§ 4.2 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-six, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-seven.There are three Motions on the Order Paper in my name, Mr. Speaker, and two in the name of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply and as is customary. Sir, I ask your indulgence for the debate to take place on this first Motion, and thereafter to take briefly the other four Motions.
§ Mr. Speaker
That course has become customary. I should like to know whether the Opposition agrees to it on this occasion.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
On a point of order. It was impossible to hear what was said, Mr. Speaker. As I understand, some arrangements are being made for future discussion. On previous occasions it was agreed that there should be something in the nature of Second Reading speeches permissible on the whole of the three Motions. Can we take it that those of us who want to deal with any specific or detailed points on any Motion may rise and seek to catch your eye, when each Motion is called for the vote?
§ Mr. Speaker
Yes, that is what has been done in past years. A general discussion has been held to cover all the points that could be raised on the Motions individually, but I shall have to put the Question on each Motion separately to the House. If an hon. Member rises, he will catch my eye.
§ Major Lloyd-George
As the House is aware, it is necessary for the Government to come to Parliament every year for 1564 approval of the continuance of 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. In that White Paper hon. Members will find a list of the powers which we propose should be continued, and an indication of the methods to secure continuance under the various enactments with which the five Motions are concerned.
In previous years I have given an account of the progress we have made since 1951 in disposing of these wartime powers. I do not propose to do that again at any length this afternoon, but I should like to mention briefly the following facts. When we came into office, in 1951, there were 215 Regulations. In December last that number had fallen to 69. At present, the number is 67. We now propose to the House that only 58 should be renewed, of which two-thirds are formal and ancillary provisions.
The Regulations which have been revoked during the year are Regulation 60D, which was revoked by the Aliens Employment Act of 1955, and Regulation 58A, which conferred power to regulate the engagement of workers by employers. In addition, we now propose that the nine surviving Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations should not be renewed, as their provisions have been incorporated in the Food and Drugs Act of 1955 and in the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Act of 1956.
An Order will shortly be placed before the House revoking Regulation 60A and paragraph (2) of Regulation 59, whose provisions relating to safety and welfare in mines and quarries will be replaced when the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954, is brought into operation on 1st January next. There will also be an end of the Sugar Industry Act, 1942, which is renewed under the third Motion, by 31st March, 1957.
As I told the House last year, it is broadly true that the powers now remaining cannot be given up until Parliament replaces them by permanent legislation. For this purpose, a number of Measures, some of them presenting points of great difficulty, need to be prepared and allotted a place within the legislative programme, Inevitably this process must be slower 1565 than the outright revocation of powers which are no longer needed.
Last year I expressed the hope that Regulations 50A and 56 would be dispensed with during the Session, and that Regulation 26 of the Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) Regulations might be revoked. Unfortunately, Parliamentary time has not yet been found for proposed legislation on water supplies which would replace Regulations 50A and 56.
As to Regulation 26 of the Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) Regulations, it has long been obsolete in England and Wales, but has still to be preserved in force for Scotland until the amendments to the schemes of the Scottish Milk Marketing Boards have been made. That has taken longer than we expected, but it should be completed within a few months.
At this stage, let me remind the House of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on 20th June this year, in a Written Answer to a Question about the committee on the use of unpatented inventions for defence purposes. The Report of the Howitt Committee was published on that date, and my right hon. Friend informed the House that he proposed to discuss its recommendations with industrial organisations and to give effect to them as soon as it was found practicable to do so.
That will mark the end of the Defence (Patents, Trade Marks, etc.) Regulations. So far as we can see at present, we shall be left at this time next year with, at most, 56 Defence Regulations, of which 35 may be described as ancillary and formal.
There are only 21 Regulations which may be called substantive, of which 13 are in the Defence (General) Regulations, and 8 in the other codes. I should, perhaps, say a word about the main groups of these substantive Regulations.
Regulation 46, dealing with the control of trade by sea, and Regulation 55, giving power to control import and export transactions abroad and ship construction, are needed in accordance with international agreements to control the supply of strategic goods to the Soviet bloc. China, North Korea and North Viet Nam. I expect there will be general agreement 1566 that these powers should be retained at the present time.
§ Major Lloyd-George
Then let us say that it will be general minus one. I think that most people will agree with my view of the situation.
Regulation 55 and the related Regulations 55AA and 55AB are also used for the maintenance of certain economic controls. Orders made under the Regulations impose the very necessary restrictions on hire purchase or hiring of articles, and, as stated in the Gracious Speech, we propose during the present Session to introduce permanent legislation on this subject.
Apart from this, the scope of the controls is limited to strategic goods and to a few other commodities such as coal, iron and steel scrap, paper, some foodstuffs, and, of course, oil. The House has just heard my right hon. Friend the Minister for Fuel and Power speak about the way in which he proposes to control the distribution of oil in the present period of shortage.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
Does that mean that it would be within the scope of our deliberations this afternoon to debate in detail the proposals for the rationing of petrol and oil?
§ Major Lloyd-George
It is not for me to say, but I should have thought that it was entirely out of order. This is the method which is used. I have just quoted one or two commodities for which these Regulations are used.
§ Mr. Speaker
If I may express an opinion, the real question here is the granting of powers to the Government. It might be advanced as an illustration, or example, that the Government should not get these powers because it might be said, "See what they have done with petrol," or an argument in that style, but it would be out of order to go into the merits or demerits of the details of the scheme. It could be mentioned as a reason for denying these powers in general to the Government, but the merits or demerits cannot be canvassed or discussed in any detail.
§ Mr. Jay
Further to that point, Mr. Speaker. Since the Order restricting the distribution of petroleum products will be made under Regulation 55, which the Government are asking us to continue, presumably it is reasonable—I agree that it would probably be wrong to go into detail—to argue up to a point that the general situation is such that there is a need to introduce the restrictions effecting petroleum.
§ Mr. Speaker
The actual rationing of motor car fuel is complicated by the further fact that an Order has apparently been laid to deal with it. That can, of course, be prayed against, and we could not allow a discussion which was anticipating such a normal procedure.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that a general argument would, but a detailed argument ought to be kept for the Order itself.
§ Mr. Hale
Might I draw your attention to this point, Mr. Speaker? It would be better if we knew the scope of the debate to begin with. According to page 47 of the Defence Regulations, Section 2 of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, gives the Government power to control prices.
There are several points on that. The first one at the moment is: is it wise and necessary to give a Government of this kind power to do anything? Secondly, is it worth while giving the Government newer to control prices if they decline to use those powers? The third, and most important, point is: is there not a necessity for the control of prices at this time of increase in the cost of living, and ought we, therefore, not to take this opportunity of urging upon the Government the necessity for using the powers for which they are today asking?
§ Mr. Speaker
I should not like to rule on an argument in advance, but, in general, the question really at issue on this Motion is whether or not the Government should have these powers. As I say, I think it might be relevant to mention this or that Regulation as a reason why the powers in general should or should not be renewed, but the actual 1568 details of any proposed Regulation are out of order.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Before my right hon. and gallant Friend resumes, might I ask him a question? It is not a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Speaker
As I have been asked to intervene about these matters, perhaps I might just be allowed to add this.
I regret to say that I was in error in my reply just now to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). I can only allow a general discussion on the first Motion on the assumption that it will cover the whole field of all five Motions which are before us. Otherwise, if I stick to the order I shall have to proceed piecemeal. A view having been expressed by the Home Secretary, and it having been assented to by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), that is the course that we must adopt. If we have this general discussion, I must then put the Questions to the House, but the other Motions cannot be debated again.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Before my right hon. and gallant Friend proceeds, might I ask him a question? The Order relating to petrol and oil referred to in the earlier statement by the Minister of Fuel and Power is not yet available in the Vote Office. Can my right hon. and gallant Friend say under which Defence Regulation, and which section, the general Orders for both petrol and oil are to be made?
§ Major Lloyd-George
No, Sir. When it was first introduced, it was for five years anyway. There was to be yearly renewal after the first five years.
We have done a good deal to get rid of these Regulations. I do not want to get into any controversy about those which have gone. I want to explain about the ones which remain.
I was referring just now to Regulation 55, which deals with raw materials, including, among others, oil. It should not be forgotten that it also deals with 1569 coal, iron and steel scrap, paper and a good many other things not affected by the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power.
I am very glad to have this opportunity of announcing, with the approval of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, that we have decided to give up the control of tinplate. This control has been used to allocate the inadequate supplies of tinplate between consumers at home and between the home and export markets.
Now that production at the new strip mills has increased so much, there will be enough tinplate for all consumers at home, and there will be more also for the export market. For instance, production this year will be, I am told, about 925,000 tons, but in 1957 it is expected to be 1,125,000 tons, an increase of about 20 per cent. I think that, in these circumstances, the House will agree that the control of distribution is unnecessary and undesirable.
Another group of—
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
Before the right hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves the point about tinplate, which is a very interesting one, can he say what is the amount of tinplate for the canning industry still coming from dollar sources in the North American continent? Does his announcement mean that the industry in this country will be able to carry on next year without any of those imports at all? I know that a considerable amount of tin is being imported from North America at the moment.
§ Major Lloyd-George
Speaking without the record by my side, I should have thought that it was the other way round, remembering how great our trade with North America and Canada in tinplate used to be. Sometimes, when I was Minister of Food, we had very great shortages, even for our own food export, though I think that that has now completely disappeared. I cannot give the information for which the hon. Gentleman asks, because I have not got it with me; but I will see whether it can be given to him later.
§ Mr. Price
I know that I cannot debate the subject at this stage and can only 1570 make a passing reference to it. However, I know that the biggest manufacturers of tin cans and boxes in this country are not able to maintain their production entirely on the basis of home-produced plate and that home-produced plate is being supplemented by considerable imports from the North American continent.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I should not like to argue with the hon. Gentleman because I have not the figures, but I was very surprised to hear what he said because my difficulty, when I was Minister of Food, was to get enough tin for our own food containers. I should be very surprised to hear that there was a very large dollar import of tinplate, because we had very severe restrictions to deal with that. Now that the new strip mills have come in, the increase has been enormous. As I have said, we shall be getting an increase of 20 per cent. between this year and next.
Another group of Defence Regulations is formed by 50, 51 and 51A, 52 and 62, which relate to land. Fresh legislation will be needed before they can be disposed of, but the extent of their use continues to decrease. As I did last year, I will cite Regulation 51 as an example. This Regulation is at present needed to acquire land and premises at short notice for defence purposes or for opencast coal mining, a very important part of our economy at present. It may no longer be used for taking possession of land for housing.
The number of buildings retained under requisition by Government Departments under this Regulation and under provisions of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945, had fallen from 3,858 in 1951 to 676 on 30th September, 1955; and on 30th September this year the figure was only 376. This is a reduction of 90 per cent. on the 1951 figure and of about 44 per cent. on last year's figure. In fact, since 1945 about 996 per cent. of the premises then held on requisition have been released.
The remaining two Defence (General) Regulations 58AA and 59 relate to employment, and are used for the maintenance of the Industrial Disputes Tribunal and to give exemption from certain provisions of the Factories Acts which are not flexible enough to meet 1571 present day needs. Paragraph (2) of Regulation 59, which had similar provisions for mines and quarries, is no longer necessary and will be revoked on 1st January next.
There remain the supplementary Codes. The Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) Regulations provide for marketing of bacon and livestock, and for the modification of the milk marketing schemes. As I said earlier, Regulation 26, which deals with milk, is now required in Scotland only and should be revoked during this year. The other provisions must be continued until permanent marketing arrangements have been worked out with those concerned and, where necessary, given legislative effect.
The Defence (Finance) Regulations have one remaining substantive provision, which is needed to supplement the existing powers of exchange control in Hong Kong and to control certain assets owned by residents outside the sterling area. The Defence (Armed Forces) Regulations have a solitary provision enabling members of the Armed Forces to be employed on agricultural work and other work of urgent national importance.
The continuance of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, which is 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 Board of Trade to continue the winding up of their trading operations in raw materials. The Board of Trade also needs these powers in order to continue trading in imported jute goods until measures to safeguard the United Kingdom industry under conditions conducive to efficiency can be worked out. The Supplies and Services (Defence Purposes) Act, 1951, makes possible the temporary closure and diversion of highways for defence purposes.
The third of the Motions is for the presentation of an Address asking for the continuing of provisions relating to wheat, land drainage and sugar. The land drainage provisions are no longer needed, but cannot be repealed independently. The wheat provisions are needed until legislation for the repeal of the 1572 Wheat Acts, 1932 to 1939, and certain other enactments relating to home-grown cereals have been passed. The sugar provisions maintain interim arrangements for the industry until the Sugar Act, 1956, has come into force, that is, partially on 1st January, 1957, and finally on 31st March, 1957.
I hope I have made clear to the House the continued intention of the Government to do away with this residue of emergency legislation. We claim that what is left—and it is really quite a slim volume now—comprises, by and large, the matter on which proposals for permanent legislation should be put before the House. It is objected to less for its substance than for its origin. But before it can be replaced by permanent legislation, a great deal of work must be done in the Departments and there must be the fullest consultation with all the interests affected. When all that has been done, time must be found for the House itself to consider and pass its judgment upon the important issues raised.
I can assure the House that the powers still surviving have been gone through with a fine comb to see what is the minimum that must be kept. The Government are satisfied that there is a real need to continue the Regulations and emergency enactments referred to in the Motions, and I invite the House to agree that the continuance of these powers for a further year is warranted.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
The Home Secretary hardly seems to have told the country as much as it will want to know about the way in which at any rate the major economic controls covered by the Motion are to be used in the next twelve months. He rather spoke as if the country had now more or less overcome its economic difficulties, experienced since the war, which gave rise to these controls.
The truth is that in these last few weeks the Government have got themselves and the country into such a disastrous plight, economically as well as politically, that a number of these controls will be very necessary indeed in the year beginning on 10th December. It might have been fully consistent with the present Government's reputation for foresight if they had chosen this moment to 1573 get rid of the remaining controls altogether. At any rate, we are glad that the doctrine of Conservative freedom, which has already cost us 25 per cent. of our gold reserves since 1954, has not been carried quite as far as this.
This Motion, as the Home Secretary said, will keep in force for twelve months Regulations such as 55, for controlling and regulating industrial processes generally, and 55AB, for controlling prices. A far-reaching use of these powers may very well be likely in the next twelve months, as the Minister of Fuel and Power was rather reluctantly forced to admit at Question Time today. For, whether or not we regard the Government's general conduct of affairs in the past month as a great military and diplomatic triumph, it is certain that the country is now faced, for as long as the Suez Canal is blocked, with a shortage of oil which the Minister estimated at about 25 per cent.
To estimate the extent to which rationing of oil and other materials may have to be used, we have to realise that, even to keep supplies of oil at that level and to make the cut not greater than 20 per cent. or 25 per cent., we shall have to find, according to the Economist, extra dollars estimated at the rate of £50 million for every three months. Incidentally, we are entering on this grim squeeze period with the reserve of gold and dollars £30 million less than it was even a year ago, and £260 million less than it was in 1951. What a comment that is in itself on the electioneering activities of the Lord Privy Seal in 1954 and 1955 in throwing away so many controls and such a large proportion of our gold and dollar reserves. We could now do with many of the controls and a good deal of the gold which he threw away in those imprudent years.
I very much hope that the Government now agree that the powers contained in these Regulations, and particularly 55 and 55AB, will be needed in this next year for at least three main reasons. I would like to know whether they agree. The first reason is to eke out our short supplies of oil. The second is to prevent the remaining oil shortage, which will be unavoidable, from spreading disruption of employment and production more readily throughout industry. The third 1574 is to prevent rises in the cost of living, due to shipping shortages and higher freights, from starting a new wage-price spiral.
Therefore, we are entitled to ask the Government—I see a lot of their representatives present—to tell the country what they are planning to do about this situation and how they are planning to use these powers. There is a great deal of nervousness in the country about production and employment.
First, as to the major question of oil. The Minister made a very grave statement today which, so far as I was able to follow it without seeing it in print, announced a heavy cut in the supplies of oil for transport and a considerable cut in the use of oil for industry, particularly for heating and to a lesser degree for industrial fuel. It is agreed that there will have to be another discussion about petrol and oil rationing on the Order which will shortly come before the House. We shall then have to examine the whole subject in detail. I therefore content myself today with one or two general comments. Frankly, the way the Government now conduct their affairs makes it difficult for us to conduct our discussions in an orderly fashion in this House. We had, for instance, no notice until Question Time that a major statement about petrol rationing was to be made.
May I, in passing, suggest to the representative of the Ministry of Fuel and Power—I think there is one here—that when he prints the petrol coupons he might like to print a label for sticking on windscreens saying "Thanks to the Conservatives"? [Interruption.] The plight that the Government have got into, and their hurried restoration of petrol rationing, show how fortunate it is, even for the Government, that they have left some of these control powers on the Statute Book, despite the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro).
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Is the right hon. Gentleman really saying that if there had been a Labour Government at this time and the trouble in Egypt had developed, they would, in some miraculous way, have avoided the troubles in the Middle East?
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves that point, could he elicit information how the Evening Standard knew all about the proposed petrol rationing before we did?
§ Mr. Jay
That is a relevant point, but later in the debate, if my hon. and learned Friend catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will no doubt be able to develop it. I will endeavour to remain strictly within the rules of order.
What a judgment it is on the Government's powers of foresight that all these powers of rationing petroleum products were thrown away, removed from the Statute Book altogether, during the Lord Privy Seal's electioneering frolics during 1954 when he was "investing in success," and have now to be hastily restored, How particularly revealing it is that Order 1693, which comes before the House under Regulation 55 and which we are to discuss later, was made only on 31st October, 1956. Until that moment it had apparently never occurred to the Government, who presumably knew what their own policy was, that that policy over Suez might lead the country into a disastrous oil shortage.
The whole mechanism of petrol rationing was broken up, and it now has to be hastily restored in order to rescue the country from the plight caused by the Government's own insane foreign policy. Can we have a little more information—industry needs it badly—either in this debate or somehow or other, about how the new powers will be used in rationing industrial fuel oil, apart from motor spirit?
The Home Secretary said with glee, as if we were moving on to some plateau of eternal peace and prosperity, that he was now getting rid of the powers over tinplate. Was this decision taken before the Government had landed us in this shortage of oil? Unless I am mistaken the steel and tinplate works at Margam—or a very large part of it—is running on oil and not coal. I think that goes 1576 also for the other two works at Llanelly and Swansea. Is it wise to assume, with oil shortages threatening, that we have passed beyond the period of difficulty for tinplate?
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that tin-plate imports have steadily been declining, in any event, during the last eighteen months. In 1955 they totalled £7,050,215 while in the first ten months of this year they had sunk to £3,400,000, a reduction of more than 50 per cent. In the natural process of things tinplate imports would disappear, as the Home Secretary has pointed out. Surely there is no need to retain these cumbersome powers for longer than is necessary.
§ Mr. Jay
I quite recognise what the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, but it rather confirms my point. The reason why imports have declined is that Margam, Trostre and Velindre have been coming into full production. As all those works, or at any rate a large part of them, are run on oil, we are entitled to ask whether the Government took the oil shortage into account before coming to this decision.
The country is entitled to more information about these matters, because industrial production, quite apart from the Suez crisis and thanks to the economic policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer over the past twelve months, is running at a level lower than a year ago. That is what the Chancellor called "considerable progress" in the last speech which he made. Unless there is to be some system of priorities—not merely rationing—and allocation for industrial fuels, and perhaps other raw materials, which would come under Regulation 55, are we not in danger of bottlenecks which will make our industrial production even lower in this coming year?
The Financial Times, speaking of the Midlands only, yesterday said:The threat to production and industry is now more serious.Surely we all agree that it would be a disaster in our present situation if industrial production as a whole were to fall even lower than the present dismally low level.
Can we be told rather more than the Home Secretary told us—and this is 1577 relevant to a point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget)—about what the Government's intentions are in asking for the continuance of Regulation 55AB on price control? Have they now had a change of heart about price control? Do they mean at long last, now that they are continuing this power, to make a real effort to check the rise in living costs? For instance, will this power for which they are now asking be used in the next year to resume control over the price of bread?
It appears that the price of bread is going up again, also as a result of the Government's aggression in Egypt and the resulting dislocation of shipping and shipping freights. I do not know whether hon. Members realise this when considering price control, but bread, which is still the most important single item in the cost of living, now costs 70 to 75 per cent. more than it did in October, 1951. Of course, we were always told by the present Postmaster-General, when he was at the Ministry of Food and was discussing price control, that if we removed price control, prices would go down. In the case of bread, as in almost every other case, the price has gone up, and we should like to know whether the Government propose to do anything about it.
As a result of shipping shortages and as a result perhaps of speculation and scrambles following the dislocation of world shipping will not the prices of other commodities tend to rise unless the Government make more use of these powers? In particular, do they intend to do anything to control the price of oil itself? There are a good many rumours at the moment. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Kidderminster believes them of not, but there are rumours that the price of oil is likely to rise in the coming weeks, which may have further serious dislocating effects on our industry and our cost of living.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Is not the right hon. Gentleman's argument in a state of suspended animation? Obviously, if the price of oil rises it will be entirely due to increased international freight rates. That is something over which the British Government by themselves have no control. Surely the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's argument is totally spurious.
§ Mr. Jay
I think most things are in suspended animation while this Government are in power. Surely the hon. Member realises that the price of oil or anything else may rise as a result of higher shipping freights; and there may then be a further unnecessary and artificial rise as a result of the shortage and speculation to take advantage of it. We want to see that it does not rise any more than is necessary.
While I hope that the House will grant even this Government, since it is there—however long we do not know—all the necessary powers, I hope that the Government may at the same time learn some lessons from this crisis into which their political folly and lack of economic foresight have plunged the country. We now face a very bleak and grim economic year with inadequate controls and with a pitifully inadequate gold reserve. Yet we see that this power of petrol rationing, now necessary, was abandoned in 1954 and is having to be restored in a panic.
How about the control of building? That was also abandoned during the period of fatuous delusions in 1954. Why is that not being restored? I understand that it has not been restored. Can we afford the absurd waste of luxury building going on in the economic situation which we now face? The Home Secretary spoke of the Defence (Finance) Regulations and exchange control. Is he satisfied that there are sufficient exchange control powers on the Statute Book to meet the very grave dollar shortage which may easily arise in the year immediately ahead of us? If those powers are not in existence, might it not be better to take them now, while we still have the chance, rather than drift further into disaster and have to regain them in a panic?
I should hate to predict where our economy will be on 10th December, 1957, if the Government have even now not realised the fantastic folly of believing that all our economic difficulties are over and throwing away our economic defences just because, for a few short months, we seemed to have run into economically rather fairer weather.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) spoke as if he relished the idea of emergency powers and controls and approved of them as a permanent feature 1579 of our work in this Parliament. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) reminds me, the right hon. Gentleman was the advocate of the idea that the "gentleman in Whitehall" knows best.
§ Mr. Gower
Be that as it may, the right hon. Gentleman spoke with a good deal of relish about the possession of these powers and, even more, about the exercise of these powers.
I think I speak for the majority of my hon. Friends when I say that we approve of the exercise of these powers in times of emergency; we appreciate that emergencies may arise when the exercise of such extraordinary powers may be needed. But we do not regard the work of a Parliament or a Government as in a permanent state of emergency, and I imagine that nearly all my hon. Friends would welcome the progress which has been made and is being made by the Government in reducing the number of these emergency powers and regulations.
May I, for my part, and, I think, on behalf of my hon. Friends, say that I trust the Government and my right hon. Friend are not complacent in this matter. These powers were granted by Parliament as long ago as 1939, at a time of particular and supreme emergency in this country. Since that time, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) has epitomised our desires in a phrase which has often been ridiculed on the benches oppose—a desire to "set the people free". This phrase has aroused a great deal of amusement among hon. Members opposite, but we on this side of the House believe that it is sound common sense. We think that it is a good thing to set the people free and to remove from them all these emergency powers, as far as is compatible with the necessary control in times of particular emergency.
§ Mr. Gower
I realise that the Labour Government made certain relaxations, at 1580 the same time preaching the virtue of these Regulations. We deplore the emergency which makes us sometimes restore Regulations. It appears to me that the right hon. Gentleman almost exults in the necessity for such Regulations.
Some people still advocate the advantages of a planned economy, a strictly planned economy. I think that the right hon. Gentleman does. We are seeing at this moment in Eastern Europe the ghastly failure of a strictly planned economy. In Eastern Europe and in countries dominated by the Russian system we are seeing a strictly planned economy coming adrift.
I suggest that, apart from some most extraordinary reasons, my right hon. and gallant Friend should scrutinise even more closely the exercise of these powers. I respectfully submit that, in the absence of extraordinary circumstances, all properties which were requisitioned in 1939 should now be derequisitioned. Those properties have been long enough under an artificial form of control. I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend and his colleagues will examine every single item in the exercise of these powers.
Also, I respectfully suggest that in every possible instance residual powers of this kind should now be cast in the form of permanent legislation. In his opening speech, my right hon. and gallant Friend gave several examples where these powers have now been put into permanent legislation. I hope that it will be possible in the very near future to dispense with Regulations of this kind and to put them in the form of permanent legislation.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
As I am afraid that I shall not resume my seat without being perhaps a little controversial, I should like to start with a non-controversial statement and, with respect, congratulate the Home Secretary on his presentation of the facts in a way which has greatly assisted the House. He went with sufficient care and clarity into each Measure and he made it much easier for those of us who try to deal with these matters who always find a very considerable difficulty in discovering what the law now is.
I used to follow a profession in which I had to pretend a rough acquaintance 1581 with the law, and I always recall the American jury who, after a retirement of three hours, returned to court and said, "The jury want to know from your honour whether what you said is really the law or whether it is just what you think it is." I am bound to say that I imagine that even the right hon. and gallant Gentleman must face these debates with a little uneasiness, with a feeling that something may have been overlooked. Therefore, I congratulate him with great sincerity on the way in which he put the matter before the House.
I am never quite sure when the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) rises whether he rises to support the Government or not. I agree with him entirely on one point. I have constantly said in debates of this kind in the past that my attitude is ambivalent. I agree with him entirely. I detest this sort of legislation, not because of what it says but because of the way in which it is presented. I detest this wretched hotchpotch of statutes in which we are asked to refer to the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act of 1947 and then to the Act of 1946 and then, when one has referred to them, one finds that they refer to Acts passed in 1932 and to some Regulations which people have never heard of and certainly never read. It is a bad system of legislation, and everyone agrees.
To that extent we congratulate the right hon. and gallant Gentleman on his declared intention to try, as far as possible, to put such necessary powers as must continue into statutory form and gradually to get rid of those which need not continue.
I said that my attitude was ambivalent. If there is such a word, I should say that it is "trivalent". I find myself on the horns of a "trilemma". I could not draw a rough sketch of a trilemma for the elucidation of my difficulties. As we have just heard today, Lord Beaverbrook's heifer has had triplets, and I imagine that his bulls may be described as "tri-corned". Indeed, those of us who read the Daily Express know that he has many bulls.
My difficulty is this—and I ventured to indicate it in an intervention earlier. I object only to the form of the Regulations. I think these powers are excellent 1582 powers. I think that they are necessary powers. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Barry was serious when he talked about exulting in them; nor do I know what exactly was in his mind when he talked about "the gentlemen from Whitehall." I do not think that it is necessary to sneer at the Civil Service. What did he mean? I will give way with pleasure if he will say what he meant by the phrase "gentlemen from Whitehall", said certainly in no adulatory or complimentary way.
I have never thought it necessary to sneer at these gentlemen, who, on incomes which I have always regarded as inadequate—they compare favourably only with those of Members of Parliament—devote their lives to a service which has a reputation throughout the world for integrity and honesty. It does not seem to me that that is a matter for criticism.
§ Mr. Hale
I am so glad that we have this clear, because I can help the hon. Member. It is not so. The decision is taken by Her Majesty's Ministers. Looking at them one may not think that they are a very bright lot—and I would agree if the hon. Gentleman feels that—but the decision is made by them. When Mr. Jones, the gentleman from Whitehall, signs a Statutory Instrument he cannot do it, and does not do it, without a Minister being consulted. We were told this in evidence before the Select Committee, and most of us believe it. The Minister takes responsibility for that Measure before this House and those of us who spend our lifetimes reading Statutory Instruments, weighing them and deciding whether they should be prayed against, know that. No gentleman from Whitehall is really authorising a policeman to wander round to Lady Somebody's cottage and put her out without there being adequate Ministerial responsibility.
My first and important point is that these powers may be good in the hands of an intelligent Government. They may be good in the hands of a Government which is devoted to planning, and here again the hon. Member for Gower made one observation which we ought to record.
§ Mr. Hale
I should have recollected that. The right hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) is not only the Father of the House; he is one of the best respected men in the House, and I certainly do not wish to attribute to him the views expressed by the hon. Member for Barry. The hon. Member for Barry said that the countries of Eastern Europe are now in this terrible mess because they had a planned economy.
§ Mr. Hale
That is precisely what I thought I said, but I will adopt the words the hon. Gentleman has used. What is the situation? The situation is that in a planned economy the standard of living in Hungary has gone up enormously year by year, and from being one of the poorest countries in Europe Hungary was becoming the most prosperous. British Railways is using Hungarian designs for its locomotives.
What has happened is that under a dictatorship the people have lost freedom, liberty and justice under one of the harshest of dictatorships. But it is as well to give the devil his due. One of the difficulties of fighting the atrocities of Communism is its economic success. It is that it nearly always gives to the working people a higher standard of life. [Laughter.] I would ask hon. Members opposite who cackle to tell me a country where it has not happened. I will give way. Tell me one where Communists have been in power for five years and where the peasant and the worker has not got a higher standard of life.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I think that this is getting a little bit away from the Motion.
§ Mr. Hale
I respectfully agree, and I see no point in pursuing it at all. The issue was raised by the hon. Member for Barry. I merely said that I disagreed with him. I was then greeted with the 1584 usual vacuous cackling that now comes from what one would unkindly describe as the less intelligent Members on the Tory benches, and it is just a question whether one passes it by without any recognition of the fact that no eggs have been laid or whether one should make a comment, but I will leave the point now, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in deference to you.
The important point is whether one should entrust a Government like this with any powers. I have a personal regard for the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and my main attack today is not being aimed at him, and I have a great respect for the honourable name that he bears; but I must say that it was ruled yesterday, very properly, that it is a breach of Parliamentary etiquette to accuse a Minister of deceiving the House, or apparently even attempting to deceive the House, and I would not for a moment break any Parliamentary rule. The statement we heard today from the Minister of Fuel and Power differed in very great detail from the statement he made a few days ago. We are therefore in the situation that the facts coming to Ministers are not being appreciated and statements being made by Ministers certainly do not bear any relation to statements they made a few days ago.
Explanations come daily from Ministers, new explanations which apparently are improvised on the spur of the moment without any relation to known facts. Constantly in speeches over the last fortnight one has felt that the Ministers' handling of truth with such lack of care puts it in danger of coming to pieces in their hands. To give my own view as moderately, temperately and inoffensively as I can, if I were confronted with a sworn affidavit from a Conservative Minister and a casual obiter dicta of Baron Munchausen I would not know to which to give the higher degree of credence.
There was a time when Ministers sheltered behind the protection of refusing to answer Questions at all. Now they do not do that but they make statements which ultimately prove to be misleading. In those circumstances, it is difficult for me to convince myself that they ought to have these powers. On the other hand, they are Her Majesty's Government and 1585 it is a very grave emergency. The fact that they are responsible for the emergency does not detract from its gravity. We therefore have to consider what should be done.
On this point the very admirable speech of the- right hon. and gallant Gentleman was also extremely revealing because he showed his temper in the matter at once. He said, "Of course we do not like using these powers at all. We rather dislike these powers. We go through them with a small tooth comb—a hair brush or something—and scrub out one by one all those we feel should be eliminated for the time being." As I gathered the picture he drew, quite a number of gentlemen in Whitehall are anxiously and carefully considering the question of how quickly they can get rid of the rest. That is the attitude.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The tone does not matter, even if it is falsetto. What matters is that I strongly approve of the policy of Her Majesty's Government in dismantling these Regulations as rapidly as they are able to do so.
§ Mr. Hale
The hon. Member is under a misapprehension on this. I remember one of the greatest financial swindlers of his generation who always used to be accompanied by a man who said. "Yes, I agree" in sepulchral and impressive tones at the precise moment when the fraudulent shares were about to be pedalled. I am sure the hon. Member would not, for instance, make a proposal of marriage in the same tones in which he expresses his agreement with Tory Ministers.
Let us move from that, which may not be strictly relevant, and come to the point with which I was dealing. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed to indicate that he has no use for these powers at all and that it is only where 1586 the Government have found themselves in a sort of continuing situation which cannot for the moment be terminated and which needs the continuation of the powers that he intends to preserve them. Yet how fortunate it is for Her Majesty's advisers today that a Labour Government made these provisions, which give them the power, at a moment's notice, to tell the House that they are about to ration petrol under the provisions of a scheme which was to be in the Vote Office this afternoon but which had not arrived twenty minutes ago.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I rather gathered from what the hon. Member said earlier that he was in favour of doing away with regulations if they were replaced by permanent legislation. Many of the Regulations I mentioned today are disappearing because either they have been or will be replaced by permanent legislation. One of the most important instances is the Mines and Quarries Act. There have been only two Mines Acts in this country, one introduced in 1911 by a Liberal Government and another in 1954 by a Conservative Government. That last Act has done away with many of these Regulations.
§ Mr. Hale
I agree entirely with that, Although I made it clear that I did start with encomiums, I then came to the attitude of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to what remained, which I thought was one of disapproval. If in this emergency he is learning the lessons of experience and facing the problems which now arise and has come to the conclusion that more control is necessary and more powers of direction are necessary and that he may have to use those powers, I think that is a very important, thing to have happened. It is one which I personally welcome because I do believe in planned economy and I do not believe in laissez faire.
If we look at the powers we are being asked to concede to the Government today we find, as I indicated in a previous intervention in discussion of the first Motion, which applies to the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, that Section 2 of that Act confers upon Her Majesty power to make Defence Regulations for controlling prices. My right hon. Friend the Member for Batter-sea, North (Mr. Jay) mentioned this. This, of course, is exceedingly important. 1587 It is right for the House to consider whether it is worth while giving this Government powers they have no intention of using, but it is equally right that in discussing this matter today we should inquire of the Government whether they do intend to use these important powers.
We face the situation that where the Government have deliberately increased the price of food by the withdrawal of subsidies it is hardly possible to imagine any system of price control which in the circumstances could very usefully be proposed. The thing would be to restore the subsidies. In the particular example of milk and bread, to which my right hon. Friend referred, surely the occasion has come for a consideration of the matter. Hon. Members opposite wilfully blind themselves to two well-known facts. The price of bread was of the order of 95s. a quarter when control was removed. The price of bread has been the subject of a mill owners' war. There has been cutting of prices and restoring of prices. We are told that Mr. Rank for the moment has turned his attention away from Miss Dors and Miss Monroe to the people's food. Tom Hood used to say:Oh! God! that flesh should be so dear.And flesh and blood so cheap!Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman intend to do anything about it? Either he wants the powers or he does not.
If he wants the powers, presumably he wants to use them and not merely to keep them in abeyance in case the Prime Minister starts another war and another new problem arises in consequence. If he is asking for the powers only from now until next December, presumably he wants to use them or, if he does not intend to use them, he should not come to the House and ask for them. If he does intend to use them, why not start with bread and realise that this is going to be a pretty miserable winter? We are going to be faced with a fuel shortage, which nearly always hits hardest the poorest of the poor.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am sure the hon. Member would not willingly mislead the House. He says that this winter there is going to be a fuel shortage. I agree that the fuel situation is serious, but only for a relatively small part of the total 1588 fuel consumption. Is he aware that stocks of coal at the moment are standing at a higher level than in any post-war winter since 1945?
§ Mr. Hale
Here is the hon. Member for Kidderminster, the voice of the back benchers, the television personality of the House, the expert on fuel and power, the man who was about to bring down the Government on this very question six months ago, speaking with a quite astonishing ignorance of the situation. He seems to think that one fuel has no effect on another. Only this morning the West Midland Gas Board said that it is going to give up the use of oil for the manufacture of gas and to use more coal. If more coal is used in that way there will be less for someone else. Does he know how much oil is used for domestic heating and lighting? Does he realise that people in agricultural districts cannot buy oil for their cooking, their heating and their lighting but need some other form of fuel?
§ Mr. Nabarro
What the hon. Member is saying in no way derogates from the principle which I have just stated, that the relative consumption of oil for heat, power and energy in this country is small when compared with coal, which carries the overwhelming bulk of that load.
§ Mr. Hale
That, of course, is true, and I am glad to hear that testimonial to the work of miners. Primarily due to them and partly owing to pockets of unemployment, we have rather larger stocks of coal at this time of the year than we have had before. In view of the fact that the wretched Government have been calling up miners for military service, that is a very remarkable achievement and one to which on this side of the House we would all wish to pay the greatest possible credit. The hon. Member for Kidderminster is naive in these matters. He apparently believed the statement of the Minster of Fuel and Power last week that with a voluntary 10 per cent. cut we will get through. He knows that all the time the coupons were printed, all the time the announcement was imminent, all the time the Minister was plucking up courage to slip down to the House on a quiet day and get it over as soon as he could.
§ Mr. Hale
And, of course, after the Chester by-election result had been declared, with a loss of only 5,000 or 6,000 votes to the Conservative Party.
I should like to examine one of these matters in detail, because I am in considerable doubt about it. Although I am in favour of planning, planning powers can be abused. It is the duty of every liberally-minded Socialist to see that planning powers are not abused. The Secretary of State for the Home Department in a cheerful moment in his opening speech said that no one would object to Regulation 49, because Regulation 49 controls shipping and was the Regulation under which we were able to prevent goods, which we did not want to go, from going to China and the Soviet Union.
He said that no one would object to that. I can well appreciate the difficulties of the mother in the Punch cartoon who said that only her Bill was in step. When I have been described as a minority in the House, I have entertained humble doubts about the accuracy of my opinions and I am bound to accept the proposition that abler men than I can see reasons for sending arms to Egypt and refusing to send gramophone needles to China—but I do not understand them. The only country with which we have had a war in the last two or three years is the country to which we propose to send Centurion tanks, destroyers and aircraft and to spend millions of pounds in so doing.
§ Major Lloyd-George
It does not make much difference, but Regulation 49 deals withCompetent authorities for the purposes of Part IV.
§ Mr. Hale
Regulation 46 or 49. Mr. Ukridge used to take "the big broad flexible outlook" on statistical questions, and I am following a former Chancellor in taking a rough view. Whatever the Section may be, that is the one to which I am referring.
We have a situation where we have 500 million people anxious to buy British goods, 500 million people in dire need of British goods—[Interruption]. The hon. Member for Kidderminster really must remember that the mere possession of a Jimmy Edwards moustache does not constitute a humorist.
1590 The Chinese people are importing goods from all over the world. We saw that only a few weeks ago in Peking when we were driving in a modern American car. That fact may be seen in the number of staff of the American Embassy at Hong Kong, which is composed almost entirely of American businessmen numbering about 100. The Chinese need many things. They need tractors and machinery for development. They need the heavy machinery which only we can supply. The Yellow River irrigation scheme is the greatest scheme in world history. Its magnitude has never been approached before. It will take at least 50 years to complete and a major part of the work in the next five years will cost millions of pounds. It is hoped to bring to a vast population new forms of irrigation, to constitute huge lakes well over 1,000 miles from the sea, to provide dams and electrification.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman casually says that of course no one will want to interfere with Regulation 46, because that is the one under which we stop British trade with China. If we question Ministers, they say that we are technically still at war with China.
§ Mr. Hale
Oh yes, indeed. The explanation is that although the armistice agreement has been signed there has never been a formal declaration of peace. After General MacArthur had made his mad dash to the Yalu River there was an armistice agreement, but we are still at war with China and China does not exist anyhow except under Chiang Kai-shek, who is stuck in Formosa with two million Chinese exiles. It is a good thing to laugh about it, but it would be better to cry about it and there would be more effect if we cried about it. Generations to come may have reason to weep about it.
The youth of China is growing up without having seen a British machine, without knowing anything about Britain and without seeing a British teacher and knowing nothing about our way of life. We are doing that by this embargo under Regulation 46. I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman to consult his right hon. Friends. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is better endowed with judgment and good sense—and that is no 1591 great compliment—than most of his colleagues and if he would talk to them in that fatherly way which he can manage and make a few suggestions, he might make a contribution not to the subject of delegated legislation but to the subject of world peace.
There is another aspect of this matter which is important and on which it may be necessary to spend a few moments. Through all these matters which we are discussing today is a constant reference to the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, and the power to make other Regulations. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was a little coy when I said that he referred only to the revocation of powers and the waiving of powers, but he has said nothing about what he will do in future and how he will use these powers for the benefit of the community, or what ideas there are in the bright brain of the President of the Board of Trade.
One of these powers is to assist the relief of suffering and restoration and distribution of essential supplies and services in any part of Her Majesty's Dominions or foreign countries in grave distress as a result of war. These Regulations were made, of course, during the last war and were made to deal with a much graver situation, when there were refugees all over Europe, unaided. The shame of the modern world is that those refugees are still there.
People are rushing to subscribe to Hungarian relief. Everyone welcomes that and hopes that the Hungarians will find in this country a great and hearty welcome and that they will settle down in the peace and security which has been denied to them. But a million refugees are left from the last war. What have we done under these powers? What do we propose to do under these powers? Why do we not give a lead under these powers? Goods and ammunition worth £40 million were left in Egypt because it was said to be a little difficult to shift £40 million worth of stores, but they added to Colonel Nasser's stock, because the War Office never thought of shifting them and someone else did not know they were there.
We cannot have a school in Oldham and we give to the International Children's Emergency Fund only one two- 1592 hundreth part of what we left lying in this Egyptian ditch to be pinched when someone decided to pinch it. It is incredible, yet Ministers can sit there complacently listening to these things. They have got so inured to error and to failure. They muddle and muddle on without any idea of the direction in which they wish to go, and certainly no idea of the direction in which they are destined eventually to proceed.
We have powers:to secure a sufficiency of those essential to the wellbeing of the community or their equitable distribution or their availability at fair prices; orto facilitate the demobilisation and resettlement of persons and to secure the orderly disposal of surplus material; orto facilitate the readjustment of industry and commerce to the requirements of the community in time of peace.Those of us who remember this Act, those of us who remember its provisions, those of us who remember the attack staged from the Tory benches on each individual Regulation from ten o'clock at night until two o'clock in the morning; those of us who remember the former hon. Member for Torquay and the former hon. Member for Tamworth using criticism which was reinforced by the present Minister of Pensions and others, believe that the whole intention of these Regulations was beneficial. Their whole purpose was to secure orderly demobilisation, to restore the world to tranquillity, to lay the foundations of peace and to try, in difficult circumstances, many things which we then did.
Now we have a complete reversal. We were very glad to abolish petrol rationing—the Tories have restarted it. We were very glad to arrange demobilisation—the Tories are calling up more and more men. We were very glad to reduce the Armed Forces, and here there was a point on which our party was not unanimous on certain aspects of the arms situation. In the main, however, we were all glad to reduce all these things. All these things were done.
Now, the Minister says, "Well, I am sorry, in a way, that some of these steps have had to be taken. I am sorry that we have had to use powers which we were reluctant to use. We have done it in the public interest." It is a very lame explanation from a Government who 1593 have been whistling to keep up their courage and saying to the whole community, "What you never understand is that we foresaw the whole results of this action before we started it. We contemplated all the miseries, all the horrors and all the lack of confidence, all the casualties. We knew, somehow, that, as a result of this the United Nations would do something which we have voted against but nevertheless think eminently desirable. We knew it would happen, and here is the result of our endeavours."
Did they foresee this? Was this one of the things that was foreseen by Her Majesty's Government a month ago but not by the Minister of Fuel and Power last week? It is a somewhat surprising state of affairs—but there it is. The Minister says today that certain aspects of rationing are not to come into force until 1st January next year, but with the present magnitude of the crisis the right hon. and gallant Gentleman might well consider whether 12 months is sufficient extension of powers to cover even the rationing. We shall have to have blue petrol, and uncoloured petrol before long, no doubt.
I have been going through an anxious conflict of mind, placed in a dilemma between my lack of confidence in the Government and my general approval of economic planning. I have been wondering whether I can trust such a wretched Government with powers which would be eminently desirable if lodged in a Government of ability. I have been wondering whether, if they have those powers, they will use them intelligently. I have been anxiously trying to find out from the Minister, and I do not use the term in the usual sense, though it is an ordinary term, whether his intentions are honourable or not. I must say that I am a little dubious of his intentions.
Having listened to the Minister and others on the Front Bench opposite and to interventions, helpful or otherwise, made by one or two hon. Members opposite, I have come to the conclusion that right hon. Gentlemen opposite have not the slightest knowledge of what their intentions are—not the slightest knowledge. They drift on from muddle to muddle day by day. They have faced so much criticism, and they realise that they have lost the confidence of the community. They know that when the time comes 1594 when they are forced to go to the electorate they will be rejected with contumely. Knowing all this, and appreciating all this; appreciating that nothing can save them, they drift from day to day, hoping that each day will relieve a little of the pressure upon them, and that they will be able to find in some relaxation other than politics that comfort which they are denied in this House.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
One would have supposed, listening to the references made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) to Regulation 46, that that Regulation had been brought into use for the specific purpose of continuing the control on the shipment of strategic goods in certain categories to China. In fact, the whole purport of his argument was directed to that point. I doubt very much whether he has read Regulation 46, or knows what it says; or that it was perpetuated by his own party between 1945 and 1951, and covers a whole vast range of goods shipped by sea under the general title "Control of Trade by Sea". Surely the hon. Gentleman could not deny that, in the present turbulent condition of the world, those powers are indispensable to any British Government, irrespective of its colour?
§ Mr. Hale
I am grateful to the hon Member for giving way. It may be that he overlooked the passage in the speech of his right hon. and gallant Friend to which I was replying. Personally, I am in favour of the powers, but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself said that these powers will not be abused, because it is under these powers that we are, at the moment, stopping trade with Russia and China.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I have written down very carefully what my right hon. and gallant Friend said. The hon. Gentleman is, as usual, twisting that speech rather like a corkscrew. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary said that Regulation 46, dealing with control of trade by sea, and Regulation 55, giving power to control import and export transactions abroad, and shipping construction, are needed in accordance with international agreements, and to control the supply of strategic goods to the Soviet bloc, China, North Korea and North Viet-Nam.
1595 That last mentioned is one of the facets—the control of strategic goods shipped to those countries—and I am claiming that the whole general control of trade by sea under Regulation 46 would be necessary to any British Government. It is grossly dishonest of the hon. Gentleman to attack that very desirable Measure. He attacked the whole Regulation, and suggested to the House that it was in force simply to prevent only the shipment of strategic goods to China. That is exactly what he said, and I say that he was wilfully misleading.
I want to say a few words on two aspects of Regulations 55AA and 55AB, first, in regard to the fuel and power position, and secondly, the specific references made by my right hon. and gallant Friend to the subject of jute. I would support, in present circumstances—and I think even in permanent legislation-powers over the use of our fuel and power resources so long as there is a continuing shortage of coal referred to by the hon. Member for Oldham, West. Except for two interventions, I listened to the hon. Member for Oldham, West in almost complete silence, and I do entreat him to pay me the courtesy of desisting from private conversations.
In present circumstances, I would favour the embodiment in permanent legislation of powers over the use of our fuel and power resources, for this reason. It is nothing at all directly to do with oil. It is to do with the fact that since the nationalisation of the coal mines there have been manifestly inadequate supplies of coal available to furnish the whole of our heat, power and energy needs, which is the fundamental reason that we have placed so much greater reliance upon imported oil.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West referred, in somewhat disparaging terms, of course, to quarrels that I have had with my hon. Friends in the past as to the nature of our national fuel and power policy. Those quarrels always rested on the simple proposition that it was better to employ indigenous coal rather than imported oil fuel, and the difficulties in which we find ourselves today are largely due not to the blocking of the Suez Canal, but to the inadequacy of fuel and power policy since the nationalisation of the coal mines in 1947, the continuing 1596 shortage of coal and the fact that coal has had to be replaced for energy needs by imported oil.
Today there is a curious situation. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power this afternoon announced a general proposal for restrictions upon the use of and allocation of petroleum products, including fuel oil, diesel oil, motor spirit and many by-products. They are shortly to be rationed. Domestic coal is also rationed. But the principal fuel on which the industrial production of this country most largely depends, namely coal, is unrationed. I foresee that the powers under Regulation 55AA which we are discussing this afternoon will certainly be needed in the next year or two, and most certainly so long as it is necessary to restrict by physical action, namely, by Ministerial rationing schemes, the use of fuel oil and petrol.
What is going to happen? The policy of the last year or two, which has been to encourage industry to swing over from industrial coal to imported oil, is surely about to be reversed? How can we continue asking industrialists to swing over to oil from coal when the oil itself is unlikely to be available? Quite apart from that, very large numbers of industrial plants have dual-burning facilities. They have facilities for burning both coal and oil, and if we are arbitrarily to reduce by rationing arrangements for the consumption of fuel oil, thus causing large numbers of factories, in the passage of time, to be short of oil for their production needs, those factories are surely going to swing back to coal, which was one of the points made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West.
Can we, therefore, sustain a state of affairs whereby oil and domestic coal are rationed, but industrial oil is not rationed? It seems to me that the Minister of Fuel and Power is going to find himself in very considerable difficulties on this score during the next few months, and I want him to say what are his intentions concerning industrial coal.
Are his intentions under Regulation 55AA during the course of the next few months to bring in some general restriction on the use of coal by industry, or is he going to proceed by a method, which I have always favoured in preference to direct rationing, which is to induce people to continue their efforts to use coal in 1597 industry much more efficiently than they have done in the past? That is much more likely to produce an economy in the use of coal in industry, providing that it is properly applied and there is adequate Ministerial direction and advice, rather than any physical scheme of rationing of industrial coal.
Passing from that aspect of things—and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power can give us some advice on that point—I should like to ask my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary one or two questions about his references to jute. I am sorry to swing so rapidly from coal to jute, which are rather widely removed from each other, but I have a special interest in what my right hon. and gallant Friend said concerning jute because of the requirements of the carpet industry in Kidderminster.
What my right hon. and gallant Friend said was:The Board of Trade also need these powers "—that is, powers that originated under the Ministry of Supply Act, 1939—in order to continue trading in imported jute goods until measures to safeguard the United Kingdom industry under conditions conducive to efficiency can be worked out.It is an interesting fact that is not generally realised in this House that out of the vast range of commodities that were bulk-bought and controlled by the Board of Trade under the Labour Government, the only commodity which remains directly under Government control today is jute. Why is this? It is evidently because my right hon. and gallant Friend and the President of the Board of Trade can find no alternative means of safeguarding the Dundee jute industry.
What happens today is broadly this. The Jute Control of the Board of Trade buys relatively cheap Indian jute goods, imports them into the United Kingdom, arbitrarily inflates their price up to the price of the comparable Dundee manufactured products, all of which is in itself an inflationary process, and thus the Jute Control causes both Indian goods and Dundee manufactured goods to be sold to the user at unnecessarily high prices. The carpet industry, of course, suffers particularly under an arrangement of this kind because it has to pay a higher price for Indian jute goods imported under 1598 Government control than it would do were it allowed to import these Indian jute goods privately and without Government control.
My right hon. Friend used the words:… until …conditions conducive to efficiency can be worked out.Why not substitute a tariff on imported goods if it is really necessary to protect the Dundee industry? It seems a little illogical to say that a tariff may not be applied to imported Indian jute goods, whereas it may be applied to imported bacon from Denmark—presumably because India and Pakistan are countries that subscribed in 1932 to the Ottawa Agreement. Presumably that is the reason which denies Her Majesty's Government the statutory opportunity of applying a tariff to these imported jute goods?
Whether that be the case or not, it is about time that this inadequacy of Government trading policy was fully ventilated and debated in this House. It is manifest nonsense for my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary to say that it is necessary to keep a particular Defence Regulation in force in order to safeguard the jute industry of Dundee. If that jute industry is to be safeguarded, the Government should do it by the proper method which is by a tariff, and should not indulge in this kind of subterfuge simply because the state of affairs has evidently passed unnoticed in the House of Commons during the last year or two.
I should like my right hon. and gallant Friend to deal specifically with those two points, the question of industrial coal and the question of jute goods which is causing a good deal of dissatisfaction to the carpet industry in Kidderminster.
The general policy of Her Majesty's Government with reference to these wartime powers, originating, of course, with the Defence Regulations in the period between 1939 and 1945, has my fullest support—
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am sure they will. They are always pleased to have the support of any hon. Member on this side of the House, especially where a controversial subject of this kind is open to 1599 many shades of opinion. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Oldham, West wish to intervene, or is he merely mumbling? At least, when I interrupt him, in tones to which he refers as "sepulchral", my tones are clear and can be heard by the hon. Gentleman. I cannot hear him; he is mumbling.
§ Mr. Hale
The tones of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) have, I agree, the clarity of a cracked bell. The hon. Gentleman has been flattering himself for a long time in his references to the jute industry. The whole matter was discussed in detail when his Government stopped the national purchase of cotton, which produced such serious results in Lancashire. We then drew attention to it.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I will willingly give way again to the hon. Member for Oldham, West if he will give the date of the debate to which he is referring.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I expect the hon. Member is wrong; he generally is. Of course an Emergency Powers Bill of the kind we are discussing today has had a Second Reading every year since the war because it is an annual Measure. I have no recollection of the facts to which the hon. Member refers. But, even if he were right—which I doubt—that is still three years ago.
If there is one thing I like more than another about the hon. Member for Oldham, West, it is that he is an honest Socialist, though misguided, and believes in all the paraphernalia of bureaucratic bumbledom and the vast number of Controls and officials which are necessary to it. He believes in all that sort of thing. I do not. I am over the horizon to the right of the Tory Party; I believe in unfettered free enterprise to produce magnificent results, and I only support the continuance of emergency powers of this kind because of world conditions today. Otherwise, if we must persist with one or two of them, for goodness' sake let us put them into permanent legislation.
What I was saying when I was interrupted—and I did preface it by the words 1600 "In conclusion"—was that my right hon. Friend has achieved a salutary and very satisfactory result today in pursuit of Conservative policy and philosophy. After all, in spite of all the sneers of hon. Gentlemen opposite, in 1951 there were 215 of these wretched Regulations.
§ Mr. Paget rose—
§ Mr Nabarro
I will give way in a moment or two.
Last year, on 31st December, the number was reduced to 69. At the present moment, there are 67, and shortly there will be 58. That is only slightly more than 25 per cent. of the vast number of Defence Regulations which we inherited in 1951. This, I claim, is a salutary achievement.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The hon. and learned Gentleman attends the debates in this House so rarely—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—that I have no doubt at all that he has not had an opportunity previously to listen to such dissertations as I have been able to give on Tory philosophy. I am sure that the abolition of unnecessary controls could not be claimed to be inimical to Tory interests or out of line with Tory policy.
The fact that 75 per cent. of the Defence Regulations have been got rid of in a short space of five years is, in my view, ample justification for the claim we made as long ago as 1950, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower), that we would pursue the policy of setting the people free. In my judgment, very substantial progress has been made in this connection during the passage of the last five years.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
It is obvious that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) does not discuss or look at these controls from the point of view of their efficacy or value to the community; he just says "Seventy-five per cent. have been slashed off and thrown away. That is progress". If the controls are needed, surely they 1601 ought to be kept on, and one ought to discuss them from the point of view of their use to the community.
The most important part of the contribution the hon. Member for Kidderminster made this afternoon was not in his speech but in his interjection before he spoke, in which he tried to show that the cutting off of our oil supplies to the extent of something between 25 and 40 per cent., whatever it is going to be., in the near future, does not matter a great deal, that oil is a very small part of the fuel supplies of the country, and therefore we need not worry a great deal about this situation.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am sure the hon. Member would not wish to misquote me. I will give him my exact words. I said that oil formed a relatively small part of the heat, power and energy resources of the country. That is a very different thing from fuel requirements, because "heat, power and energy resources" does not generally cover motor spirit.
§ Mr. Darling
That may be true, but the situation he is trying to picture to us is vastly different from the one given by the Prime Minister in September, when we were told that if the Suez Canal were closed and there was a halting of our supplies of oil this country would face absolute ruin and the consequences would be disastrous. What the hon. Gentleman is now telling us is in line with the suggestions of a succession of junior Ministers last week who got up in response to Questions show that we do not need controls, that the situation resulting from the Suez crisis is quite all right, and the flow of supplies of meat, fruit, vegetables, and raw materials of all kinds will still be coming in; our stocks are all right, and prices will not get out of hand. The fact that the Government have, surprisingly, included the price control Regulations in the control to be renewed rather suggests that junior Ministers were trying to keep their courage up rather than giving us the full facts.
In any event, the plea of the hon. Member for Kidderminster that what we need, even in present circumstances, is a greater degree of freedom, and that controls are still being kept on which, in his view, could be done away with, will certainly not be supported by industrialists 1602 during the next few months. It certainly will not be supported by the steel manufacturers who will, so far as I can see, face a shortage of oil for their steel furnaces. It will not be supported by industrialists concerned with the manufacture of essential exports, who may be getting into difficulties as a result of the fuel situation.
I would add another question to the questions which the hon. Member for Kidderminster has asked of the Minister of Fuel and Power about coal supplies. As I understand it, supplies of oil to the machines engaged in opencast mining have been cut; they have taken the 10 per cent. cut. Under the rationing scheme, the details of which I have not yet studied, so that I may be speaking here subject to correction, supplies of oil to the machines engaged in opencast mining will still be cut, and we shall therefore use the situation as regards oil, apparently, to produce a smaller quantity of coal from opencast production. This would be a dangerous practice to continue, and I think we shall need, under the appropriate Regulations, a more selective rationing scheme to make sure that the oil supplies we have and the fuel oil and industrial oils we are able to get, are put to the best possible use.
There are one or two other questions I should like to ask. I am not sure whether the Government intend to take sufficient powers under Regulation 55AB, the price control of goods and services Regulation, to deal with the situation which may well arise if the Suez Canal continues closed for many months to come and we have difficulties in getting the normal flow of supplies to this country of foodstuffs and raw materials which we obtain from the Far East.
We have many free markets now which a year or two ago were to some extent controlled. Unless the Government are prepared to intervene and use their powers under Defence Regulation 55AB to control prices and prevent the free market operating to the detriment of consumers in this country, speculators may well exploit the situation which results from shortages.
I noticed, for instance, that when a Question was put to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury last week about the effect on our internal retail prices of the 1603 increase in shipping freight rates, he ventured the estimate that a 5 per cent. increase in rates would result in, perhaps, a rise of one-tenth of 1 per cent. in retail prices generally. The chairman of the Wholesale Grocers' Association has said that a 10 per cent. increase in freight rates would result in a 1 per cent. increase in our internal prices. In other words, the chairman of that association expects a rise five times greater than the estimate given by the Economic Secretary.
If that kind of thing happens, if we are to get price increases which are unjustified in relation to the freight increases and the shortages that might occur, I hope that the Government, armed with the powers that we are giving them this afternoon, will step in to make sure that the public is not exploited by profit-makers and speculators. There ought not to be any division of opinion in this House about that sort of thing.
Therefore, I should have been happier this afternoon if the Home Secretary, in opening this short debate, had suggested that he was at all aware of the problems and difficulties that lie ahead and have to be faced by this country and particularly by those engaged in industry and trade. Apart from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's references to petrol rationing, which is a fact none of us can get away from, he was utterly complacent about the present situation. He seemed to have no idea at all that there were difficulties ahead and he simply passed off the Regulations, which give him and the Government power of control, with the attitude, "Well, they are here and might be needed." Had we seen some awareness from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman of our difficulties and problems, we would have been in a happier frame of mind in giving the Government the powers that they seek.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. David Renton)
I suppose that, strictly speaking, the only Question before the House is whether these Motions—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty …to continue certain Defence Regulations and other emergency measures should be passed; but the debate has covered a tremendous range of detail, some of 1604 which is not closely related to the purpose for which the Regulations either are being used or might be used. I will, however, endeavour to deal with some of the points which have arisen.
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) said it is fortunate that we still have controls. Perhaps we should be grateful to him for that measure of support, but I should make it clear that whereas both sides of the House recognise that there must be some controls to cover emergencies and to cover temporary matters which are not suitable for permanent legislation, we on this side of the House like to have as few controls as possible, whereas hon. Gentlemen opposite like to have as many as they can get away with. Perhaps I should add that when we have taken powers we use them only after very careful thought and in the public interest. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, however, have in the past tended to let them run on and to use them for as long as they could get away with them.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the general question of whether we should now be having powers to control petroleum and petroleum products. It might be helpful if I mention that the resumption of this power was obtained by an Order in Council called the Defence Regulations (No. 3) Order, 1956, which was made in Council on 31st October and laid before the House the same day. Since that date, the power has been used to issue two Statutory Instruments—the Motor Fuel Order, 1956, made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power on 6th November, the object of which was to prevent hoarding, and the petrol rationing Order, which is more precisely described by its proper title, the Motor Fuel (No. 2) Order, 1956, which as my right hon. and gallant Friend mentioned has been made today and, I understand, will be laid tomorrow. Each of these Orders may be prayed against and, as Mr. Speaker indicated earlier, it would be out of order to discuss details now.
It is however in order, I believe for us to discuss whether the Government need to ration oil or petrol at all and, if so, whether the best way of doing it is by Statutory Instrument under powers obtained by Defence Regulation or by some alternative method. As to the need, 1605 surely no sane person can doubt that rationing either is necessary already or very soon will be necessary. The reasons are so familiar to both sides of the House that I do not intend to pursue the matter.
As to whether this is the best way, I should like to say this. First, a Statuttory Instrument under Defence Regulations is the only way in which it has ever been done before. Secondly, it is, in fact and in law, the only method at present available—and as I have pointed out, it has only recently been made available. Thirdly, the only alternative that comes to my mind is an Act of Parliament. That remedy, however, would not only take time but it is less suitable for a temporary emergency of this kind. I therefore suggest that it is reasonable to ask the House to say in effect, by passing these Motions, that there was a need to take power to ration petrol.
I do not want to say much at this stage about oil and petrol, but perhaps I should deal with one or two points which the right hon. Member for Battersea, North and other hon. Members have mentioned concerning fuel and power matters. The right hon. Gentleman asked about industrial fuel oil and how the powers would be used. When he no longer has to remain in his place for this debate, I hope he will be able to get from the Vote Office a copy of a fairly detailed statement which has already been made available to right hon. and hon. Members. When he has studied the details, he will no doubt learn a great deal of what he wants to know, and perhaps at a later stage there will be an opportunity of further consideration.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we should control the price of oil. I should point out that we have never done so, not even during the six years of the war and the years which followed, when we had petrol rationing. We never had price control of petrol. My right hon. Friend has stated twice in the last week or two, in answer to Questions in the House, that the oil companies have given him an undertaking not to increase their prices without consulting him. However, as is well known, the matter is not fully within their hands, bearing in mind that they have higher freight charges to meet. Those are factors to be borne in mind when thinking of what prices should be.
§ Mr. Jay
The hon. and learned Gentleman will agree, will he not, that the price at which oil is sold is based on the Western Hemisphere price, not on what oil in the Middle East costs? In these circumstances, is a rise in shipping freights of oil from the Middle East really a reason for increasing the price of oil coming from the Middle East?
§ Mr. Renton
The right hon. Gentleman is tempting me to digress from the straight and narrow path of whether we should pass this and the other Motions. I think that we had better leave the matter where it is.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) talked a great deal about a planned economy and the need for controls for a planned economy. It seemed very strange to me that he has probably never had a planned economy for himself in the use of words. I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment. His speech appeared to me to cancel itself out, because not only did he want a planned economy but, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, he did not appear to think that the gentlemen in Whitehall know best. It would seem to me that the hon. Member for Oldham, West does not support this Motion, bearing in mind the immense amount of criticism he levelled at taking and using these powers.
§ Mr. Paget
As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) is absent, and the hon. and learned Gentleman has quite clearly failed to understand what my hon. Friend said, perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to explain that what my hon. Friend said was that he was strongly in favour of a planned economy but regarded the present Government, in view of their record, as obviously incompetent to plan it.
§ Mr. Renton
If we were in court we should probably say that that is a matter for the jury to decide. I do not think that it is a matter we should attempt to decide in this House.
§ Mr. Renton
My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), in a speech as interesting as his speeches on fuel and power matters usually are, asked various questions, and particularly about jute. He asked me, in particular, whether factories which have converted to oil will be able to get their oil. Their position is recognised and their needs will be borne in mind, but we hope that even those factories which have converted to oil will do their best to economise. I would point out that the President of the Board of Trade is of the opinion that the provisions which were announced toy the Minister of Fuel and Power today are not likely to lead to a decrease in industrial production.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster suggested that industrial coal would have to be rationed. As he knows, there are already very careful arrangements for the distribution and allocation of industrial coal. I shall not go into the detail of those arrangements because they are outside the scope of the Defence Regulations. Defence Regulations have not been found necessary. However, there is a satisfactory and fair system working at present, and one hopes that that system will continue to operate.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea, North suggested that we ought to use price control a very great deal. I would point out that we have no doctrinaire prejudice against using price control when it is really necessary to do so, but we have always taken the view that, generally speaking, price control is not effective unless we have rationing or a system of allocation very close to rationing. We do, however, have price control for domestic coal, and that is a power used under Defence Regulations, and will continue to be used so long as the need is there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster, who explained to me that he might not be able to remain for the whole of my speech, also asked about jute. I am asked to say that the extended powers are required because without them the Board of Trade would be unable to wind up its trading operations in raw materials, or to continue public trading in imported jute goods until appropriate measures to safeguard the United Kingdom jute industry can be introduced.
§ Mr. Renton
I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman did not follow what I said, but perhaps he may agree to study it in HANSARD tomorrow.
§ Mr. Renton
It is perfectly plain English. Really, the hon. and learned Gentleman should think of stronger points than that to make against a junior Minister who is winding up a debate.
I shall now try to answer the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling). He was asking about diesel oil for opencast coal operation. We have asked the contractors who are doing the opencast coal work to make this economy of 10 per cent. overall in their activities, and they are doing their best to make that economy. We hope that the economy can be made without interfering with opencast production, but merely by making economies. After all, economies are very frequently possible. We shall, however, watch the position very carefully indeed.
I think I answered the hon. Member's other questions, at any rate those of them with which I am most concerned, in answering other hon. Members, and I hope that with those explanations the House may now give this Motion its unopposed support.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
Those words which the hon. and learned Gentleman quoted about the Jute control may be meaningless to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), but those words mean all the difference between full employment and mass unemployment in the City of Dundee, which I represent.
§ Mr. Renton
I greatly appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said, and especially appreciate his coming to my assistance in this matter.
§ Question put and agreed to.1609
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-six, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-seven.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.
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-six, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-seven.