HC Deb 12 December 1973 vol 866 cc415-7
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Robert Carr)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

Under the provisions of the Emergency Powers Act 1920 the Proclamation made on 13th November will expire at midnight tonight together with the regulations made in pursuance of that Proclamation.

In view of the fact that there has been no resolution of the disputes affecting the coal and electricity supply industries, that there is continuing uncertainty in the supply of oil and that there is now an additional serious threat to the essentials of life of the community as a result of the dispute affecting the railways, the Government consider that it is necessary that a further Proclamation and further regulations should now be made.

With the addition of the transitional provision of Regulation 41, the regulations are in the same form as those laid before Parliament on 13th November and will come into force at midnight tonight.

The House will recall that the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Act 1973 enables my right hon. Friend to introduce most of the measures necessary to reduce the consumption of energy in its various forms. I apologise to the House that it has not yet been possible to amend the standard set of emergency regulations, so as to eliminate the overlap between the regulations and that Act. Nevertheless my right hon. Friend does not propose to make new use of the powers in the emergency regulations where the powers under the 1973 Act are adequate.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will announce tomorrow the arrangements for debating the motions on the Address and on the regulations.

As always, use of the emergency powers will be limited to measures necessary in the public interest.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

The gravity of the position with which we are confronted is neither increased nor diminished by today's announcement. I think we would all agree that the emergency is inherent in the facts. It does not arise from a prolongation of the formal state under which we have lived for the past month.

Indeed, much of our complaint about the Government's handling of the position during this period is that it has been more characterised by complacency, by confusion, sometimes by fatuous optimism, than by any real sense of emergency. The whole handling of the position must be thoroughly debated in its energy, its industrial relations and its general economic aspects, and not merely narrowly interrogated. I wish we were doing that this week. I believe it would be more appropriate to the relevance of the House of Commons. But I take it, from what has been said, that we shall do that next week. It will be better late than never. We shall then deploy our attitude to the Government's strategy and the nation's problems.

Mr. Carr

I note the right hon. Gentleman's comments, and at least I can agree with him on one point. I, too, believe that it is better that we should debate these matters and, apart from anything else, my right hon. Friend's can more effectively reply in that debate to the right hon. Gentleman's charges, which I wholly reject.

Mr. Frederick Lee

Now that the Government will obviously be relying heavily on the emergency provisions which they have just announced, would it not help to sweeten industry considerably if they also announced a voluntary withdrawal of the Industrial Relations Act?

Mr. Carr

I do not think that that question arises on my statement, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that I do not agree with him.

Mr. Milne

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the provisions that he has outlined, and which we shall subsequently be debating, also cover the-financial implications and the financial state of the nation? Will they include provisions to the effect that tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands and other places, will be stripped of their assets in order to give the country a chance to recover?

Mr. Carr

I do not think that that question arises under the emergency regulations, although no doubt the hon. Member can raise it when we have the debate.

Mr. Cormack

In view of the serious events which have taken place, will my right hon. Friend ask the Prime Minister to speak to the nation?

Mr. Carr

I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend often does that, and no doubt he will do so again.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

We are getting near to the debate which has been promised for next week.

Dr. David Owen

Can the Home Secretary give an assurance to the House, that neither the Prime Minister nor any other major Minister will make any statement or give any indication of action until a debate has taken place in this House, and that any statement will be made to this House and to no one else?

Mr. Carr

I think I must leave that matter to the proper discretion of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.