HC Deb 14 November 1957 vol 577 cc1173-94

4.50 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. J. E. S. Simon)

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-seven, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-eight. This is the first of five Motions which stand on the Order Paper, three of them in the name of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and two in the name of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply. I understand that each Motion has to be put separately but that it has been found convenient in former years that a general debate should take place on the first Motion. I ask your indulgence, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for this course.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I am in the hands of the House. I am perfectly willing for that course to be taken. I understand that after the general discussion each Motion must be put forthwith when we come to it.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

I believe it is the custom, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in these debates for that course to be followed. Speaking for myself, I should have thought that it was obviously the convenient course to have a general debate on the first Motion and for the Question on each of the other Motions to be put separately.

Mr. Simon

The Motions are for the continuance of various emergency provisions for another year. We have presented a White Paper on the continuance of emergency legislation, in which is a list of the provisions which we propose should be so extended, and an explanation of the procedure under the various enactments under which the five Motions are put to the House.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), on the last occasion when this matter was debated, told the story of the American jury who, after a retirement of some three hours, returned to court and said to the judge, "We want to know whether what your Honour said is really the law or only what you think it is." My rôle will be to tell the House what I think is the law that emerges from the emergency legislation, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will be available to speak at the end of the debate and will be able to tell the House, with the full authority of a Law Officer, what the law really is. But this emergency legislation is really an anthology of law, and my hon. Friends the Ministers of the various Departments who exercise the principal powers under the emergency legislation are present on the Treasury Bench and will be glad to answer questions as to their exercise.

This legislation had its origin in the stern circumstances of war. In this country we do not hold, with Cicero, that in war the laws fall silent. Nevertheless modern war calls for quicker processes than those by which a watchful legislature protects the citizen in peace time; and many of our traditional and treasured rights and liberties had for the time of war to be subordinated to the over-riding struggle to preserve them for all time. The provisions of the resulting emergency legislation were by definition temporary. But in struggling out of a world-war into the shaken post-war world, it was not possible at a stroke to cancel all that had been done. Further, since time had not stood still, it was found that much of the temporary legislation had some permanent good in it, and so it had to be retained until governments could assess what should take its place, and what safeguards should be added to protect our rights.

In these circumstances the post-war Acts set out in the White Paper were passed. With some modifications, they provided for the continuance of the power to govern by decree which had been granted by the war-time legislation. But, at the same time, these post-war Acts provided, as a safeguard, for annual renewal. It is this that gives rise to the Motions before the House.

There is a difference of view between the two sides of the House as to how far the life of the citizen and the economic processes of the nation should be subject to central direction. But I do not think there is very much difference between us that such controls as are imposed should be by traditional forms of legislation directed to specific objects rather than by blanket powers exercisable by Ministerial decree and under regulations designed for circumstances very different from those that obtain today.

I therefore propose, first, to tell the House what has already been done by the Government in the way of reducing the volume of emergency legislation—partly by abrogation and partly by replacement in statutory form—dealing specifically with what has gone during the past year. Secondly, I shall deal with these regulations which we are asking the House to renew, but which we hope will expire during the year. I shall turn, thirdly, to those emergency provisions which we are asking the House to renew, but which we intend to supersede by permanent legislation to be introduced during the Session. Fourthly, I will deal with the emergency legislation which is likely to be still extant this time next year—to indicate its purpose and scope, and also our long-term policy in this field.

Now I will deal with the reduction in the bulk of emergency legislation. I have with me the 1957 and 1950 volumes of Defence Regulations. The 1957 one runs to about 125 pages fewer than the 1950 volume, and also costs 1s. less to buy. Therefore, from the point of view of sheer bulk, the weight of Defence Regulations to which the citizen is subject is very considerably less today.

In 1951, there still survived 215 Defence Regulations. I think it is fair to say that hardly an aspect of our national life could not have been regulated by Ministerial decree. By this time last year the number had been reduced to 67, of which only 32 were substantive. Of that 67, at this time last year the House found it necessary to renew only 58. Last year Lord Tenby, the then Home Secretary, said, in moving similar Motions to those I am now moving: …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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1565.] We have, in fact, done considerably better than that. We are asking the House to renew only 42 Regulations, only 17 of which comprise substantive powers.

The diminishing impact of Defence Regulations upon the ordinary citizens may be in some part measured by the rapid fall in the number of persons offending against them. In 1951, there were over 6,000 successful prosecutions. In 1955 the figure had fallen to 251; and in 1956 it had fallen again to 167.

It can similarly be measured by the reduction in the number of buildings held under requisition by Government Departments. In 1951, 3,858 buildings were so held. In September, 1956, the figure had fallen to 376. This September, it was 248—a reduction on the 1951 figure of over 93 per cent., and even on the 1956 figure of 34 per cent.

During the past year Defence Regulation 60A and paragraph (2) of Regulation 59 were revoked on the coming into operation of the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954. The Sugar Industry Act, 1942, which was among the emergency legislation continued last year, was superseded by the Sugar Act, 1956. A substantial portion of the Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) Regulations, 1939, was repealed by the Agriculture Act, 1957, and I am glad to say that the remaining part of these Regulations will not need renewal.

Not all the 42 Regulations which we propose to continue, and the emergency enactments covered by the Motions, will survive for the full year; and I turn now to consider those in this class. Defence Regulation 62 gives power to the Minister of Agriculture to control the cultivation of requisitioned land, and to apply the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1923, to contracts of occupation: it is retained only to enable the Minister to wind up operations; and if all goes well it will have gone by next year.

The third Motion proposes to continue for one year the extension of Parts I and III of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Act, 1940, which modify the Wheat Acts of 1932 and 1939 and the Land Drainage Act of 1930. Part III has long been unnecessary, but could not easily be repealed independently of Part I. Part I is retained because the affairs of the Wheat Commission must be wound up before it goes. The Agriculture Act, 1957, will then take over, with a consequential repeal of the Wheat Acts, and the third Motion should therefore be unnecessary next year. The House, I am sure, will be glad that the purely agricultural operations of the Ministry will no longer have to be looked for in the volume of Emergency Legislation.

I now turn to those emergency provisions which we intend to supersede by permanent legislation to be introduced in the course of the year. These provisions include Defence Regulations 49, 50, 51, 51A, 52 and 85. These Regulations are now used mainly for defence purposes and to provide the legislative basis for carrying on open-cast coal mining. But the fact remains that the Regulations are, as the House knows, couched in terms which confer on the Ministers concerned a degree of authority which is alien to the political philosophy at any rate of those on this side of the House.

As the House was informed by the Gracious Speech, the Government have completed a comprehensive review of the emergency powers relating to land. We shall introduce legislation which will sweep away the Defence Regulations I have mentioned in their application to land. Such powers as are still needed will rest on normal, traditional Parliamentary procedures and no longer on decree. Further, in contrast to the type of authority contained in the Defence Regulations, these powers will be related to specified particular purposes; and they will be exercisable both on a clearly defined basis and as far as possible in accordance with procedures in conformity with the spirit of the Franks Report.

This legislation will also set a term to the "war period" which is prescribed in the Requisitioned Land and War Works Acts. In other words, a date will be set for the period within which all property still requisitioned must either be relinquished or made subject to agreements voluntarily entered into. Similarly, Section 2 of the Supplies and Services (Defence Purposes) Act, 1951, which enables highways to be temporarily closed or diverted for defence purposes, will also be brought to an end.

In the same class fall the emergency Regulations relating to patents and trade marks. We ask under the second Motion that the Defence (Patents, Trade Marks, etc.) Regulations, 1941, should be renewed. The Regulations give power to authorise; he use for the services of the Crown of drawings, models, plans and other documents relating to unpatented inventions. The fourth and fifth Motions ask for the continuation of provisions contained in the Patents Act, 1949, and the Registered Designs Act, 1949.

We have hoped for some time—since the Report of the Howitt Committee, in fact, which was published in June, 1956—to be able to bring proposals before the House which would replace these temporary provisions. Discussions have taken place with industry. It is hoped that it will be possible shortly to bring before Parliament proposals for permanent legislation.

I do not of course presume to forecast the views of the House on the legislation which will come before it in the Session; but it is certainly the hope of the Government that twelve months hence the House will have put to it only the first and second Motions, and under them a much depleted list of emergency provisions. I turn now to consider this residue.

I deal first under this head with those powers which are used to control the supply of strategic goods to countries which might, in our view, misapply them. The control of supply from the United Kingdom is derived from the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, which does not require annual renewal. That Act does not, however, provide for control of the supply of strategic goods situated outside the United Kingdom; and such control is necessary to enable this country to comply with its international obligations. It is therefore necessary to retain the power specifically given by Defence Regulation 55 for imposing prohibitions or restrictions on such dealings. These controls are reinforced by the Control of Trade by Sea (China and North Korea) Order, 1953, made under Defence Regulation 46, which controls the voyages which British ships may make.

Defence Regulations 50A and 56 are used for a very different sort of purpose. They make possible the quick taking of water for essential purposes, in time of drought, and the relaxation of various legal requirements laid upon water undertakings by pre-war legislation. We are considering the future of these Regulations; but I regret that I am at present unable to tell the House how soon definite proposals could be brought forward to abrogate or replace these powers.

Defence Regulations 55, 55AA and 55AB give power to control the supply and sale of named commodities. Regulation 55 provided the main authority for economic controls, including food rationing and raw materials controls. There has been a progressive reduction in the use of such controls, and their scope was considerably narrowed by the Defence Regulations (No. 9) Order, 1954. Since then its scope has been further reduced in some directions and extended in others. At present it authorises the making of orders for regulating or prohibiting the production, distribution, consumption, etc., of coal and similar fuels, petroleum, oil and associated products, iron and steel scrap, various agricultural products, and bread, flour and such "welfare foods" as dried milk and concentrated orange juice. Regulation 55AA is ancillary to it, and 55AB provides powers of price control. Regulation 55 also enables the Government to control the disposal and possession of a wide range of goods under hire purchase, credit sale and hiring agreements, as an integral part of the policy of credit restriction.

The power to control petroleum and oils is not now exercised. The developments in agricultural legislation which I have spoken of earlier will leave a very small residue of food supply controls still exercised under this Regulation. The other powers are likely to be needed for a considerable time, some of them perhaps permanently. A thorough review of these powers, as a basis for putting forward proposals for permanent legislation, must still take some little time.

Regulations 58AA and 59 of the Defence (General) Regulations are both needed. Under 58AA, the Industrial Disputes Tribunal is kept in being, and Regulation 59, by its one remaining substantive paragraph, permits exemption from some insufficiently flexible provisions of the Factories Act, 1937. These cannot be dispensed with until there is legislation to replace them.

I turn, finally, to the supplementary codes. I have already spoken about the Defence (Patents, Trade Marks, etc.) Regulations. The Defence (Finance) Regulations, 1939, have one substantive provision. This is primarily needed to supplement our existing exchange control powers over financial relations with other sterling countries. For example, the disposal of foreign currency securities by residents in other sterling area countries is controlled under this Regulation. It is also used specifically to supplement exchange control powers in Hong Kong, and to control certain assets of persons resident outside the sterling area.

Finally, Regulation 6 of the Defence (Armed Forces) Regulations, 1939, makes it clear that serving members of the Forces may be used temporarily for agricultural or other urgent work of national importance.

The continuation of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act under the first Motion will have the incidental result of affecting the continuance of the three other Acts mentioned in paragraph 5 of the White Paper. I have spoken already of two of them when I dealt with the provisions which we intend to replace during the year with permanent legislation.

The third Act is the Ministry of Supply Act, 1939. Certain powers conferred by that Act are temporarily increased by the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, and these extended powers are still needed to enable the Board of Trade to wind up its current trading operations in raw materials, and to continue public trading in imported jute goods in order to safeguard the United Kingdom jute industry.

That, then, is the picture. We are asking for the renewal of 42 Defence Regulations, only 17 of which comprise substantive powers.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and, 40 Members being present—

Mr. Simon

Of these, we hope in the course of the year that it may be possible to do away with five, dealing with land and agriculture, and we have hopes of disposing also of the one substantive provision dealing with patents. This would leave only eleven—which are, in general, economic—for further action.

This is a considerable reduction on the twenty-three substantive Regulations which the House renewed last year. Those which have gone or are going have all been looked at very carefully, so that what has more than temporary value in them could be replaced by permanent legislation. The intention of the Government to get rid of the remaining Regulations will, I hope, be clear to the House from what has been done already and what I have said about the future. In the meantime, we are satisfied that the Regulations and emergency enactments covered by the Motions are necessary, and I therefore ask the House to agree to continue them for a further year.

5.15 p.m.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

I cannot help thanking the Minister with a very full heart, for the wealth of information which he has deployed to the House. I must, however,—and I assure him that I intend no offence—accuse him of committing a very serious oratorical sin on two occasions when he prefaced a sentence with the word "finally." That raised my expectations very cruelly, subsequently, I am afraid, to dash them to the ground. His task in delivering his address was somewhat easier than mine in trying to absorb it. I have no doubt that everything he said was strictly accurate and right according to the letter of the page, for which I do not blame him in the least. I cannot think that anybody would think of delivering, ex promptu, a speech containing all the richesse which his speech contained.

Trying to collect myself in the face of the speech to which I have listened, I would say at once that, in principle, on the first of the five Motions that we are discussing hon. Members on this side of the House have no objection to the Government's asking for a prolongation of the powers which they seek. We should be much more interested in the use that the Government would seek to make of those powers. It would be hardly profitable—even if it were in order—to seek to examine, one by one, the various steps that the Government have taken in the exercise of these powers in the past, or even in the past year.

In the course of our debates on the Gracious Speech we have very thoroughly examined—and, from our side, criticised—the user which the Government have made or, as we would think it more appropriate to describe it, the failure of the Government to make use of the powers which they should have used in order to try to steer this country out of the manifold difficulties which perplex it at the moment.

This debate can perhaps be cut rather short, having regard to the fact that a debate in almost exactly similar terms took place almost exactly a year ago. The then Home Secretary explained to the House in words similar to those used by the Minister today, and with equal clarity and thoroughness, the powers which the Government sought to retain and those which they felt able to relax. That debate was on the morrow of the Suez disaster. Our disasters at the moment are rather more economic in character but, broadly speaking, the situation is the same; the Government, in a period of crisis, ask for powers which they apparently do not wish to exercise, but no doubt, they have good reasons for doing so.

I want to press the Minister a little more closely upon one of the statements made by the then Home Secretary in a speech from which the Minister quoted today—although he did not quote the passage to which I want to refer. The Home Secretary, speaking on 20th November, 1956, having referred to the powers contained in these Defence Regulations, proceeded to use the following language: 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1568.] I compare that statement, in its broad aspect, with the statement made by the Minister today, and I should very much like to know from the right hon. and learned Member who is to reply how far the Government now resile from that statement of the then Home Secretary. It seems to me to go much further than the statement made by the Minister today. As I understand it, he indicated the intention of the Government as being to abandon, in due course, a substantial number of these powers, although in point of fact they were not reflected by permanent legislation on the Statute Book. I should like to know, in particular, with regard to some of these Defence Regulations—the Minister gave an answer, I think, but I was not able wholly to retain it—when they are to find their place as permanent legislation.

Speaking for myself and for my right hon. and hon. Friends, I think we would recognise that what the Home Secretary said was, indeed, broadly speaking, and no doubt subject to qualification and amendment here and there, necessary and right. I should like, in particular, for example, to refer to some of the Defence Regulations which are contained in the White Paper that is before us today and which has been laid by the Government. Supposing we look, for example, at Defence Regulation 55. That is the Defence Regulation which is marked in the index in the now existing volume of Defence Regulations as the Defence Regulation designed for the purpose of the general control of industry. If hon. Members will be so good as to look at it they will see that it is extremely wide in scope. It was a Defence Regulation which, as the Minister said, had its origin during the war in a period of crisis. But it was found necessary to reproduce these powers after the war and to extend the scope of their possible user by various Measures, the Supplies and Services Act, 1945, and the Supplies and Services (Extended Purposes) Act, 1947, and a later Measure, too.

The purposes for which those powers could be used were purposes certainly conducive to the general public interest. They included promoting productivity of industry, agriculture and commerce, fostering and directing exports and reducing imports and redressing the balance of trade, and, generally, for ensuring that the whole resources of the community were available for use and were used in a manner best calculated to serve the interests of the community. That is the formulation of purpose as taken from Section 1 of the 1947 Act; and for the attainment of those purposes, Defence Regulation 55, which the Minister seeks to retain, enabled what is described as the authorised Department to do the following things: To provide by order for regulating or prohibiting the production, treatment, keeping, storage, movement, transport, distribution, disposal, acquisition, use or consumption of articles of any description. I simply pose the question, in the light of what was said by the Secretary of State last year, the question whether we are to anticipate in due course that the very wide powers contained in the Defence Regulation are to find their place permanently on the Statute Book. If they are, then I have no doubt that the Minister would agree that the House would want to look at them very closely and to see that they were set out in detail with the necessary safeguards, and appropriate qualifications on the Statute Book.

I should like to know, in particular, if it is the intention of the Government that the Secretary of State's purpose is to be implemented and, if, indeed, we are to see that Regulation on the Statute Book, when we can expect to see a Measure for that purpose introduced. Last year, the Government used that Regulation, I think, for the purpose of petrol rationing which they introduced following their mismanagement of the Suez situation.

The Minister told us today that the present use to which it is put is for the purpose of the control of the sale of strategic goods situated outside and not inside the United Kingdom. Never mind what the purposes are. If this is to become part of our permanent legislation, I feel that it would be a matter of very considerable interest to the House to know when that is to be achieved and in what form. No doubt the House will be most interested in a Measure for that purpose. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something about that, or, if the Home Secretary in the language which he used last year went too far, or, rather, if the Government have changed their opinion on the matter, that he will indicate clearly the extent to which the Government intend to relinquish those powers and when.

Presumably, if the powers are to be relinquished in part, legislation would be necessary. As I understand the procedure in terms of which the present Motions are launched, it is only open to the House by its vote either to approve the continuance of the power in toto or to reject it in toto. There is no way in terms of the present Motions to amend the powers which it is sought to renew. They have either to be extended in toto or rejected in toto. Accordingly, if it is the intention of the Government to resile from what the Home Secretary said then the House would like to know in what sense it is proposed to abandon these powers, and when, and subject to what qualifications, we may expect to see legislation for that purpose.

Another reason I think that we should very much like to know what are the Government's intentions with regard to the introduction of legislation is that any legislation designed permanently to give this sort of power to the Government would obviously need to include a number of safeguards in the way of inquiries, and so on, to protect individual interests and, generally, to make sure that the system functioned fairly and efficiently as between all persons concerned.

Perhaps that observation particularly applies to other Regulations which are within the scope of the first Motion which the House is considering, namely, the Motion which deals with Regulations 50, 50A, 51 and 51A. Those are the Defence Regulations which deal with the use and entry on land and the acquisition of land by the various authorised Departments which are described, I think in Defence Regulation 46, as entitled to enter upon land. They are not limited to the Service Departments. A number of other Departments, for example the Board of Trade, are also included. But, as I read those Regulations, the power to enter upon and to use land as embodied in those Regulations, does not make any form of public or other inquiry requisite of the type contemplated, for example, in the Franks Report which the House recently discussed.

The Government have indicated their intention of adopting in large measure the recommendations of the Franks Report, and I should have thought—perhaps the Minister will be able to agree with me—that when we see the legislation which is to make those powers permanent to the extent to which they are to be made permanent—and I think I understood the Minister to say that a number of them were—that legislation should include the proper requirements as to the holding of inquiries in order to assess accurately the impact upon private and other interests of acquisition and user by Government Departments of land for the various purposes authorised by the Regulations.

Perhaps that may be said to be so all the more for the reason that when land is to be actually compulsorily acquired as distinct from used and entered upon, the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946, has already regularised the whole of the necessary procedure. If a local authority or another authorised Department is to acquire land compulsorily under the 1946 Act it has to comply with the authorised procedure as laid down in terms of that Act. It is possibly somewhat anomalous, if I have got the situation correctly, that under the terms of the Defence Regulations—No. 50, for example—which are now being prolonged, land can be used without the necessity of similar compliance.

I thing I am right in saying—and I have before me Command Paper 7278 of 1956 and perhaps the Solicitor-General will be able to confirm whether I am right or wrong in this—that it has been recognised by the Government that there should be inquiries, although paragraph 46 of the Command Paper points out that, as the inquiry in the case of the Service Departments is non-statutory, there is no power to summon witnesses by subpoena, to take evidence on oath, or to charge expenses on any body or person.

I only hope that we shall soon see the appropriate legislation for that purpose and that the legislation will cover all these various matters, being matters which are within the general purview of the Franks Report. The process has gone on year after year, under both the former Government and the present Government, of renewing by Motions such as the ones we are considering the powers contained in these Defence Regulations. Without speaking in any partisan fashion or criticising either Government on that score, I think that probably on both sides of the House we would agree that on the whole it is not satisfactory to continue that piecemeal operation and that the Government should get down to the task of saying quite clearly in legislation which of these powers are to be permanently retained and which are to be abandoned.

I should have thought that a number of the Regulations ought to be made permanently part of our existing legislation, particularly a number of the powers contained in Defence Regulation 55. If I understood the Minister correctly, he was of the same view; and some of the powers in that Regulation at any rate are to be made permanent features of our statute law.

I think this is a debate which is not susceptible of great prolongation, nor would I attempt to prolong it inordinately. It is, after all, a short point. We have these powers which have been used, of the exercise of which we have had long experience, and I think they have been usefully used, although we would say in the case of the present Government not very wisely used and not very adequately used. Otherwise, perhaps, the country would not be in the very difficult situation in which it is today. That, however, is outside the scope of the present debate and raises much wider issues.

I am trying to avoid committing the oratorical sin of which I accused the Minister, and I would end by saying that on this side of the House we would have no intention of opposing the Government having these powers for another year. However, I should be very grateful if the Solicitor-General would be so good as to give such answer as he is able at present to the various questions I have voiced and the various anxieties to which I have referred, which, I can assure him, are very genuinely felt on this and, I think, on the opposite side of the House.

5.33 p.m.

Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)

I, too, intend to detain the House for only a few minutes, but I wish to say how glad I am to learn that the Government are intending to drop some emergency legislation and, where necessary, to implement permanent legislation, particularly in regard to the occupation and requisitioning of land.

This is really a question of democracy. I think it is true to say that at present the Government are mainly using these emergency powers for grabbing land for opencast mining operations. I believe the Government have told the Minister of Power to issue instructions to the Coal Board that the production of opencast coal should be maximised during the next ten years.

I do not want to argue against the production of coal by opencast methods. I think it is a horrible way of obtaining coal, particularly for those who are living in the vicinity, but at a time when we are still as desperately short of coal as we were during the war, and when we are spending hundreds of millions of dollars importing coal into this country, I think that a case can be made in the national interest for having opencast mining operations. Last year, 12 million tons of coal were produced by this method and it was done on an economic basis.

The north of England, in particular, is suffering from opencast operations. If these operations were conducted in the Home Counties, there would be such an outcry that very soon they would be brought to a halt, but, because northerners are prepared to face these terrible things pacifically, they are allowed to continue. I think it true to say that in Northumberland alone the Coal Board is hoping to raise 10 million tons by opencast methods during the next few years. I can assure the Government that the very word "opencast" sends a shiver down the spines of the agricultural community.

It is true that the compensation, both to owners and to occupiers of agricultural land, has recently been considerably increased, but nevertheless the agricultural community would much prefer to be left in possession of their land without having the horror of opencast mining imposed upon them. Although every possible step may be taken to replace the soil in good condition, we fear that the long-term fertility of the land may suffer. Certainly, better arrangements could and should be made for improving the drainage of the land when it is handed back for agricultural cultivation.

I would urge on the Government that far more attention should be paid to the amenity aspect of this problem, because in Northumberland the Opencast Executive of the National Coal Board has been conducting operations right into the middle of towns and villages and it has done so in the face of opposition from the local authorities, who have been overruled, and whose case often has not had adequate consideration. I do not think it can be either right or necessary for these operations to be conducted in built-up areas or near houses.

What is more, those who live in the vicinity receive no compensation whatever under present legislation. Owners and occupiers get compensation, but those who live next door and may suffer very serious financial loss receive no compensation. As soon as prospecting takes place, as soon as the rumour goes round that opencast mining is to start in a given area, the value of property inevitably falls and the individuals concerned suffer all the noise—right round the clock—the dirt, and the disfigurement of the countryside, which has to be seen to be believed, and their property becomes valueless and unsaleable.

Therefore, although opencast mining may be essential in the national interest for the next few years, the rights of the individual ought to have greater consideration than they are at present receiving under the Defence Regulations. It may well be that opencast mining is a paying proposition. All the more so, then, it should be ensured that every and any individual who suffers as the result of those operations should have adequate compensation. I hope that that point will be borne in mind by the Government when they introduce the permanent legislation on this subject.

5.41 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)

This is a great matter, though I do not propose to spend a great deal of time on it. The right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) was a little indiscreet when he twitted my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department with oratorical error and finished his own address to us by warning the rest of us to be short in our speeches. That is not the safest way of attaining brevity.

Sir F. Soskice

I hope the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) did not misunderstand me. I hope that he will speak for as long as possible, and I shall endeavour to listen with interest to what he has to say.

Mr. Pickthorn

That was not what the right hon. and learned Gentleman originally said. What he did say was not the best way of encouraging brevity; nor is unnecessary interruption the best way.

This is a great matter, and forty-four years are a long time. Many of us feel as much now as we felt then that, in the long run, and in a deep sense, emergency Regulations giving complete control over exchange movements are the antithesis of freedom. I still believe that to be true. Many other hon. Members believed then and still believe that the taking of land, and not so much that but the taking of easements and rights over land, has been done with gross disregard of the interests and feelings of what are sometimes small sections of the population but deserve to be treated humanly.

Further, many of us believe that the general right of the "gentleman from Whitehall" to know what the public interest is—a thing which no other gentleman ever has known fully and exactly—and, knowing that, to use methods of decree in order to control the whole or part of the commercial and economic life of the country, is a very great matter, but ought long ago to have been brought to an end.

We were very glad to hear how many pages had been cut out of the emergency Regulations and how many fewer of them there are now than there used to be. We are in the fourth Parliament since the war. We are glad that the Government have done as much as they were able to in the last three years, but that we should end the fourth Parliament without having got rid of the emergency Regulations would be a public disaster.

Upon one matter connected especially with Regulation 52 I should like some reassurance, if that is possible. It very often has happened since 1913 or 1914, when the defence of the realm began to be urgent, that a Department, generally a Service Department, has taken over a bit of this or that land—I am thinking especially in terms of my own home—or a bit of foreshore. Having been taken over for one purpose by the Navy, the land is hung on to for a different purpose by the Army, for a third purpose by the Royal Air Force and for a fourth purpose by the Ministry of Supply. I am not parodying at all; these things have happened. The way of life of small but considerable and respectable populations is very much interrupted by this process.

I shall be glad of reassurance that, as and when Regulation 52, and any other relevant Regulation on the same subject, disappear and are subsumed in legislation, that that legislation will take care that title to use does not go on from one Department to another Department under the Crown, that when the Crown takes some kind of right over land for one purpose the land shall be used only for that purpose, and that a new title shall be needed when other Departments seek rights over the same land.

5.44 p.m.

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

I wish to ask the question which I have put in connection with this matter every year, on the same point as the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) is postulating, the use of land by the military under Regulation 52.

For some time I have raised questions of the extent to which the Army and the Armed Forces generally are making full use of the land which they are requisitioning. Year by year I have had especially in mind the very large tract of land on the English side of the Border. Many of us have felt that that land, or at any rate a part of it, should be given up to fuller public access.

We are modest in our request. We nave never suggested that though most of this large area is in War Office ownership it should all be handed over, but we have regularly asked whether the War Office would reconsider the use of some of the marginal areas which it occupies under these powers. Again, this year I would ask the War Office to reconsider its use of this territory, particularly that part of it which comes within the newly formed National Park and which stretches right up to the end of the Pennine Way. It is a beautiful part of the country, and it would make a very great deal of difference in the Tyneside area if that fringe portion could be freed once more.

I take this annual opportunity of asking the War Office to look at the matter yet once more and not to give me quite as dusty an answer as I have had up to now. I recognise that the War Office has released some areas and I am delighted at that, but I hope we shall not get a permanent denial in regard to considerable parts of the area to which I refer, but the use that many of us want.

5.49 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Harry Hylton-Foster)

It would be a disappointment if the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) were not here to make his usual speech on this occasion. It comes back with the same fragrance and delight of good smelling heather and fresh air, which it brings each time. I can only reply that what he has been saying will be brought to the attention of my right hon. Friends who are responsible for these matters.

I can say no more than that, except what we propose to do about the powers of Service Departments in using land for training and similar purposes. We shall place before the House, soon, I hope, in this Session, permanent legislation to put those powers on a satisfactory statutory basis and give up the present use of emergency powers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) had the good fortune to say what he said about opencast mining operations in the presence of the Parliamentary Secretary to the material Ministry, and I know that what he said about compensation for those who have their amenities affected and the like will have been listened to with an attentive ear. As far as the legal aspect of the matter goes, once again we hope, in the course of this Session, to invite the House to pass legislation giving permanent powers to operate the opencast mining which is clearly necessary in the national interest for some years to come, so that no longer in this matter need we depend on emergency powers which everybody desires to get rid of.

The same, in substance, applies to what the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) was saying about the uses of land under the group of regulations which goes with Regulation 50. We hope in this Session to lay before the House a Bill which will translate such of these powers as are required into statutory powers and will get rid of the emergency powers which at present support them. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House, when they see the legislation, which I cannot forecast, will find that throughout it has been carried out absolutely in the spirit of the Franks Report and the recommendations made, so far as is practicably possible in the context.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will not forget that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in the course of a debate on these recommendations, drew our attention to certain difficulties which arise, particularly in connection with security matters. I therefore hope that the House will be satisfied when it sees the legislation that full attention has been given to the recommendation of the Franks Committee.

In connection with Regulation 55, about which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was asking, we made no retreat whatever from the broad statement of the then Home Secretary in the debate in November, 1956. I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman must have had it in mind when he referred to the wide terms of regulations which, in so far as they now stand, are very much cut down and limited as to the commodities to which they can apply. That was done by the Regulation of 1954, and in that state they stand.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also said that the House would want to examine matters closely in the light of the statutory powers taken to make these Regulations permanent, and very much is that a matter of course. They would be clearly a matter for close and prolonged examination. I think it possible, without attaching any blame to him, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not hear what the Joint Under-Secretary said on the point. Perhaps I might, though out of order, quote his exact words, because they represent exactly the position. My hon. and learned Friend said: A thorough review of these powers as a basis for putting forward proposals for permanent legislation must still take some little time. I am not holding out hope that we can translate these powers into statutory provisions in the course of this Session. The fact is that when we come down to the hard core of these emergency powers, we find that we are up against much hard work and also heavy demands on the Parliamentary time-table as we go along.

There is no need for me, in these circumstances, to detain the House any longer. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will find some delight in these occasions when we are gradually journeying towards the total elimination of emergency powers a long time after the war. There are two principal bugbears in the life of a lawyer. One is that he has to listen to so many of his own and other people's speeches, and the other is that he has to deal with emergency legislation which cannot be found, and which is sometimes ill-drafted and extremely distorted by revocation and amendment. Every time that we get rid of some more, I, for one, rejoice.

Question put and agreed to.

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

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

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

  1. SCHEDULE 217 words
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