scope. They are not quite as wide in scope as they were a few years ago when the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison), now Mr. Speaker, making a general speech on this topic, said that the Bill was an extremely miscellaneous collection … we pass in rapid transition from the Chief Constable of Cornwall to illegal gaming parties and from the infestation of vermin to the opening of cinematograph houses on Sundays."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 2142.] We have not seen fit to put forward Amendments this year, but it may be that some of my hon. Friends will have some points to raise.

I have little further to say, largely because two or three queries which I had noted have been answered in advance by the Home Secretary, particularly in relation to the Regulations governing the sale of food and those connected with patents and designs. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to Defence Regulation 46 on the control of trade by sea. This year, as on a previous occasion, the only reason that we have been given for its continuance was that it was required in connection with the control of trade by sea order affecting trade with China, North Korea and North Viet Nam.

We accept that as perhaps being still a valid reason but we must point out, as has been pointed out frequently by a number of my hon. and right hon. Friends at Question Time, that the political situation relating to East-West trade embargoes, and particularly with that section of the embargoes which relate especially to areas affected by the Korean War is constantly changing. We are getting further and further away from the time when there was fighting in Korea. I think that it is two years to the day since fighting ceased. In fact, I saw an article in The Times this morning about the second anniversary. When we come back to this matter next year, unless there has been a swing back in the political situation, which I hope there may not be, we shall want to consider rather more closely whether it is really essential to continue the Regulation for that sole purpose, for it was the only purpose mentioned last year by the Attorney-General and again today by the Home Secretary.

After making these comments on the Regulations and the present proposals, I have only to add that we on this side of the House are prepared to agree to the Motions.

4.0 p.m.

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

I think that this is a suitable moment to raise a matter which I have raised in previous years in similar debates, namely, the use of land by Her Majesty's Forces and the powers which Her Majesty's Government hold under Regulation 52. When we are considering the prolongation of these powers it is important that we should be told how those which affect large numbers of our people are being used. In this case, I should like to hear from those responsible for the operation of the Regulation whether any of the existing land used by Her Majesty's Forces under this Regulation has been given up, and to what extent it is contemplated that there should be discussions between the authorities concerned about relinquishing some of the rest.

I have especially in mind some large areas of land which are held by the War Office for military training in the North of England. Year after year I question whether or not the whole of this land is still required for military training. It is a matter about which many people are concerned. These are areas which should be more widely available for general relaxation, for people going out from the towns into the countryside, and there is concern at the tendency of the War Office to expand the areas it has held under these powers if it feels it can get away with it without too much protest.

In the case of the Redesdale Camp, on the border of England and Scotland, the area held is not within Northumberland but it has always been a matter of concern that extra land was taken when, at the time of the public inquiry held some years ago, it was argued by amenity bodies and others that it was not really required for the purpose of training. Broadly speaking, it appears to be true that, in the years that have passed since the land was entered upon, little use, if any, has been made of some of the sections of land on the fringes of the area that are most popular with those who want to walk in the Cheviot Hills and elsewhere, and these areas, although still held by the War Office, are very little used by it.

Therefore, I ask whether the use of the fringes of this main Redesdale Range area, many square miles in total, cannot be reconsidered. Further, it has been noted, and has been the subject of protest by the county council, by the local authorities, and by local residents, that other small sites have also been used by the military, first it was thought on a temporary basis, but now, it is understood, on a permanent basis. These include the three areas of Elishaw, Otterburn and Holystone, some of which have great historic and religious interest, and there has been strong protest against the suggestion of the War Office that these areas should be continued in use indefinitely.

I was glad to hear recently that the War Office has agreed to an inquiry being held into the further use of these three sites, and I welcome the opportunity which will thereby be given to the local authorities concerned, in particular the Northumberland County Council and other bodies, to make representations about the further use of this land. I want to emphasise, however, that it is important that the House should be informed from time to time that further consideration has been given to the possibility of relaxing the use of all the areas, and, in particular, whether some of those which have been the greatest subject of protest cannot now be given up after experience of the actual needs of the Departments concerned.

I hope, therefore, that today or, if necessary, later by correspondence, we can be given some information about the use made by the War Office of Defence Regulation 52 and its associated powers.

4.6 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) because, as I am sure the Home Secretary realises, there is real interest in these areas, which are a beautiful part of Northumberland. It is a difficult problem and I will not say more about Redesdale because it is to be the subject of inquiry, but I hope that this matter will be kept under continuous review, so that we may be satisfied that the War Office does not hold on to any land which could be used as a general amenity.

My second point concerns the Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations, 1943. The Postmaster-General will remember that a few years ago when I raised this matter we discussed it in the early hours of the morning. We have made much progress since that discussion, but I would remind the Home Secretary that when we discussed these Regulations a year ago we were given the same assurance that these would be unnecessary within the 12 months which have just passed. There is considerable interest in the question of clean food, as the Home Secretary will appreciate. It is unfortunate that we have had this delay, and I hope that this time he will see that he gets an absolute guarantee and assurance from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that this is the last time that these Regulations will appear on the Order Paper.

4.8 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Fitzroy Maclean)

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said that he hoped that Defence Regulation 52 was being kept under constant and urgent review. That is an expression which, from bitter experience, I would hesitate to use in the House myself, but, in fact, it describes well the attitude of my right hon. and gallant Friend to this matter. We do not want to hold on to any land a moment longer than is necessary. That is one of the reasons we hold some sites under this Regulation, because it enables us to hold them part-time and temporarily, and in some cases the owners of the land are able to make use of it in spite of the fact that we also use it for training purposes.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) asked for what purpose we use this land. It is used primarily for training purposes for which we need large areas of land, as will be appreciated. When, however, these areas are not being used for training, in so far as they are not littered with unexploded ammunition, they can be used sometimes for other purposes, such as grazing.

The hon. Gentleman also asked how many sites could be released and how many were under consideration. It would be wrong for me to give him any precise figures, but I can say that there are several thousand acres which are either to be released as soon as they have been cleared of unexploded missiles or which we hope to be able to release soon. I can give the hon. Gentleman a firm undertaking that we will not keep any land longer than we absolutely need.

He mentioned the site at Redesdale. I shall have to look into that, but I can promise him that I will look into it at once and let him know about it, and if there is any hope of our being able to give up any part of it he can be certain that we will do so.

Mr. Blenkinsop

When the hon. Gentleman examines it—I am grateful for his promise to look into the matter—will he bear in mind that part of the area is now subject to declaration as a National Park area, a new decision since the matter was discussed a year ago, and, also, that the water authorities are busy having discussions with his Department about the possibility of siting a fairly considerable reservoir in the same area? I shall be very grateful for any information that he can give me.

Mr. Maclean

I live not very far from that part of the country, and am aware of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

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-five, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-six.

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

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty under section seven of the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1947, praying that the Defence Regulations specified in the Schedule hereto, which would otherwise expire on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-five, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-six.

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