§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Alan Green)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The main significance of the Bill lies in the fact that it brings to an end the last few of the Defence Regulations as such. It is only a few months short of 25 years since both Houses of Parliament, on 24th August, 1939, passed within the space of a few hours all stages of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act. That was the Act under which the Defence Regulations were made and which gave the Government the widest possible powers over almost every aspect of the life of the country.
The other day, I looked at the volume of the Defence (General) Regulations—which is the largest and the principal series of Defence Regulations—as they stood in the middle of the war at March, 1943, and I noticed that they ran to well over 300 pages of print. The Defence Regulations themselves were, of course, only the beginning of that story. The Statutory Rules and Orders which were issued under Defence Regulations and other emergency powers were vastly more numerous. Those issued in 1943 alone made a printed volume of over 2,000 pages. This remarkable chapter in our legislative history is coming to an end.
Hon. Members may remember, in broad outline if not in detail, the course of events since the end of the war. After V.E. day, quite a large proportion of the Defence Regulations were revoked within a matter of months, but many of the widest and most important Regulations were continued in force by the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, and by the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Act, 1946.
The purposes for which Defence Regulations might be used were extended by the Supplies and Services (Extended Purposes) Act, 1947, to cover the peacetime economic needs of the country as judged by the Government of the day. 1098 The statutes provided for the life of the Defence Regulations to extend to December, 1950. and thereafter for further periods of not more than one year at a time by Order in Council.
Within this statutory framework, there has been over the past 15 years a vast reduction in the number of controls and orders of all sorts, a process which, it is only fair to say, was begun by the party opposite and which we accelerated after 1951 as the economy gained strength.
It may be remembered that in 1958 we undertook a thorough review of the whole subject and we set out the results in detail in a White Paper, Cmnd. 563. We decided that the time had come to sweep away the emergency legislation—that is to say, the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, and, with minor exceptions, the Acts of 1945 to 1947, to which I have referred. We undertook instead to provide fresh legislative authority far such powers as were still required and to put a strict limit on their use.
There were at that time 13 substantive Defence Regulations still in force. We decided that five of them could best be embodied in separate legislation, that three could lapse without replacement and that the other five, to whose contents I will come presently, should be retained for a further limited period. Our proposals for this purpose were presented to the House in November, 1958, in the Bill which became the Emergency Laws (Repeal) Act, 1959.
In addition to continuing those five Defence Regulations, the 1959 Act continued in force certain temporary powers which had been conferred upon the Ministry of Supply—powers, for example, to produce articles required for the defence of Commonwealth countries and power, which had later been transferred to the Board of Trade, to trade in jute and jute products. The Act also covered the powers under the Ships and Aircraft (Transfer Restriction Act), 1939, to control the transfer or mortgage of British ships in the interests of national defence.
The life of the 1959 Act was limited to five years. As a result, it is due to expire on 31st December next. We have accordingly been considering which, if any, of these various powers should be allowed to lapse and which need to 1099 be continued either permanently or for a further limited period. We have regarded the question throughout as a practical one and not one which could sensibly be approached in any doctrinaire spirit. We have examined each case on its merits and considered whether the retention of the powers in question could properly be regarded as necessary in present-day conditions.
We came to the conclusion that there was one power, potentially a very wide one, which it would be right to allow to lapse at the end of this year. That is the power under Defence Regulation 55 and 55AB under which the Government can control the price and supply of any article if a shortage has arisen, or is expected to arise as a result of an emergency overseas and if that shortage is such as to threaten either our national defence or the welfare of the community.
We are not proposing to give up these powers without putting anything in their place. In a country as dependent as ours upon imported fuel, food and raw materials, that might be rash. The House will remember that we are awaiting Royal Assent to a Bill, which we considered a few weeks ago, to amend the Emergency Powers Act, 1920. This will enable the Government of the day to control the supply and distribution of food, fuel, light and other necessities in the event of an emergency arising, whether at home or overseas, which is likely to deprive the community of the main essentials of life.
These powers are less widely drawn than in the existing Defence Regulation powers and Parliament is given greater control over their use, as is clearly right in peace-time conditions. We think, however, that these new powers go as far as is necessary in practice or as could be justified in permanent legislation.
The Emergency Powers Bill to which I have referred deals also with another of the Defence Regulations powers which has been continued for five years by the 1959 Act. This was the power under Defence (Armed Forces) Regulation 6 to employ troops on agricultural or other urgent work of national importance. It is now being made permanent.
There was one other set of powers continued under the 1959 Act which we 1100 thought could be dealt with most appropriately in separate legislation. This is the group of powers, which I mentioned earlier, originally conferred on the Minister of Supply, and now on the Minister of Aviation, and they relate to the supply of defence materials and experimental work. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation is at present considering which of these powers he should ask Parliament to continue, and he will be putting his proposals to the House shortly.
For the rest, we thought that it would be most convenient to present our proposals relating to these various powers in a single Bill, despite the fact that several of my right hon. Friends are concerned. The alternative course of putting forward ten or so short, separate Bills would, I think, have been somewhat confusing, and it would have meant a good deal of duplication of effort since many of the ancillary provisions are common to most or all of the different powers. The House will have observed that we have spelled out the powers afresh and have not sought to retain them by reference to preceding Acts.
This brings me to the content of the Bill. There is a general point which I should explain: in no place have we added to or widened the existing statutory powers. In every case we have either retained them as they stand at present or have restricted them.
Clause 1 continues the Government's power to regulate the terms of hire-purchase and credit-sale agreements as one means of restricting the growth of excessive credit in the economy. As hon. Members know, the control operates in practice on the size of the down payment and on the period allowed for payment of the balance. Except for intervals in 1954 and 1958, the control has been imposed since 1952 with varying degrees of severity, dependent on the economic situation.
It is an essential requirement of the Government's economic policy that the rate at which total demand grows should be containable within fairly narrow limits. Demand must be allowed to grow fast enough to maintain a high level of employment but not so fast that the value of the currency at home or abroad is put in danger. The ability to forecast and 1101 diagnose current trends has been improving in recent years, but we cannot ignore the possibility that, to keep demand under adequate control, measures may sometimes have to be taken quickly, possibly on a substantial scale, between Budgets.
Moreover, even if the growth of demand could be counted on to remain within the range which is safe under normal conditions, it is always possible that unforeseen events at home or overseas may on, occasion require rapid action. Hire-purchase control, of course, is only one of the ways in which the Government can regulate demand. But monetary measures tend to be slow working, and fiscal measures are not always sufficiently flexible.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer fully recognises that hire-purchase controls have certain disadvantages. But they possess the important advantages that they can be used at any time and have a quick effect on demand. For these reasons, we regard the power to control hire-purchase terms as an important weapon in our economic armoury, and we propose that the statutory provisions should be made permanent.
Clause 2 continues certain exchange control powers which experience shows are needed to complete the powers available under the Exchange Control Act, 1947. The additional powers are needed to prevent what could become an unacceptable loss to the foreign currency and gold reserves of the United Kingdom.
The Exchange Control Act provides virtually no powers to control transactions within the sterling area, and the control which it gives over assets in the United Kingdom held by residents outside the sterling area does not cover gold or Treasury bills. The existing powers used for this purpose depend upon Defence (Finance) Regulation 2A, which makes no distinction between countries in the sterling area and others. Clause 2 makes these powers permanent.
The power to control Treasury bills and gold held by residents of countries outside the sterling area is not currently being used, but is needed in order to be able to block such assets quickly in emergencies. It is desirable that such power should continue to be available without having to call on special emergency legislation.
1102 Powers to control transactions within the sterling area are at present used in two ways. First, the existence of a free currency market in Hong Kong makes it necessary to regulate the use in the United Kingdom of Hong Kong assets. A direction was made in 1950 for this purpose. These assets may be used for ordinary day-to-day trading, but the control prevents their use for irregular arbitrage transactions. Secondly, since 1957 the disposal in the United Kingdom of foreign currency securities by residents in other sterling area countries has been controlled. This effectively prevents a loss to the reserves from the acquisition of foreign currency securities through the free markets in certain sterling area countries.
Clause 3 has two main and closely related purposes. Subsection (1) gives the Board of Trade certain of the powers needed to prevent the supply to the U.S.S.R., China and other Communist countries of strategic goods and materials. Our international obligations require us, in our own interests and those of our allies, to prevent these goods from reaching such countries. The export of strategic goods from the United Kingdom is controlled by the Board of Trade using powers under the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act, 1939.
But these powers are not in themselves sufficient to enable us to carry out our international obligations. Besides controlling the supply of strategic equipment to Communist countries from the United Kingdom, it is also necessary to prevent the sale to these countries of strategic goods located in third countries.
In addition, to complete the international control system the Board of Trade issue import certificates which enable other participating countries to permit the export of strategic goods to the United Kingdom with the assurance that the goods will not be transshipped or re-exported by the British buyer to a forbidden destination. The Clause will enable the Board of Trade to continue to exercise those powers which are at present exercised under Defence Regulation 55(1)(a)
Subsection (2) gives my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport power to prevent the building for foreign 1103 owners of ships which are either embargoed under agreements made by the Government or which are of a type which in the interests of defence policy at the time should not pass into the possession of a particular foreign Power. The particular types of vessel to which the latter restriction will apply will vary with circumstances and cannot be defined in advance. The powers are exercised by means of a licensing system. Shipbuilders are given general licences to build all kinds of vessels for United Kingdom and Commonwealth owners. Only when they wish to build a ship of 100 gross tons or over for a foreign Power do they have to obtain an individual licence. It is a system which I understand, in practice, causes little trouble to shipbuilders.
One hesitates to assume that the powers given by this Clause will be wanted in perpetuity. On the other hand, we must keep—and show that we are keeping—the powers necessary to carry out our international obligations. For this reason, subsections (4) and (5) provide that these powers shall initially continue in force for five years and that subsequently they shall be renewable for further periods of up to five years by Order in Council, subject to affirmative Resolution of both Houses.
Clause 4 makes permanent the present powers under which my right hon. Friends the Minister of Health and Secretary of State for Scotland by means of Orders provide a welfare foods service for the benefit of mothers and young children in Great Britain. Originally introduced as an emergency service in war-time, the scheme continued after the end of the war and has become part of the normal welfare services for mothers and young children.
Under the scheme, as the House knows, expectant or nursing mothers and children up to 5 can get one pint of milk a day, liquid or dried, at a reduced price. In addition, they can buy concentrated orange juice, cod liver oil and vitamin tablets at roughly cost price. Mothers and children of families in need can get tokens entitling them to milk and other welfare foods free. I doubt whether there is any Member of the House who will not agree that it is right 1104 to regard this as a proper normal peace-time service, and that it is, therefore, right to put the necessary statutory powers on a permanent basis.
Clause 5 confers permanent powers on my right hon. Friends the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland to control the maximum prices of medical supplies required for the purposes of the National Health Service Acts and to obtain information that they may require for this purpose from firms concerned with such supplies. These powers are necessary in those circumstances which arise in the National Health Service where the Health Departments are not the direct purchasers of medical supplies, but their cost is, nevertheless, borne from moneys voted by this House. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has a great deal of experience looking into these matters.
For example, drugs are prescribed by family doctors and dispensed by chemists under the National Health Service who are then reimbursed by the Exchequer. The maximum prices charged to chemists by their suppliers are regulated by the Voluntary Price Regulation Scheme agreed with the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry, but this voluntary scheme needs the backing of statutory powers to make it effective in the event of the refusal of a firm, possibly one which is not a member of the Association, to conform to its provisions or to provide the information upon which negotiations depend.
The powers now being made permanent are at present contained in Defence Regulation 55AB(1)(c) and Defence Regulation 55AA. They have never been used, and my right hon. Friends hope that it will not be necessary to use them. They do, however, believe that it is necessary to have them in reserve for the reasons I have given. They do not wish to retain the powers in Defence Regulation 55AA(1) itself to obtain information in respect of services required for the purposes of the National Health Service Acts. These powers are, therefore, being dropped.
The present powers extend to medical supplies generally, but as this is wider than is necessary they are now to be limited to medical supplies for the 1105 National Health Services in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The competent authorities for this Clause are, as I have said, the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland. For Northern Ireland, the powers are exercisable by the Secretary of State, who may, under Clause 21, delegate them as he considers proper to an appropriate authority in the Northern Ireland Government.
Clause 6 continues the present powers of my right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland to control the prices to be charged for liquid milk, but it specifically limits the powers to the prescription of maximum prices. The present powers, which derive from Defence Regulation 55AB, are used only for this purpose. We propose to take powers to control maximum prices only.
Hon. Members may remember that the need to continue the price control of milk—the only food still subject to this control—was reviewed by an independent committee—the Thorold Committee—which reported in 1962 on the remuneration of milk distributors. In view of the concentration of most of the milk distributive trade in a few hands, the Committee recommended that price control should be continued for a further period after which the question should be reconsidered, in the light of changes in the price structure which, they hoped, would make possible greater competitiveness in the trade.
The Government have accepted this recommendation, and my right hon. Friends are considering, with the milk industry, the implementation of various changes recommended by the Committee. But, as the Committee foresaw, some time must pass before decontrol of retail prices can be considered, and we are, therefore, continuing these powers, in the first instance for five years, to the end of 1969. The power may be further continued beyond that date, for periods of up to five years, by Order in Council, again subject to the affirmative Resolution of both Houses.
The next group of Clauses—that is, Clauses 7 to 15—together with the First Schedule, contain provisions supplemental to the substantive provisions which I have described in Clauses 1 to 6. I will not go through these Clauses in 1106 detail, because I do not think that any questions of policy or controversy arise on them. These are all provisions which we have thought it necessary to carry over from the disappearing emergency legislation and Defence Regulations. To take a single example, Clause 12, dealing with offences by corporations, follows the wording of Defence Regulation 91.
But I should make it clear that we have not just written the various Defence Regulation provisions into the Bill blindly. We have, in fact, looked very carefully at each provision to see whether it is really necessary to keep it or whether it could be either dropped altogether or narrowed in scope. In some cases we decided that the power could safely be allowed to lapse. For example, paragraph 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1959 Act provided that any Order made under any Defence Regulation should override any inconsistency with other Statutes or Instruments. So sweeping a provision seemed to us neithter necessary nor appropriate in peacetime legislation, and we propose that it should lapse. In other cases we have cut back the scope of the Defence Regulations provisions. For example, the powers of entry and search under warrant issued by a justice of the peace, which are proposed in the First Schedule to the Bill, are much more limited than the present Defence Regulation powers of entry and inspection of premises on a warrant issued by a departmental official.
So much for Part I of the Bill, which is wholly concerned with powers at present exercised under Defence Regulations. Part II of the Bill continues in force two further sets of powers.
Clause 16 continues after the end of 1964 the powers of the Minister of Transport to control the transfer and mortgage of second-hand British ships. These powers were originally granted by the Ships and Aircraft (Transfer Restriction) Act, 1939. They were very wide in scope—as befitted wartime powers—but the 1959 Act severely restricted their scope and limited their life to the end of 1964. These powers are complementary to those concerning new ship construction, and to the Board of Trade's powers of control over strategic goods outside the United Kingdom, both of which I described under Clause 3 of 1107 the Bill. We propose that they should be continued on exactly the same basis as the powers contained in Clause 3; that is, to the end of 1969, with provision for extension for further periods of up to five years by an Order in Council subject to affirmative Resolution of both Houses.
As they are at present administered, the exercise of the powers is not burdensome either to the Government or to the shipping industry; and it is our policy, as it is with other items on the strategic embargo, to keep the restrictions enforced by these powers to the minimum.
Finally, Clause 17 provides for the continuation of certain of the Board of Trade's powers in relation to jute goods. The power to trade in raw jute, which has not been exercised since 1954, is being given up, as is also the power to produce jute goods. This Clause provides for the retention, until the end of 1969, of the remaining powers to acquire and dispose of jute bags, jute cloth and jute yarn.
As the House knows, public trading in jute goods, through the Board of Trade Jute Control, is the means used to protect the jute industry in the interest of employment in Dundee and district, where the industry is concentrated. A good deal has been done, and is continuing to be done, to diversify Dundee's industrial life—and this is the right way to solve the problem—but there is still a need to provide some protection for the jute industry in the interest of local employment.
That is the last of the Clauses of substance in the Bill, and there is little more that I need say. As is explained in the Financial Memorandum on the front of the Bill, the Bill gives the Government no powers additional to those which they have already, and it will accordingly involve no additional expenditure. Indeed, the only item in the Bill which involves any substantial expenditure is the Welfare Foods Scheme.
I trust that the House will accept the Bill in the spirit in which it is presented—that is, as a realistic and practical way of dealing after the present year with these last survivors of the Defence Regulations and with certain other temporary powers.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I am sure that the House is obliged to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury for his careful explanation of the Clauses of the Bill. No one listening to the hon. Gentleman would think that he was lighting another bonfire. Perhaps this time it is only a little one. It is difficult to rekindle the flames on the ashes of the past.
The Measure in 1958 was a very different proposition. Passed in March, 1959, it was called a repeal Act. This is a repeal and re-enactment Bill. As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, this Bill or some alternative action is necessary before the end of the year because a number of powers in the 1959 Act run out on 31st December, and unless something were done they would automatically lapse, which would not be the wish of hon. Members on either side of the House.
There is no guile in the hon. Gentleman. That is one of his most engaging characteristics. There is not very much in me, but I am bound to be a little political in my introductory remarks. After the circumstances in which the previous Bill was introduced, I am sure that on these benches we shall be forgiven for looking at this Bill a little more closely than might otherwise be the case. Had the General Election taken place this month, as was generally expected, the Government would probably have left the Bill to the incoming Government. There would have been time for a new Government, whether formed from the benches opposite or from this side of the House, to consider what they wanted to do about the 1959 Act before the end of the year.
But with the postponement of the General Election until the autumn, I am charitable enough to assume that Her Majesty's Government thought that it would be unfair to do nothing before the General Election and leave an incoming Government, almost certainly a Labour Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is no good hon. Members continuing to pretend that they are not on the way out. They are.
§ Mr. Houghton
I repeat—almost certainly a Labour Government, coming 1109 in in the autumn, being left with this question of what to do about the 1959 Act.
I think that the Government thought it would be considerate on their part to do something about that Act before the General Election. As I say, I am charitable enough to assume that that was in their mind. Why have the Government thought it necessary to introduce a Bill on these detailed lines instead of a holding operation, an extension of the date 31st December, 1964, by a single, small, one-Clause Bill that would at least have given the incoming Government time to think and act without being committed on the lines of the Bill before the House at the moment?
In 1958, when the previous Bill was introduced, the Government by a Motion of the House, extended the life of many of the controls covered by the Measure for a further period of 12 months, or the date of the passing of the Bill into law, whichever was the earlier. I recognise that no similar method of extending the life of the 1959 Act can be adopted this time. It would need legislation. The question I am putting to the Government is: why have they chosen to legislate in this detailed fashion so close to the end of this Parliament, instead of providing, as an interim measure, for the extension of the life of the 1959 Act, and giving the incoming Government the time and the opportunity to decide what they want to do about the future of these emergency powers?
I said a moment or two ago that we on these benches must be forgiven for a little suspicion about the time and circumstance in which these Bills come before the House. In November, 1958, when the previous Bill was introduced, I think that it will be generally agreed—I hope to have the assent of the Financial Secretary—that there was a Machiavellian touch about the way the Government acted. The Emergency Laws (Repeal) Act, introduced in November, 1958 and which became law in March, 1959, was described by the then Economic Secretary, now the Minister of Power, on 12th November, 1958, as follows:The Bill is, therefore, an exercise in constitutional propriety.That was just pious humbug, because the cat was let out of the bag by the 1110 then Lord Privy Seal, now the Foreign Secretary, who, at the annual meeting of the Central Council of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations, had said—I am quoting now from an account of his speech in column 426 of the OFFICIAL REPORT on 12th November—that the Bill was intended to preventa Socialist State being brought in, as it were, by the flick of a switch."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 12th November, 1958; Vol. 595, c. 415 and 426.]The Times, to which we look for moral guidance in many matters these days, rebuked the Government for introducing a Bill with any such intention, because, they rightly pointed out, if a Socialist Government did come to power it would be by the will of the people, and an outgoing Government had no right to put any handicap or hindrance upon the activities of a freely-elected Government.
The circumstances in which this previous Bill was introduced led my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against its Second Reading. We challenged some of its provisions in Committee and we voted against the Third Reading. I do not know what it is in the coincidence of arranging the business of the House that brings obscenity immediately after emergency powers Bills on two occasions. The Third Reading of the Emergency Laws (Repeal) Act on 16th December, 1958, was followed by a debate on obscenity, and this debate is to be followed by one on obscenity. Is this a sense of humour that the Leader of the House has acquired, or is it just coincidence? Whatever it may be, it is of interest to note how these things happen. It may be an association of ideas; I do not know.
This Bill, too, is being introduced in the last months of this Parliament. On the first occasion, the Government had from 1951 to 1958 to decide what they would do about emergency powers, and they decided to do something in the last months of the last Parliament. This time they have decided to do something—admittedly, in present circumstances they must do something—and they have decided to do it this way fully and completely in the last months of this Parliament.
1111 I do not know whether the Government think that there is any political advantage in doing this now. I do not know whether they think that the headlines in some of the newspapers have been politcally helpful. The Times said:Most wartime laws to end".The Guardian said:Emergency ends at last".It may be that there are some unsuspecting people who think that the Tories are good for "knocking Whitehall in the eye" and "Down with bureaucracy" and all that sort of thing, but it would have been better had the Government introduced a holding operation instead of trying to legislate for the next Parliament at this late hour of this Parliament.
I now turn to the Bill and enter a protest. The introduction of the 1958 Bill was accompanied by a White Paper. No similar White Paper accompanied this Bill. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill is confined to a Financial Memorandum of only a few lines and figures. Yet in the newspapers, in The Times, for example, appeared a full-length account and explanation of the Bill's Clauses. Virtually the Financial Secretary's Second Reading speech was reproduced in The Times and in the Guardian there was a fairly full summary of the Bill's provisions.
I inquired where was to be found an explanation of the contents of the Bill. I was informed by the Library that there was no White Paper and no memorandum available to hon. Members, but there was a Press handout, a Lobby document given to the newspapers at the time of the publication of the Bill. Unfortunately, no copy of that was available. The Library got on to the Treasury; unfortunately, no copy was available. When the Treasury was asked if there was any hope of getting one by this afternoon, the reply was that there was no such hope. It is an outrageous scandal that Members of Parliament cannot even have an explanation of the Bill which we are to consider this afternoon, even though it was handed out to the Lobby several weeks ago. When is this nuisance to stop?
I will give this positive assurance to the House: under a Labour Government hon. Members will not be treated with this contempt. We will see that 1112 hon. Members are better served than this. We are entitled to have before us any explanation which is available of legislation to be brought before the House. I have complained time and again about this, but nothing has been done. That is all I have to say about that, but I feel very deeply about it because it is an insult to the House. Why should newspapers be better served than hon. Members? Lobby? Forsooth! Hon. Members cannot even have a document addressed to them.
The hon. Gentleman has told us that the Bill is divided into three parts—powers to be given up, powers to be retained for a limited period and subject to renewal, and powers to be made permanent. Consideration of the Bill's Clauses may be undertaken with better advantage in Committee, when we can look at them more closely, but there are one or two comments which I should like to make now. As the hon. Gentleman has explained, to some extent the powers to be given up are to be replaced by alternative powers regarding the emergency in which the Government may be called upon to act to safeguard the essentials of life of the community.
Prompting me a few moments ago, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) suggested that I should ask the Government if they would kindly say what an emergency was. I suppose that an emergency is what Her Majesty's Government at any time think is an emergency—if there is a threat, if there is a danger or fear, it is in the judgment of the Government to act to use the powers which an emergency gives them.
On the powers to be continued temporarily or subject to Parliamentary control, the subject of jute will certainly receive close examination. It rather looks as though the Government are proposing for the time being to retain the power to buy and sell jute yarn, jute cloth and jute bags and to extend that power only to the end of 1969, subject to renewal, while the power to trade in raw jute is to lapse at the end of the year. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the jute industry to be able to say how important discarding the latter power is, though I notice that 1113 it is said that it has not been used of late. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) will undoubtedly seek to catch your eye on this matter, Mr. Speaker.
Hire-purchase control is to be made permanent, along with a number of other very important provisions. We all recognise the significance of hire-purchase debt in the economy today and the need to retain power to regulate it, in conjunction with the other regulators of the economy which the Chancellor of the Exchequer may feel it important to have at his disposal; similarly with transactions in gold and securities.
I am sure that hon. Members on this side of the House agree that the power of control of welfare foods should be made permanent, though it rather looks as though, in practice, this is of greater significance in relation to welfare milk than orange juice and other welfare foods. A few years ago, the Minister of Health lifted the controlled price of orange juice and similar welfare foods, which are now issued at cost price. To that extent, I suppose, it constitutes a price control. We would agree that this control is now a built-in feature of our welfare services.
I now come to Health Service medical supplies. I feel rather ashamed to confess that I was unaware that this control existed. To think that I have gone through many hours of work as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, grilling the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health on this tiresome question of pharmaceutical services, drug prices, monopolies and the rest, without being able to produce the ace of trumps and ask him, point blank, "Why have you not used these powers to control the price of medical supplies?"
I have heard a great deal about the voluntary price regulation arrangements, which appear to have been more or less voluntary. Some of them have not been watertight, because there have been suppliers outside the scope of the agreement, and not long ago we were asking questions about the activities of certain firms who were outside the voluntary price regulation arrangements.
1114 The House should not only confirm this as a permanent arrangement, but should ask the Minister when he is going to use these powers. Safeguards, precautions, and other forms of reserve power are important, and sometimes very influential, but it is surely no great credit to the Government that they have never been used if circumstances exist—and I rather believe that they did and do—when these powers should be used.
One of the most difficult things to explain to e Americans is this curious hybrid National Health Service which we have. They talk about socialised medicine, but we know that it is not socialised medicine really. It is private doctoring at public expense, and the weakness of the Ministry in keeping control of drug prices lies in the fact that in the normal course of events the order for the supply of goods is not given by the Ministry at all. It is given by the thousands of individual doctors in the Service. When they write out a prescription, they give an order on the account of the Ministry of Health to a private supplier, and that constitutes the main difficulty about price control in drugs, medicines, and appliances in the National Health Service.
I will not dwell any longer on this, because I do not want to go too deeply into the merits of the matter, but it is clearly a power which the Government should have. I think that it is for the Minister to consider when is the appropriate time, if not to use it, to pull it out of the drawer and to begin to finger it ostentatiously during the course of negotiations with the other side. That might save him having to use the power. If he brandishes it before people, it may be enough. Anyhow, one way or another, something has to be done to keep under control the price of drugs and all the monopoly tendencies in the world of medicine.
The maximum price of milk is another control to be written permanently into our law, and I think that the House will agree with that, too. It follows the recommendation of the Thorold Committee that the Government should continue to control the maximum retail price of milk, and recent circumstances have shown that that is a desirable power for the Government to have.
That, I think, will do for my initial review of the provisions of the Bill. I 1115 hope that I have not made too much mischief in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but they cannot expect to get away with a completely clean bill of health in respect of emergency laws, having regard to the very doubtful ancestry of the Bill.
It will be for the incoming Government to consider the whole machinery of government, the powers which they have, and the powers which they may need, to carry out policies in the best interests of the country. We do not feel that we need to have any serious quarrel with the Government about the provisions of the Bill, although, as I indicated earlier, we would have preferred not to have a detailed Bill before us at the moment, but some acknowledgement of the transient nature of the phantoms opposite and the prospect of a Labour Government being elected in the near future.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) worked himself up into a frenzy of suspicion about the Bill, but when he considered its terms he had nothing but praise for it. The suspicions are clearly quite unfounded in view of the assurance given by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary in his very clear introduction of the Bill, when he said that this had been looked at entirely from the point of view of administration, and without taking into account any doctrine one way or another.
That must surely be the case when we come to the question of State trading in jute. State trading in jute cloth and jute yarn is a matter to which many of us who are interested in the textile industry have seriously objected for many years, and, indeed, it is the precedent on which at one time—though I am not sure now—the Wilson plan for the textile industry, and particularly the cotton textile industry, was founded. Whenever we objected to the plan, we were told by the party opposite, "You have a very good precedent in the case of jute. You have done nothing to alter State trading in jute cloth and yarn. How can you object when we extend it to cotton cloth and yarn?"
I do not believe that it is a good thing to continue this indefinitely. I do 1116 not understand why it has gone on for so long, and why it is to go on for another five years. I am not sure that it is really in keeping with our international obligations in the matter, because it undoubtedly breaches the principle of freedom of import and export to which we adhere rigidly when it comes to any question of protection for our cotton and man-made fibres.
It seems to me that to continue it for another five years for certain, and thereafter for an indefinite period, is something which is not commendable to this side of the House. But, at any rate, whether it is commendable or not, it shows quite clearly that the suspicions of the hon. Gentleman that this is somehow a slanted Bill—slanted in favour of the Government—are completely untrue. If anything, it is slanted the other way.
The hon. Gentleman found nothing seriously wrong with the Bill, and nor do I. The suggestion that we ought to have had a holding Bill, and then presumably this Bill next year—two bites at the cherry instead of one—surely is an abuse of Parliamentary time. My only small criticism about this method of legislating—and it is one which perhaps concerns my profession rather more than the House as a whole—is that it makes it very difficult to find out what the law is if one has an omnium gatherum Bill like this one, instead of Bills amending the subject matters concerned.
For example, on exchange control, in Clause 2, it would surely be more convenient, neater, and better for good order and government if that had been made an amendment to the Exchange Control Act, and so on, throughout the Bill. But that is a small complaint, and I have no doubt that with the excellent cross-indexing which we now have we shall get over that difficulty.
This is a courageous thing for the Government to have done, because a lot of the things which the Bill makes permanent are not altogether palatable to some of my hon. Friends. But with the assurance of my hon. Friend that the Government have looked at this not from the doctrinal point of view one way or the other, I suggest that we should pass it, and pass it quickly.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
I hope that the House will understand and excuse me if I concentrate my remarks entirely on Clause 17, which has been referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). This is the life-or-death Clause for the City of Dundee—part of which I have the honour to represent—and that is why it is in the Bill, despite the doctrinal objections of many hon. Gentlemen opposite, to which the hon. and learned Member for Darwen has just given voice.
Clause 17 contains the protective device on which the employment of a large number of my constituents depends. I want to remind the House and the Minister exactly what the realities of the situation are in Dundee and in South Angus. In Dundee, 17,000 people are still directly employed in the jute industry. That is in one medium-sized industrial city, geographically isolated from alternative sources of employment. If employment in the jute industry is substantially reduced in that area, people who lose their jobs in it—failing diversification and the provision of alternative jobs—will have to move completely away from Dundee.
Despite splendid progress in the diversification of industry in the area, dependence on the jute industry is still very great. Nearly 40 per cent. of the manufacturing jobs in Dundee are still directly in the jute industry, and if we add in those jobs which are indirectly dependent on the prosperity of that industry the proportion is very much higher. It has been calculated that of the 17,000 jobs in the jute industry in Dundee about 12,000 hang on the continuation of the jute control contained in Clause 17.
Having said that, it may be thought that I ought to be very happy that the Government have inserted this Clause extending the provisions of Government jute control for five years, until 1969. But I would have been very much happier about the position if it had not been for the events which took place almost exactly a year ago. I count it a fortunate coincidence that the Treasury Minister who has had the job of moving the Second Reading of the Bill was Minister of State, Board of Trade, nearly 12 months ago, when he came to Dundee 1118 and announced to the jute industry that the Government were proposing substantial reductions in the level of protection within the device of Government jute control.
§ Mr. Thomson
The changes proposed originally by the Minister last July were estimated to bring about, in the course of a year or two, a reduction of about 5,000 jobs out of a labour force of 17,000 in Dundee, and perhaps a rather heavier reduction in the constituency of South Angus.
I do not think that the Minister was surprised by the intensity of the opposition that was aroused by these proposals. As a result of that opposition, from many different quarters, the Government were forced to retreat from their original proposals. They set up a working party to look into alternative methods of safeguarding employment in the United Kingdom jute industry, and as far as I know that working party is still carrying on its considerations. At the time when it was set up the then Minister of State, Board of Trade—the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury—said that if the inquiry did not produce satisfactory alternative arrangements a uniform percentage markup would be introduced in a year's time for the equated and excluded goods.
I do not want to bore the House with the technicalities of this proposition. Suffice it to say that in clue course it would have meant a substantial reduction of employment in the jute industry. This is the proposal which, on the Government's public statement last August, is presumably to be implemented this August. My immediate purpose in speaking on the Bill is to seek from the Government an unequivocal assurance that, in the light of the political developments of the last 12 months, they are retreating from this statement. I want an assurance from the Minister that whatever the working party finally reports no decision will be taken by the Government to reduce the level of protection for the jute industry until the people of Dundee and the whole country 1119 have had an opportunity to decide what kind of Government they want at the forthcoming General Election.
It is a very great consolation to many people in the Dundee area who are not remotely Labour supporters that there will be a General Election very shortly, and that, whatever they may think about it from other points of view, it is likely that a Labour Government will be elected in the autumn. It is because of this prospect that we are entitled to a clear statement from the Government that since the General Election has been postponed to the legal limit of the life of this Parliament they will not make any new changes in respect of the protection given to the jute industry until the election has taken place.
That is the main thing that I want to urge on the Government. I conclude by reminding the House that in Dundee at least there can be no doubt about the importance of the election decision to be taken in the autumn. It is clear beyond partisan political argument that the level of employment in the jute industry is at risk if a Conservative Government is—in the unlikely event—elected in the autumn.
§ Mr. Thomson
I hope to prove it to the satisfaction of the hon. Member. There can be no doubt that it is the desire of the party opposite to make a substantial reduction in the level of protection for the jute industry. We had a very frank expression of the general view on the Conservative benches in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Darwen. He repeated frankly what the Minister said to the jute industry in July last year, but later solf-pedalled because of the amount of opposition that it aroused, and also because, regrettably, we had a by-election pending in the City of Dundee at the time.
In the debate on 24th July, 1963—in the early hours of the morning, as the hon. Gentleman may recall—the Minister made a quite fair and frank statement of the Conservative attitude on this matter, when he said: 1120… it is in the interests of the jute industry of Dundee that we get a change in the method of protection as well as in the level of it as soon as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1963; Vol. 681, c. 1698.]It is for that reason that I tell him that the jute industry is at risk if his party remains in power.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who has an intimate knowledge of these matters from his period of office as President of the Board of Trade in the Labour Administration, has made it clear time and time again, as the hon. and learned Member for Darwen confirmed, that a Labour Government would use the economic power of the State to prevent full employment in the jute industry being put in peril. Therefore, there can be no doubt that it is in the overwhelming interest of the overwhelming majority of people in the Dundee area that there should be a change of Government.
My immediate point, however, is to make it clear that because of the postponement of the General Election the Government should give the House a clear undertaking that their statement of last August—that in 12 months they would take certain action—will no longer be carried out.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
There was much that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. Thomson) said with which I entirely agree and which I support, particularly that part of his speech when he was not political and came down to the real bread and butter of Dundee and the surrounding district. I represent South Angus, which has quite a lot of jute, and the constituencies of Fife and Perthshire are also interested.
I am glad, in a way, that the working party has not reported. I hope that even if it does report—I support the hon. Gentleman here—no decision of the Government will be made before the General Election, because, whatever the decision might be, it would be likely to provoke a great deal of argument in the constituencies. I do not believe that it is right that at the tail end of a Parliament any decision should be made pending a General Election. I strongly support the hon. Gentleman's argument 1121 that if any further action is required a statement should be made by Her Majesty's Government now.
The hon. Gentleman became a little more political later, and tried to make out that the jute trade would be safer under a Labour Government than it would be under a Tory Government. I am not sure. The Labour Party believes in State trading and the hon. Gentleman has quoted his right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) as saying that he would use the economic power of the State to keep the jute trade alive. 'What does that mean? Will he nationalise it? Will he subsidise it? What will he do? "The economic power of the State" is a very vague expression. I very much doubt if the electors of Dundee will be taken in by an intellectual expression like that. What the voters of Dundee and district want to know is how the jute industry is to be preserved.
My hon. Friend has said—and the hon. Member for Dundee, East quoted him—that there may have to be a change in the method of protection, and that that is what the working party is trying to evolve at the moment. I hope that it will be able to evolve a change in the method of protection. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) does not like it. The Board of Trade does not like it. One of the troubles that we have always been up against is that the Board of Trade does not like it. I put to the hon. Gentleman this point that on the basis of theoretical politics the exception can prove the rule. The jute industry is concentrated in Dundee. In a very small and isolated area the life of 17,000 men and the life of the city depends on the industry.
It is the exception that proves the rule that private enterprise, broadly speaking, is better than State trading. I am not quite sure where the Labour Party stands on State trading. Are we in for a period of a mixed economy, or what? We know that some industries are to be renationalised. We have read such vague statements in Signposts for the Sixties, but we do not know' what will happen to a lot of other industries, and we certainly do not understand what is meant by "the economic power of the State". Does that mean, for instance, 1122 that the jute industry should cease to be economic, and rely on a Labour Government and the economic power of the State to keep it going, efficient or inefficient?
Personally, I think that the jute industry is now highly efficient £12 million or £13 million has been put into it. It is fiercely competitive with the Indian cloth that is coming in, with paper, and now with plastic bags, and it seems to me that, provided that we do not interfere with it, we shall be able to support it quite logically on the ground that it is facing very severe competition and is bound to be efficient if it is to survive.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will assure it that, if there is to be a change in the method of protection, the level of certain grades, at any rate, will not be reduced until 1969 and perhaps, by a further Order under Clause 17 of the Bill, after 1969. I believe that this is an industry which, by the very nature of its case and what it produces, is bound to be efficient to survive. If the Board of Trade takes away its protection by one means or another, I believe that it will fail to survive the competition not with India only, but with paper and plastics. The industry deserves the utmost help which Her Majesty's Government, or any Government, can give it in the future.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. Thomson) that it is necessary that the Government should not take any decisive step in relation to the future of jute protection until after the next election. I believe that it is absolutely necessary that we have this breathing space to find out just what the public of this area and the country as a whole think in relation to the protection of the jute industry.
If we go back to the Board of Trade's original proposals it gave three reasons why there should be a change. First, any of the substitutes would make it uneconomic for jute to compete evenly on the market. Let us take one or two of the points. We have paper bags, which are the chief contendent against it. The people who use paper bags will continue to do so whether there is protection for 1123 the jute industry or not, because they are approximately only half the price of jute bags. Therefore, the protection would have no effect whatever. Those people who were using paper bags now would continue to use them and there would be no incentive for anyone else to change whether there was jute protection or not.
We come to the argument that there would be another drop in the use of jute because of the use of bulk transport vehicles. Again, this would have no effect whatever, because this method is much cheaper than any other form of container for firms which can use it on a large scale. So there can be no question of substitutes having any effect on the need for protection of jute.
The second point made was pressure from India. India's total exports to Britain amount to only 5 per cent. of India's total exports, which is a negligible amount and would not influence the situation in any way. We have been told in the past by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East that it would adversely affect Pakistan if we took this step, so by placating one member of the Commonwealth we would be antagonising another.
The third reason which it gave was the decision of the Restrictive Practices Court. The jute industry case at the Court was, first, that serious and persistent unemployment would result if effective protection was not continued, and, secondly, that internal price agreements were necessary for this industry. The Court agreed with the first of these submissions and disagreed with the second. Therefore, there is absolutely no need for the Government to scrap the existing protection to the jute industry under any of these three heads.
§ Sir J. Duncan
The hon. Gentleman w ill make clear that, the jute industry having accepted the decision of the Restrictive Practices Court, there is no price agreement now.
§ Mr. Doig
I know that, but the Board of Trade does not seem to have accepted it yet. It has given no final decision. None of these three points is valid any more, so why do not we say that we will keep protection as it is and then 1124 everyone will be happy? The reasons for making a change have ceased to exist.
I wish to quote one paragraph from the judgment of the Restrictive Practices Court:The evidence which was laid before us, and the statistical comparison of operating costs between the United Kingdom and similar costs in India and Pakistan, left us in no doubt that the concessions envisaged by the Working Party of 1948 in their admirable comprehensive and valuable Report, as justifying protection of the home industry, continue to apply, and, so far as can reasonably be foreseen, will continue to do so.Even the Restrictive Practices Court recognised the need to continue this protection for jute goods produced in this country for as far ahead as could be foreseen to make up for the difference in cost created by the use of cheap labour which is still obtainable in India.
The hon. Member for South Angus asked whether a Labour Government would subsidise the jute industry. I wish to draw his attention to the fact that this Government do not subsidise jute. In fact, it is a case of subsidy in reverse. The Government rake in as protection money no less than £750,000 every year. This is equivalent to every jute worker in Dundee paying nearly £1 a week as protection money to the Government for his job. So the Government do better out of this than even Al Capone did in his heyday in Chicago. I do not think that there is any question of a subsidy, in fact it is the opposite. This is a highly profitable investment for the Government. There is no question of a subsidy for Dundee, Forfar or the jute industry; the subsidy goes to the Government.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have agreed that the area in question is isolated. Why is it isolated? Simply because the Government will not build a road to connect up the whole of the East Coast of Scotland. Even the railways, 100 years ago, had the sense to connect up the whole of the East Coast of Scotland with the East Coast of England. Whether we like it or not, three out of the four Scottish cities are situated on the East Coast. The two most difficult physical hazards have been or are being overcome by the building of road bridges over the Tay and the Forth.
1125 This has been done under a Tory Government after a great deal of pressure. It is the fact that despite this pressure the Government, through the Secretary of State for Scotland, have refused even to consider building a road across Fife to connect up the two bridges. Their plans for a dual carriageway road go as far as Newcastle and then stop. We have the farcical situation that traffic up the East Coast of Scotland gets to Scotch Corner and then goes to the West Coast to compete with the West Coast traffic on the already overcrowded roads there, until it gets into Scotland then it goes back to the East Coast again.
That farcical situation exists simply because the Government will not agree to building two fairly short stretches of good modern road. That is why the jute industry area is isolated. We can blame no one but the Government for that.
I think that the jute industry is efficient. It has fought for survival for 100 years. Regularly, people have forecast that the industry was dying, but it still survives every new invention, obstacle and competitor. It does so because of its very efficient research department which was paid for entirely by the industry. A vast amount of money, over £13 million, was spent on modernising equipment and plant on the strength of promises made by the present Minister of Defence and the Tory Government. After the money had been spent those promises were broken. No wonder the people of Dundee will not trust Tory promises.
Let us look at the statements made by the respective party leaders during the recent by-election and we shall then see in which party people in the industry are likely to place their faith. In a statement to the Tory candidate in the Dundee, West by-election the Prime Minister said:The people of Dundee have shown how readily they can develop the skills needed for industries which have already settled there. We shall strive to attract more industries to Dundee. But Scotland needs its older industries as well as new ones and we intend to ensure that the long association of jute with Dundee is maintained by an efficient and self-supporting industry.I am sorry; I should have said, "efficient and viable industry". I said "self- 1126 supporting" because I discovered that this is what "viable" means. Until then I did not know what it meant. I sometimes wonder whether the Prime Minister knew, when I compare some of the statements which he made with what happened later, and with things said by Ministers in the Government.
The next statement which the right hon. Gentleman made related to the Tay road bridge; that work had started on it and would be of great importance to Dundee. It would provide a direct road to the South and be a boon to industry setting up in the area. But the direct road to the South has a big gap in it where there is not a good road. When we asked Ministers of the Government what they were proposing to do about the gap, in view of what the Prime Minister had said, we found that they had no plans to do anything. So this direct road to the South seems to me something about which the Prime Minister did not know. He had forgotten that there is a county called Fife and that a good road is required from Edinburgh to Newcastle.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the development of skills needed in respect of industries already settled in Dundee. It was fortunate for the people of Dundee that there was a Labour Government after the war. That was when the new industries came to Dundee and it was the result of legislation passed by the Government of that time. Most of the industry which has come to Dundee since then and in the lifetime of this Parliament consists of extension of industries which came during the period of office of the Labour Government. It is not possible to extend something which was not there already, and if the Labour Government had not successfully attracted industry to the area there could have been no extension.
It would be interesting to discover—I shall put down a Parliamentary Question in order to do so—how many new industries as distinct from extensions of existing industries have come to Dundee during the 12 years that this Government have been in office. The figure would be found to be surprisingly small. No wonder the Prime Minister said that the people of Dundee have to continue with the existing and older industries. It is certainly necessary that this should be so, if Dundee is to be a prosperous area. 1127 Let us contrast this rather vague statement by the Prime Minister with what Harold Wilson said when he sent me a message during the by-election.
§ Mr. Doig
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. As I was saying, I would contrast with the Prime Minister's statement the letter which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition sent to me at that time. In it, he said:Not only shall we use Government power to prevent low-cost imports from ruining the jute industry on which the welfare of Dundee still largely depends. Labour's long-term plan for Scotland will also mean that if private firms fail to provide enough new jobs in places like Dundee … then we shall not hesitate to establish new publicly-pioneered enterprises.So we conceive that there is a vast difference between what the Leaders of the respective parties have to say in relation to this area.
We had an example during Question Time today, when the Minister of Aviation was talking about providing a vast airport for London, an area already tremendously overcrowded. Instead of taking some of the jobs away from London, the Government are making plans for introducing new developments there which will attract more industries to it. Yet when the Government say that they want to attract more industries to Dundee they do not do so. They give us no connecting roads and no airports. The City of Dundee has had to try to provide an airstrip for businessmen who want to use aircraft for their journeys. This is far more expensive. Up to now the Government have done absolutely nothing to help Dundee. There is no doubt, therefore, that the interests of the people of Dundee will be far better looked after under a Labour Government than under a Tory Government.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
In 12 years in the House I have never dared to enter a debate which was mostly devoted to Scotland, but this is a debate that really does not apply to Scotland except under one Clause in the Bill. I therefore feel that I shall not be transgressing and become an automatic 1128 member of the Scottish Grand Committee by intervening, particularly as I have some very pleasant recollections of being stationed with the 52nd Division in Dundee during the war, where I ran a concert and raised £250 for the Dundee P.O.W. organisation.
I rise, strangely enough, to oppose what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) has said on the matter of jute. I think that the exception proves the rule and that there is a strong case for the jute industry. I am sure that it would be wrong if the impression went out as a result of this debate that the Opposition held this view very strongly and that we did not. On the other hand, I think that there is a great deal in what the Government suggested when my hon. Friend was Minister of State, Board of Trade, because one difficulty about protection from overseas competition is that if protective duties are too high and, therefore, one increases the price of the commodity on the internal market above the price of competing commodities, one does not increase the employment and the turnover in the industry but reduces them.
It is also essential in any industry which enjoys protection from overseas competition that there must be no suspicion of co-ordination and marketing practice. The only way in which protection from overseas competition can be justified is by ensuring that there is competition in that commodity on the internal market. I think that that situation is now beginning to apply in the jute industry for the fact that my hon. Friend when he was at the Board of Trade had to look into this shows that the situation was not as desperate as the picture of competition which the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) painted this afternoon. In fact, the hon. Gentleman gave the game away when he quoted what the Restrictive Practices Court said. One cannot have it both ways. The fact that it is all right now that the restrictive practice has been done away with shows clearly that before that happened the competition was not so keen.
I think that if the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) goes into the Library and looks at the map he will see that the shortest distance from Scotch Corner to Dundee is through Carlisle and not Berwick-on-Tweed.
§ Sir D. Glover
No, the hon. Gentleman said that there was no road through Newcastle. The shortest route from Scotch Corner is, in fact, to switch over to the West Coast and then back to the East Coast. It is a shorter route.
The other point I want to raise on the Bill is about Clause 5. Quite honestly, I am surprised that the Minister has thought it right to make this Clause a permanent part of our legislation. I agree that under certain conditions these emergency powers for medical supplies are probably justified, but as the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who is no longer in his place, said, as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, that he was not aware that these regulations were available for use if required, it is quite obvious that they have been used so infrequently in years gone by that we have been able to run the Health Service and the medical drugs scheme for that, Service without calling on the powers available under Clause 5. As we have been able to do that up to now, I should like a further explanation from my hon. Friend as to why, if these powers have not been used hitherto, it is still felt necessary to change them into permanent legislation. That is all I have to say.
I think that most of the matters raised in the Emergency Laws (Re-enactments and Repeals) Bill are good and justified. The only thing that surprises me is that the hon. Member for Sowerby, after being a leading spokesman on financial affairs for the party opposite for 13 years, does not seem to have reached any conclusion as to what should happen over these matters. It seems to be thought that we should bring in some hotch-potch and holding operation so that if disaster struck the country and the party opposite came to power it could take several years thinking what to do. I think that we should take action in the matter, but I should like to have more information about the medical supplies.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I think that the form and substance of this Measure is interesting from one general point of view. What the Government claim to have done is to have gone 1130 through the Defence Regulations and preserved in the form of Clauses in this Bill those which are still required. When I look at Clauses 1 to 6 I find that every single one of them is, as one would expect, a Clause providing for delegated legislation, and when we are told that there is something unnecessary and oppressive in this, I think I am entitled to look at the Government's view in this matter. They seem to think that some sweeping controls are necessary. I am not saying that I disagree with them, but if we look at the language of Clause 2, which deals with the Treasury's financial controls over securities, gold and so on, we find that not only are securities very widely defined but that the Clause gives exceedingly sweeping powers under very general terms.
I have no objection to this. I think that control of that sort is necessary and I am glad that the Government recognise it. However, I sometimes wish that they would stop talking nonsense about the perils of having controls and the perils of making Orders. Masses of Orders come to this House week by week from various Government Departments, and some of them, by the nature of the case, produce more than others. Under modern conditions Order-making powers of that character are necessary. What we in Parliament have to do is to see that we keep some control over them in the form of the present arrangements about affirmative or negative procedure and to look at the procedure itself from time to time to see if it is sufficient to give effective democratic control over these masses of Orders.
A great many of them are local matters and are done under a general authority given by some Statute or other by Parliament. Probably it would be very rare to find an occasion on which Orders of that character have to be examined. Even there, however, one notices that there is a need for a check. The Statutory Instruments Committee from time to time rightly and properly calls our attention to some excess of power or some failure to carry out proper procedure. I accept and note that the Government themselves, facing the problem, have considered it necessary to continue in the form of Clauses in a Bill very sweeping powers. Some may be most sweeping, but all are by no means 1131 limited. They contain in several cases general words which no doubt refer to existing powers which have not necessarily been used.
In answer to the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) and others, it does not seem a definite argument that when a power has not been in use for some time it is, therefore, unnecessary. The unused powers may be necessary as deterrents. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) quite clearly pointed that out. I do not think that the hon. Member for Ormskirk can have heard that part of his speech. One can think of many instances where that is obvious other than those which arise directly under this Bill. I always remember the story of a solicitor who had to deal with a rather tiresome person against whom the solicitor's client had some rights, and who was thought to be protected by the Statute of Limitations. At the critical moment the solicitor—a rather astute gentleman—pulled out a drawer in his desk and produced the writ which he had taken care to issue during the statutory period, thereby depriving his peccant opponent of the thought that his case was completely watertight.
I am not going into details about jute. I do not know enough about them. True enough, I had a relative by marriage who once inspected the Dundee sewers and found them extremely attractive because they had a most engaging mixed smell of jute and oranges. That does not entitle me to pretend to a great knowledge of the industry as it now is. A power is being used avowedly by the Government to protect the industry itself. It may be efficient in some senses and in some inefficient. I am not concerned with that, but the power exists to deal with jute as a method of practically fixing the price, but a power is being dropped because at the moment it is unnecessary. That is the power to deal with raw jute.
I do not want to go into this at great length now—it is perhaps much more of a Committee point—but at a moment when unemployment is serious in Dundee the existing remedy may not be sufficient. At a moment when a working party is considering the whole question, I should have thought it far safer to retain the power in relation to raw jute as well as 1132 in relation to manufactured jute. There is no harm in keeping the power for the time being, even if it is not used. It is very much better in a matter of this sort where men's jobs and livelihood are at stake to keep existing powers, even if we do not need to use some of them, than to drop them. This is a human problem. I regret that the Government have chosen this moment to drop that particular power.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am not certain if I understood the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) rightly, but I think he and everyone in this House, including members of the Government, are for once agreed that the powers to deal with manufactured jute—and in effect to deal with the price of manufactured jute—are needed. The question is whether the power in relation to raw jute should be retained. That, I understand, was introduced during the war and was partly dropped, I am told, as a result of a compromise between those who wanted to drop it entirely and those who wanted to keep it. It is a pity that that power should be dropped now.
§ Sir J. Duncan
I think the reason for the power being put on during the war was to save shipping. To bring in the needed amount, shipping had to be organised, but that no longer applies. The industry does not want this power to continue.
§ Mr. Mitchison
We are dealing with men's work and livelihood. There is an existing power and a working party is considering the whole question. I should have thought that in the circumstances it was a mistake to drop that power at the moment.
That leads me to a broad consideration of the whole business of the Bill. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby that it would have been better to have left the selection of what was to be kept and what was to be dropped to the Government, of whatever colour, that there will be after the General Election. That would have needed a short general continuation Bill for the time being, but there ought to be no difficulty about that. The Government are making a selection now, but 1133 they do not know—as none of us knows—whether the next Government will be formed from hon. Members opposite or from hon. Members on this side of the House. In those circumstances, it would have been far better to have left the selection to the new Government.
I cannot see a new Government from this side of the House feeling itself in any way tied by the particular selection that the present Government have made. It may be more inconvenient to have to deal with the matter again, but it certainly will have to be looked at—and looked at, I think, without any acceptance of the present Government's selection one way or the other. I say that because I can see no reason to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. There may be objections in Committee, but that is another matter. I do not want it to be thought, however, that because we do not oppose the Second Reading we necessarily agree with what the Government have done either by bringing forward this Measure at this moment or by their selection. Perhaps they did not want to be overtaken by the Obscene Publications Bill, as they appear to have been overtaken by a similar Measure last time. We are equally critical because we think that some of the things they propose to drop by this Bill may not be safe to drop at the moment.
There it is. We on this side of the House feel critical in many respects but not on points which we feel involved opposition on Second Reading. May I add one concluding remark? My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby suggested that there ought to be some definition of the word "emergency". Curiously enough, the only place in which the word "emergency" occurs in the Bill, as far as I can see, is in the Title, and perhaps that does not matter quite so much. In many cases these Regulations were brought in to deal with an emergency, and the use of the word caused a good deal of difficulty. The Attorney-General will no doubt call my attention to the existence of the word elsewhere in the Bill if it is there, but otherwise he would not wish to do what was done once before in a Government Bill—define with precision a word which did not occur in it.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir John Hobson)
I have no intention of endeavouring to define a word which does not occur in the Bill—to deal with the last point first. All these emergency powers are linked with the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, which gives Her Majesty power by Proclamation to declare an emergency. When we are talking of emergency powers or of emergencies in relation to those powers, it is in connection with the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, and the declaration by Proclamation of an emergency that they must be read.
Both the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Michison) have drawn attention to the historical fact that we always seem to discuss this topic in conjunction with the Obscene Publications Bill. The last occasion was the Third Reading of the Emergency Laws (Repeal) Bill on 16th December, 1958, when Mr. Speaker himself, in a different capacity, addressed himself to both topics. History has repeated itself today in a matter of light and shade. One could not say that either the subject or the speeches of today's debate were all airs and graces, but it is nevertheless almost impossible to inject into the subject matter which we are debating any relevant obscenity except by way of an expletive.
An interesting historical connection struck the hon. Member for Sowerby, who showed great anxiety in that what had occurred in 1959 might have been only the prelude to a General Election and a result which he did not like in 1959. While we have to await the events of a General Election, perhaps in that respect, too, history may repeat itself.
It may well be that we ought to glance back at the history of these matters. This is no more than a minor clearing up operation in a long legislative history which began at the outbreak of the war in September, 1939. The country was to a great extent controlled, organised and run by Defence Regulations throughout the war. The Labour Government after the war got rid of a very large number of those Defence Regulations which ceased to be necessary, but nevertheless, in October, 1951 there were 215 Regulations still in existence, including the 1135 powers of controlling production, of controlling distribution, of controlling consumption and of controlling the prices of goods of any kind whatever, if the Government thought it necessary. They operated at that time on most foods, including sweets, and on soap and bread. They operated on coal, on petrol, on utility goods and on many other products. Apart from the control of goods there was extensive control of services. Building licences were still in existence. One could regulate the terms and conditions of workers in essential industries, and there was power to prohibit strikes and lock-outs. There was control of the use of agricultural land and control of the use and movement of British ships.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering said that the Bill showed only that the Conservative Government, when they thought necessary, supported controls and delegated legislation. But there is a marked difference in substance and in spirit between a system of general control of industry, of the economic life of the country and of the way in which individuals can behave by a system of regulation, on the one hand, and what is at present being done—the taking by the Government of powers in limited and specified areas for particular topics, which are powers strictly for only such cases as are really necessary in conditions of peace.
The greater part of the task of clearing up the rule of this country by regulation was performed in 1959. Between 1951 and 1959 most of the Defence Regulations had been abandoned, and in 1959 all the remaining Defence Regulations were terminated, except for five, which were then made statutory for a period of five years only and were continued in force for that period only in a statutory form and not as Defence Regulations. They were continued in force by virtue of the 1959 Act in the form in which they were scheduled to that Act and without any power either to amend or to extend those Regulations—though with the power to revoke a Regulation or any part of it.
All those five previous Defence Regulations, which in 1959 became statutory, were, as has been pointed out, due to expire on 31st December of this year unless legislation were undertaken. That is why the Bill has been brought in. The 1136 hon. Member for Sowerby seemed to make his particular point of criticism that the Government were dealing with this problem at the present stage instead of leaving it until after the General Election. It is obvious that the new Government, whichever party, will have many problems to consider as soon as it is returned. The Parliamentary time between the re-assembly of Parliament and 31st December is very short. I should have thought that it was wholly unnecessary to have two bites at this cherry when it appears, at any rate from the speeches which have been made, to be an almost non-contentious matter. Maybe there are details to be taken up in Committee. Maybe the Bill can be improved in certain directions. But that this step needed to be taken is without doubt, and why we should postpone it until after the General Election when at this stage it does not appear to be a very contentious matter, and when many more important matters will have to be considered after the election, whoever wins it, is difficult to see.
The hon. Member for Sowerby seemed to be complaining that what the Government were doing was to remove the opportunity of a Labour Government, if elected, to control the country to a great extent by what he called the flick of a switch. He seemed to be complaining that they would not be allowed to continue to introduce regulations, and he suggested that it was wrong that these should be made statutory powers which could be altered only by legislation.
§ Mr. Houghton
The right hon. and learned Member is under a misapprehension. I was quoting from the debate on the Bill of 1958. The then Lord Privy Seal, in a speech outside the House, had revealed the Government's true intention in introducing that Bill. It was an historic reference and had no connection with the Bill before the House.
§ The Attorney-General
I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. I understood him to say that he thought that a Labour Government, if elected, should have the opportunity to consider how they should deal with the matter. Presumably if the hon. Gentleman disagrees with the Bill he can vote against it. By that means he is able to show his objection to the Measure. As I understand it, this is no more than a 1137 winding-up Bill and I believe that it is right, sensible and proper that this should be done rather than that it should be postponed until after the General Election.
The hon. Member for Sowerby also complained that the Government had not briefed him or the Opposition generally about the Bill. The Government present a Bill for hon. Members to read. This Bill was presented in plenty of time for it to be studied and, while I appreciate the difficulties and complications of a Measure of this sort, I must make it clear that my hon. Friend and his Department were not asked for any assistance. My hon. Friend would have been willing to give it. Indeed, there was a request yesterday for some information. Within an hour of the request being received the information had been supplied by my hon. Friend's Department and two copies of the Press notice which had been sent out were made available in the House. If the hon. Member for Sowerby did not have such good service from the Library—and I would not wish to investigate that matter—my hon. Friend would, had he been requested, have seen that such information as the hon. Member for Sowerby might have wanted was given.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I share my hon. Friend's feelings. I did not express them when I spoke because I did not think it necessary to repeat them. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that before we debated the 1959 Measure a White Paper was issued. It is common practice for Government Departments, particularly in connection with a highly technical Bill such as this, to issue some sort of statement. What my hon. Friend complained of and what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not mentioned is that something of the sort was issued, apparently without demand—although I am not certain on that score—to the Lobby, but nothing whatever was provided for my hon. Friends and hon. Members generally. Surely the Government do not want to be asked every time to do what they should obviously do.
§ The Attorney-General
The Government produced for the House the Bill; and the bon. Member for Sowerby and 1138 the hon. and learned Member for Kettering were able to see and read it.
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Member for Sowerby's criticism of the Bill—and he came to the Bill after a long preliminary disposition of other topics—seemed mainly to concern its ancestry. It was on that point only that he seemed to criticise it. He did not like its ancestry, although he did not criticise the Measure itself. Nor did he criticise any of its Clauses, most of which he welcomed and many of which he thought should be strengthened.
We have not during the course of the debate had any discussion of some of what I hope the House will regard as the legal improvements in the machinery of the Bill. Clause 8(1), for example, has made what I hope hon. Members will regard as a slight improvement in respect of notices, orders or directions issued for the purposes of the Measure.
There are a number of Clauses where the rights of the citizen can be affected by the issue of a notice regarding an order or direction. Under the previous provisions no more was required than that it should be by ordinary post, but under Clause 8(1) it is now provided that such a notice, order or direction is deemed to have been served on the person only if it has been delivered personally or sent by registered post or recorded delivery service. If, however, it should happen that it can be proved that effective service has been made by ordinary post, and that the notice has been received, that will still be a sufficient service. The question of the service of a notice is a matter of some importance and I hope that the House will consider this to have been some improvement.
It is also worth noting that under Schedule 1 there is, first, no legal power to require the keeping of records and, again, a Government Department can no longer authorise any person to inspect or search any premises for the purposes of the Measure. It will be only on a warrant issued by a justice of the peace that a search can now be authorised. The powers contained in Schedule 1 are similar to those which were given to the Board of Trade by the Protection of Depositors Act, 1963, and are drawn 1139 only in relation to the obtaining of information for the purposes of the Bill.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) objected to the omnium gatherum process used in the Bill. This is a problem. It was considered and it was a difficult choice. The alternative was to have a mass of small Bills, some of them dealing with very small points and some merely amending other legislation to a small degree. This might have caused a greater inconvenience to the practitioner and, certainly from the point of view of Parliament, would have taken a great deal more time, for we would have had to attach to each Bill some of the ancillary and procedural matters dealt with generally in this Bill. It is a question of choice and I hope that the House will consider that, on the whole, it was more convenient to deal with these matters in this way rather than to present a series of small Bills, each with ancillary provisions which would have been very similar to each other.
The principal topic of discussion has been jute and Dundee. The jute industry is relevant to the powers of the Bill, but the geographical conditions and intercommunications of Dundee are less relevant, although of great importance. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) for the tribute he paid to the efforts the Government have been making to diversify industry in Dundee and I am sure that all hon. Members agree that this is an essential matter for the future of the people who live and work in Dundee.
The Government realise the importance of diversification for Dundee, along with the great importance of the jute industry to that city, as well as to its future. As has been said, a working party is investigating the problem. I am not in a position to give any assurances of the kind sought, concerning what the Government will do, but, speaking generally, it must be obvious that what is to happen to the jute industry and what decisions the Government will take about it will depend on the results of that working party, although it would be wrong, before its report has been received, to start to give any indications 1140 about what conclusions the Government might come to about the future of the jute industry.
Meantime, the Bill provides the powers to continue the present system of the protection of the Trade. They are available for the following five years and can be extended beyond that, if necessary. From that point of view the relevance of the Bill is that the present system of protection for the jute industry can be continued.
There are two alternative methods of protecting the industry. The first method is of State trading, which permits the jute controller to add a mark-up on imported jute goods to keep home-made goods on the market and, secondly, to provide protection by way of tariffs. We retain the State-trading method and, as I have said, we are seeing, by means of the working party, what is the best way of proceeding in future.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) for his contribution and his questions about what is meant by vague phrases like "economic power of the State" and "publicly-owned industry" when those generalities are applied to the reality of an industry which is carrying on business and employing 1,700 people in specialised, localised conditions, in competition with many other products of a different nature.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman gets too far involved in Tory astrology, I would point out that it has always been said that these powers are renewable after the end of 1969. It is no doubt my own stupidity, but I cannot find that provision. Clause 17 says that the existing powers are to continue in force until the end of 1969. It then, perhaps rather oddly, provides that subsection (2) shall effect in substitution of these powers. That subsection starts:Until the end of 1969 …Where is the provision for renewal after that?
§ The Attorney-General
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman—he is quite right. The powers under Clause 17 are limited to five years. I am sorry if I got it wrong; many of the other Clauses contain extension powers, and I thought that this one did, too.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson
I might now give notice that I will raise the question of the statement about August during the Committee stage. Would not the Attorney-General agree that a Bill like this, which extends the power of jute control, involves the question of the Government's attitude towards protection? Will the Government therefore ensure that the uncertainty in Dundee is ended, at least until the General Election?
§ The Attorney-General
Certainly. If I may say so, I think that the Committee stage would be a very convenient time at which to raise the matter. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving notice that he will do so—I had already suspected that he would. It may be possible by then for other Ministers concerned in the matter to be more precise than I feel I can be at the moment. To some extent, of course, it depends on whether the Report of the Working Party has been received and considered, because that is the next stage before final conclusions can be come to.
The only other point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), who asked about the control of prices of medical supplies in Clause 5. It is true that this power has never been used, but the hon. and learned Member for Kettering was correct when he said that there are occasions when this power may be required; in particular, as my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary said, in negotiations on the Voluntary Price Regulation Scheme. The fact that these powers are available puts the Government in a position in which they can negotiate. Without these powers the Government would have no influence at all, they would have no bargaining power in such negotiations, and would not be able to bring any pressure on anyone because they are not, in fact, a purchaser.
The level of actual use of these goods is controlled by the medical profession 1142 in regard to prices, and demand is thereby also controlled. It is only by the Government's power to use, if necessary, compulsory price-fixing controls that they can have any influence at all on negotiations that have, up to now, always remained voluntary, and which it is hoped will remain so, because the trade and the Government will together be able to come to sensible conclusions on these matters.
I hope that my remarks deal with most of the points that have been raised. No one has either generally or in particular, I think, opposed the Bill or any one of its Clauses. Some points may have to be discussed again in Committee but as, at this stage, there seems, as I say, to be no general or particular opposition to the Bill, I hope that the House will now give it a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).