HC Deb 18 December 1973 vol 866 cc1281-306

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Regulations made by Her Majesty in Council under the Emergency Powers Act 1920 by Order dated 12th December 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th December, shall continue in force, subject however to the provisions of section 2(4) of the said Act.—[Mr. R. Carr.]

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

There appears on the Order Paper in connection with the item before us a note to the effect that the instrument has not yet been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. This may, unintentionally, have led hon. Members to believe that the Committee had no objection to the form of the regulations, but that is not so.

I understand the technical reasons for the note, but when the committee considered the original regulations that are being continued tonight it decided that they should be brought to the special attention of the House on grounds that I shall outline.

For more than half a century it has been the law of our country that there should be a specific protection for people against the abuse of emergency powers such as those we are adopting tonight. The Emergency Powers Acts of 1920 and 1964 provide that no regulations shall be made under those Acts that impose industrial conscription or make it an offence for any person to take part in a strike or peacefully persuade any other person to take part in a strike. I contend, therefore, that it is totally illogical for the Government, by regulations, to impose on those taking industrial action less far-reaching than a strike penalties that they cannot by law impose upon strikers. Yet the terms of the regulations are open to that interpretation. That is to say, a logical interpretation would suggest that they contain penalties that could be imposed on people taking action short of a strike.

Regulation 32(1) provides as follows: No person shall do any act with intent to impair the efficiency or impede the working or movement of any vessel, aircraft, hovercraft, vehicle, machinery, apparatus or other thing used or intended to be used in the performance of essential services, or to impair the usefulness of any works, structure or premises used or intended to be used as aforesaid. On any commonsense interpretation of the English language those terms are wide enough to cover the imposition of an overtime ban or a work to rule, or a refusal to undertake specific duties or even to carry out piecework agreements.

Almost any industrial action in the furtherance of a claim by a trade union for an improvement in wages or conditions, must, if it is to be effective, impair the efficiency or impede the working of the employer's business. It must therefore be caught up in the definition contained in Regulation 32(1). If it is not intended by the Government that Regulations 32(1) and 32(2) should be interpreted in that way, it is open to them to include within the regulations words that would protect anybody who was taking industrial action short of a strike. However, there is no attempt to do so and no indication in the regulations that that is the case.

The miners' overtime ban, for example, must be a case of a number of men omitting to do something with intent to impair the efficiency or usefulness of something used in the performance of essential services. It must be seen in that context. An overtime ban must impair the provisions of that essential service. Therefore, it is directly at variance with the provisions of this set of Emergency Powers.

People who are caught up in the provisions of Regulation 32(1) cannot claim the defence that they are engaged in a strike unless they are engaged in official strike action. It seems essential that it is made clear tonight that that was not the intention of the regulations. I hope that we shall be informed by the Secretary of State for the Home Department that the regulations have been drafted without a realisation of the meaning of the words, strange though that may seem, and that it is not the case that Regulations 32(1) and 32(2) shall be used as a means of imposing a penalty on men who do something short of strike action in furtherance of any legitimate trade union objective in a way which could not be used against anybody who pursued an active strike.

If the regulations were to be used to impose penalties on men who engaged in overtime bans or any other industrial action short of a strike, I hold that it would be at variance with what has been the intention of the House in passing Emergency Powers Acts. Regulation 38 fairly and rightly repeats that a person shall not be guilty of an offence under any of the regulations by reason only of taking part in or persuading another person to take part in a strike.

I put it in all seriousness to the Secretary of State that that cannot protect somebody who is not striking but is engaging in an overtime ban or a work to rule. Therefore, I hold that the provisions of Regulations 32(1) and 32(2) can be open to the interpretation that they will apply to people who are not striking.

In the special circumstances which now exist—namely, at the time of a crucial fuel problem—all people rightly regard the supply of all sorts of power and energy as essential services. Similarly, in circumstances where means of transport are subject to fuel problems, transport may also properly be regarded as an essential service.

I ask that the regulations shall not pass through the House tonight without a clear assurance that the meaning of Regulations 32(1) and 32(2) is not that people who are not strikers will be in breach of the emergency powers. I hope that we shall also have an assurance that the regulations will be relaid to make that clear so as to give protection to people who engage in industrial action short of striking, which they are required to have by law if they engage in strikes.

10.9 p.m.

Mr. David Waddington (Nelson and Colne)

I cannot see that there is any difficulty in understanding the purport of the regulations, nor do I imagine that they could be applied in a manner that would be contrary to the interests of the community or the individual.

The purpose of Regulation 32 is plain. To begin with, it is headed "Sabotage", and the offence that can there be committed is one that involves a specific intent. It is the intent to impair the efficiency or impede the working or movement of any vessel". If a person decides not to work overtime, or to go slow, he does not infringe these regulations. If he indulges in industrial action with a specific intent to do damage of the kind referred to in Regulation 32, he infringes the regulations, and I believe that it is quite right that mischief of that kind should be caught by the regulations.

It is nonsense to suggest that the person who goes slow is in a worse position than the person who goes on strike.

Regulation 38 contains the protection that is afforded to the striker and to the person who peacefully persuades another person to go on strike and who does not have the intent to commit sabotage, which is the intent referred to in Regulation 32.

Taking the two regulations together, the striker is not put in a better position than the person who goes slow, and the person who goes slow is not put in a better position than the striker. The striker is protected if he is acting in a legitimate fashion and is merely peacefully persuading. The person who goes slow is protected if he is only trying to get better terms and conditions for himself and his workmates. If a person goes slow with the intention of doing great damage to the community by committing sabotage, he is rightly caught by the regulations. If a person goes on strike with the intention not of improving his working conditions but of committing sabotage, he again is caught by the regulations.

It is worth pointing out that people need not be frightened by these provisions. They have always been a part of emergency regulations and, what is more, I gather that in our history there has not so far been a prosecution under any of them. But it is right that these powers should exist in case anyone should be minded to think that he can indulge in any sort of industrial action when he likes, even though his motive is not to improve his working conditions but is purely and simply to damage the community in the way envisaged in Regulation 32.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington, North)

I support the contention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth). Unfortunately, I was present to hear only the latter part of his speech. However, I am aware of the point that concerns my hon. Friend and others who serve on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

I wish that the position were as simple as that described by the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington). If Regulation 32, under the heading "Sabotage", could be applied only against people who were seeking deliberately and for no other motive to undermine any emergency provision, it would not have been thought necessary or appropriate to provide in Regulation 38 the exemption for those taking part in a strike.

It is the view of learned counsel who has advised the Committee that as the emergency regulations are drafted they could be open to the interpretation that whereas Regulation 32 could not be applied to someone on strike it could be applied to someone taking industrial action short of the actual withdrawal of labour.

A representative of the Department tried to draw a distinction between an omission, referred to in Regulation 32(2), and what he described as inactivity on the part of workers. Frankly, no other lawyer has so far been prepared to support that view and no precedent to establish that in legal terms there is a distinction between an omission to perform a duty and the inactivity so conveniently used and put forward in evidence was given to the Select Committee. The Secretary of State's advisers ought to consider whether, in the event of any future emergency regulations, this point ought to be completely clarified.

When a Government, for good reasons or bad—no doubt for reasons which appear good to that Government—decide to recommend the declaration of a state of emergency and to introduce emergency regulations, that is an acknowledgement or recognition that normal administrative arrangements, legislative processes and recourse to law have broken down because of the emergency. It would not be right to argue the merits or otherwise of the declaration of the state of emergency. The point is that in a national catastrophe, an earthquake, an outbreak of plague, or some other disaster—a situation that can arise once in a lifetime, or even once in a decade—it is reasonable for a Government of any party to declare that the normal process of law has broken down and that certain Members of Her Majesty's Government must act in certain spheres by edict or decree rather than by normal parliamentary processes.

Regardless of the merits or otherwise of the situation, when emergency regulations are introduced on no fewer than seven occasions in three and a half years some re-examination of those emergency regulations is called for. For seven months in three and a half years the Government have had to use the emergency regulations. That means that on one day in seven in those three and a half years the normal processes of Government administration and law are acknowledged to have broken down.

Although it has been the practice to introduce the same or similar regulations in states of emergency that have occurred since 1945, I suggest that it might now be time to re-examine and review the emergency regulations that obtained before against the broad canvas of public attitudes and what is now on the statute book.

The powers that the Government seek to take for two months in these emergency regulations go far beyond what could reasonably be thought to be necessary. In asking the House to renew these emergency regulations now—and perhaps yet again in another month—the Government should try to justify the argument that there has been a breakdown in the normal processes of law.

As a Member who likes to feel that he is a champion of civil liberties and the ordinary citizen's rights, I am worried not only about Regulation 32 but about Regulation 36, which provides that Where a constable, with reasonable cause, suspects that an offence against any of these Regulations has been committed, he may arrest without warrant anyone whom he, with reasonable cause, suspects to be guilty of the offence. Under the regulations, therefore, somebody can be arrested on suspicion without warrant.

It is also argued that the regulations provide for offences only where someone prevents a person from carrying out a public duty. There is not time to go over every one of them, but in many of the regulations power is given to the Secretary of State concerned, if he deems it necessary, to require workers and others to perform actions as a matter of duty. If, under the regulations, a duty may be determined by the Secretary of State, the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne is wrong in his understanding of what is meant by "duty" and an "infringement" of the regulations.

It seems clear from the regulations as a whole that, where a Secretary of State—various Secretaries of State are involved in the regulations—determines that an action has to be performed as a matter of public duty, it is a breach of the regulations, subject to the punishments listed, if anyone not only fails to perform that duty but commits any act that might discourage others from so doing.

I recognise that there is little hope of the House doing other than approving these emergency powers, but in a state of emergency the assumption always seems to be that, because the civil servants and Ministers concerned are gentlemen, there is no danger of any misuse or abuse of the powers. I do not want to suggest that the Government and their Ministers are necessarily ungentlemanly, by that definition, but it is ironic that a House which on other occasions is so jealous of its rights and so anxious to safeguard the process of law should be approached so lightly, two months running, by a Government who proclaim so profoundly to believe in the rule of law, with the proposition, "Let us abandon normal processes and let the Government take in certain respects virtually dictatorial powers".

If we have further regulations in future, they should be examined in the light of what is now on the statute book and, most important, only if they are carefully studied should Ministers ask for powers which go beyond the normal statutory authority. They should satisfy themselves and be required to satisfy the House that each and every one of those powers is necessary and relevant to the emergency with which they claim to be dealing.

I am very unhappy that we are now to have a seventh period of emergency rule. If it happens again, in the near or distant future, under any Government of any party, I hope that care will be taken to ask for powers to go beyond what it is reasonable to expect in a mature parliamentary democracy.

10.23 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

May I start by apologising to you and the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Earlier this evening I raised a point in an interjection and I thought that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry evaded the issue. I was not able to develop my point, but I think that I can now do so, with particular reference to Regulation 21.

This regulation refers to the supply of fuel and refinery products and the consumption of solid or liquid fuel and refined products. In my constituency—this is true of the constituencies of many hon. Members, especially on this side—there are many poor old age pensioners, people on low incomes and immigrants. Most of these people have for some time relied on the supply of paraffin oil for heating and cooking. They have done this in the past not because they particularly chose to have paraffin oil but because it has been a cheaper commodity, and easier for them to use for keeping their homes warm and for cooking the little bits of food that they can afford.

Since the emergency started we have heard the Minister say—I have not heard this disputed—that his Department has been doing a wonderful job in the supply and allocation of petrol for motorists. With the greatest respect, I suggest that the Minister has not even attempted—though he has the regulations enabling him to do so—to ensure that, first, there is an adequate supply of paraffin and, as the regulation says, Where any fuel or refinery product is supplied to any person in pursuance of a direction under this Regulation, that person shall pay such price in respect thereof as may be reasonable. What does the Minister feel to be reasonable?

Like many of my hon. Friend's constituents, including those of my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham), many of my constituents are old-age pensioners. At present they are having to spend hours walking around trying to obtain paraffin from garages and suppliers. They are finding difficulty in obtaining any supplies.

I give all my constituents pre-paid printed postcards so that they can easily arrange an appointment for me to go to see them in their homes. One of my constituents is an old lady, aged 85. She explained to me that she had spent two hours going from garage to garage. The answers she got were that they had no paraffin, that they were limited in supply or that they had their regular customers.

After two hours she could get no paraffin. She happened to tell a schoolboy of her trouble, and he said that he would try to get her some paraffin, which he eventually did. She said to me, "It cost me 23p for a gallon, and I had to give the schoolboy a couple of coppers for his trouble, even though he did not want to accept it". That means 25p a gallon—five shillings in the old money.

This is not a matter of luxury, of driving around in a car. It is not a matter in which old-age pensioners can do anything else, because pensioners could never afford gas and electricity for heating and cooking before the crisis. They now have Valor-type stoves in their homes. Before going to bed, they put on the stoves their grog or drop of milk to warm it. Some are lucky enough to have a television set, as is the lady that I have mentioned. When she is watching television she puts a little milk on her Valor stove.

This old lady is being inconvenienced and subjected to suffering by spending two hours traipsing around the streets trying to get paraffin and being unable to get it except at an exorbitant price. But when I take up this matter with the Minister, he refuses to do anything about it. I shall feel like opposing these regulations unless the Minister can assure me that, just as he has said that garages may not charge more than 40p for a gallon of petrol, he will see that paraffin is not sold for more than a few coppers in excess of what it cost prior to the emergency.

Alternatively, I have a suggestion for the Home Secretary. Local authorities use paraffin in connection with their work. Is it possible to advise them that they should have available at their depots supplies of paraffin for old-age pensioners? I go further and say that, according to the Chancellor, it is the object of the Government to help the hard pressed and under privileged. Is it possible to arrange for local authorities to supply, say, a gallon of paraffin a week at a subsidised price, or even free, on production of an old-age pension book? That would help the old-age pensioners to get the supplies which they cannot get at the moment, and would also help them financially, at relatively little cost to the Government. If the price of paraffin cannot be subsidised, it is surely possible to arrange for it to be supplied at cost price.

There is no question of interfering with private industry. If private garages are short of paraffin, they may not want to supply the odd gallon here and there. But local authorities could be allocated supplies by order of the Minister and it could be made widely known that old-age pensioners, immigrants and the sick and disabled—whose records are held by the welfare departments of local authorities—would be able to obtain supplies. I therefore ask the Minister for an assurance that he will take some action to see that the price of paraffin is reasonable, and that supplies are allocated to these people.

Mr. Latham

Some of us have expressed doubts about the validity of the emergency regulations. My hon. Friend is making a very proper plea for one special category, but does he agree—perhaps the Minister will take note of this point—that what he is asking for, as well as many other courses of action, could be provided for under the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Act, and that these emergency regulations are not needed to deal with the situation which he has described?

Mr. Lewis

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. He may not know that I sat through the whole debate this evening trying to get into it but, as is customary, only the usual speakers were called, so I was unable to make my point earlier. I am therefore doing that which is customary—perhaps it is a subterfuge—and making my point under these emergency regulations. However, I agree with my hon. Friend and I am not greatly concerned whether what I am asking for is done under these regulations or any other regulations. All I want is an assurance from the Minister that he will make paraffin readily available to the elderly, the sick and disabled, and the immigrants. I want an assurance that they will be able to obtain it, preferably from local authority depots, at wholesale price. If that is arranged it will help pensioners financially and will save them from suffering.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

I wish to refer to Regulation 21, which deals with the Secretary of State providing for the regulation of the supply, acquisition or consumption of solid or liquid fuel and the supply and consumption of electricity. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry tonight gave a most unsatisfactory reply about those who supply their own generators and, more particularly, their own fuel. I have already seen about half a dozen Ministers on this matter. We are faced with a situation in which the Department is imposing upon us a dictatorship. We are told that those who were far-sighted enough to provide generators and the fuel which they need are, without previous notice, to be refused the opportunity to run them.

The horseracing industry is essential in many ways. In the event that it had to close down there would be large-scale unemployment, quite apart from the loss of pleasure to a great many people at a time of great difficulty. If the Government are set upon the course which my right hon. Friend announced tonight of cutting out recreational and sporting pleasures it will mean that they are drawing a great distinction between outdoor sports and indoor sports. Not only will there be discrimination against horse-racing, greyhound racing and football, but these will be discriminated against in favour of bingo, chemin de fer, and blue films. It is intolerable that the Government should consider themselves entitled to dictate to this country that those who have been far-sighted enough to make themselves totally independent should be denied the right to use the resources they hold in their own command.

In the case of horseracing, Weatherby's some time ago provided its own generators. It also provided its own fuel. Races cannot be run without the Racing Calendar. With a profound knowledge of the subject I have tried to persuade Ministers that we should be allowed to run horseracing provided that it does not ask that even one gallon of precious fuel is consumed to the detriment of the people of this country. But I am not prepared to accept the claptrap argument that the people so lack common sense that they cannot understand that certain industries have made arrangements well in advance, as did Weatherby's. The company knew that there might be a fuel crisis and therefore arranged to have a generator. One cannot run racing without the Racing Calendar—a registered newspaper which publishes in advance all the entries, which is essential to racing with a handicap.

The Government have arranged that computers shall be exempt, but they have forbidden the use of generators, and they have even forbidden anyone to use the fuel supplies which he has. I am net concerned with the moral argument whether it is right or wrong that racing should continue, but if it is decided to refuse to have racing, bingo should be stopped, films should be stopped, theatres should be stopped, concerts should be stopped, and all the other entertainments which the nation enjoys. One cannot draw a distinction between one and the other. It is intolerable.

What is more, I see no reason why one should pick on greyhound racing for attack. Six or seven years ago, I advised those concerned in greyhound racing, among others, to provide a generator for each of the 42 tracks operated by the National Greyhound Racing Club. The operators of these tracks found themselves, last Friday, without a word of notice, confronted with an order which, quite contrary to what they had believed, literally stopped them in their tracks. None of them could run. They had to close all their night meetings at once. To switch to afternoon meetings means economic death. At Wembley the day before yesterday, a mere 400 people attended. If greyhound racing is killed economically, it puts out of work 10,000 people who are permanently employed on those tracks, and over 30,000 casual employees.

The trouble is that, despite my efforts, Ministers simply do not understand this case. They refuse to understand it. This is quite wrong. I have spent as much time as I can in trying to explain the case to Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry. They really must accept it from those of us who have far longer experience of these matters than they have.

One of the main criticisms of Government today is that Ministries, and especially civil servants, totally fail to understand a case that is put to them. They will not believe that one has a case to put. They do not believe that one has no axe to grind. I have no axe to grind here. I do not hold shares or any interest in either of the industries for which I speak tonight.

I am very angry about what has been done. I find it intolerable to have to criticise my own Government in this way but I shall continue to criticise them until they give way on the matter. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry has arrived, because I had the opportunity to speak to him about it. I must tell him straight that he is not a Minister of morals. His ministerial responsibility is to conserve fuel and power. If we are to talk about morals, let us talk about beer, about spirits, about drugs. I am quite prepared to talk all night about them. But I am not prepared to accept that he, the Home Secretary or any other Minister has the right to dictate to this country what shall be our moral code. It is intolerable.

Greyhound racing is as much entitled to earn its living as any other industry is. Fuel rationing has not been introduced, and I consider that a perfectly correct decision. But let no one try to introduce it by a back-door method. That is quite wrong.

At present, there are 42 greyhound racing tracks. Many years ago, as a result of their foresight, they introduced generators. Over six months ago they decided to obtain a sufficient supply of fuel oil so that they would not interfere with the country in the event of fuel rationing. They have sufficient to carry them through to next April. They do not ask for any favour from the Government. They do not ask that they shall have one kilowatt of electricity. They do not ask that they shall have one gallon of fuel oil. But they do ask that they may be entitled to use their foresight to ensure that they maintain their industry, and are not economically crippled. If they are closed now, they will not be able to reopen satisfactorily.

The effect will be twofold. First, there will be a great deal of unemployment among people who have served the industry for many years. Secondly, there will be a considerable loss of revenue to the Government in the form of the taxes that would have flowed from the industry. I do not suggest that that is of particular importance, but it is wrong to suggest that the Department of Trade and Industry has a superior understanding of the attitudes of the British public. I have talked about the matter to many people in the street—taxi drivers, and ordinary people—and the general attitude is that if it is explained to the public that the greyhound racing and the horseracing industries have been far-sighted enough to provide the generators and the fuel to enable them to carry on, it would be wrong to stop them.

I turn to the question of the football industry. I know that some grounds have not been able to provide the generators and the fuel required. I am sorry, but that is so. There are a few that have, and they must have the advantage of having done so. It is a tough life.

I have raised this matter with almost all the Ministers concerned. It is, unfortunately, the Home Secretary who is to reply tonight. The mistake lies with the Department of Trade and Industry, which has for long failed to understand the whole background of both tourism and sport. We have tried for a long time to make it understand the interests of those people who are engaged in the leisure industries. Somehow, it has never been able to equate leisure with heavy industry—nor has the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins). I remember years ago debating with him the difficulties that arose when he was dealing with totally different matters, such as the amusement and catering industries.

I appeal to the Department to understand that we are dealing with only one principle, namely, that we should save fuel. We are not dealing with a ragbag of suggestions that we should try to dictate the morals of this country. That is wholly wrong.

I am speaking because I could not intervene earlier and because I have not been able to put this case across to the Cabinet Ministers who are responsible for making the decision. If we are to arrive at the right decision for the state of the nation as a whole we must recognise that in the control of both electricity and fuel we should not be prepared to attack those who have been far-sighted enough to make the necessary preparations.

In the case of the horseracing industry, all that is required is that we should be able to continue to publish a registered newspaper. The computers used at Wellingborough by Weatherby's are protected For three days a week they can obtain supplies, but for the other three they cannot. Weatherby's does not want to use the electricity supplies in the slightest degree. It wants to have the opportunity to use its own generating power when there is an acute shortage. It wants to be able to use its own fuel, of which it has 35 days' supply, in the event of this emergency. It is not seeking to oppose the Government or their policy; it is merely asking that it should be allowed to use the fact that it has conserved its own fuels by bringing them into use without causing harmful effect to anybody in Britain, and at the same time, to be able to maintain an industry which provides employment for many and fun throughout the world.

It would be a sorry day for Britain if they had to close down racing in Britain today merely because of the Government's lack of understanding of the problems of the day.

The same consideration applies to the greyhound racing industry. One may not like it, or one may think it a luxury sport. One may think that bingo, casinos, or all forms of entertainment are luxury sports, but it is not for the Government to differentiate between one industry and another. I detest classical music, but if I suggested closing the Royal Opera House there would be an appalling outcry.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Or carol singing.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Or carol singing, or anything else. I want to see fairness between one industry and another. The only way to get that is to stick to the principle of conserving fuel and forget the emotional claptrap. We should get rid of that attitude of mind and introduce what we need. I shall oppose these regulations, if anybody else will join me, until I am satisfied that we shall get fairness for these industries.

10.52 p.m.

Mr. Ronald King Murray (Edinburgh, Leith)

I join with my hon. Friends in condemning the excessive width of Regulation 32. This deals with sabotage Subparagraph (1) of that regulation strikes at any act with intent to impair the efficiency or impede the working of specified things.

In subparagraph (2) the same provisions are applied arbitrarily to any omission. When one is dealing with an act under subparagraph (1) it is essential to put in the words "with intent to impair" because, plainly, an act may be done without intent and such an act should not be struck at as sabotage. Subparagraph (2) excludes "with intent to impair", which is the qualification in subparagraph (1), but it is plain that an omission is not an intentional act of any kind. It is crucial that it should be implied that an omission which is struck at by subparagraph (2) must be intentional.

I look in vain to find words of qualification which may have that effect. If one reads "short" in that subparagraph The foregoing provisions of this Regulation shall apply in relation to any omission … as they apply to the doing of any act by a person", even though that takes us part of the way to qualify the excessive width of subparagraph (2), because "such" is then omitted, before "act", there is no reference back to the qualifications in subsection (1). Not only is that omitted; when one comes to the words I have deliberately left out— on the part of a person to do anything which he is under a duty, either to the public or to any person, to do…". far from limiting, subparagraph (2) would appear to me to spread it even wider.

In these circumstances, it appears that if this form of words has been hallowed by precedent it is a bad precedent, and the sooner we depart from it the better. I do not think that regulations of this sort should be put before the House unless they contain a clear intention that they are to apply only to intentional omission. I feel inclined to vote against the regulations as they stand, but I shall listen to what the Minister says in reply.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)

The Secretary of State is asking us to extend for a further 28 days emergency regulations. I am prepared to support him in any efforts he makes to resolve the emergency which exists, but I am a little reluctant to support him tonight because I want him to tell us, first, what action he has taken under the regulations so far which he could not have taken under the existing law. If he cannot tell us of fairly substantial action that he has taken already, why was he so hasty in asking for these regulations in the first place?

My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) has complained about the lack of action under the emergency regulations. I am making this point as an active trade unionist and sponsored member of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers. The right hon. Gentleman must realise that trade unionists in particular regard the emergency regulations as being aimed at their activities. It is very difficult for trade unionists to understand the ordinary law, but when emergency regulations are introduced in addition to ordinary law the position becomes even more confused. The concern that has been shown by several hon. Members demonstrates that trade unionists want the right hon. Gentleman to indicate exactly where they stand.

If he is a wise man, the right hon. Gentleman will give that guidance because he must look, as well as to the emergency regulations, to a possible solution of the disputes which have, according to the Government, brought the emergency about. Trade unionists feel that the Government have used the law against them. I am not saying that the Government have done so; I am saying that trade unionists believe that they have.

Incidents such as that which took place in Colchester early in November—under, I presume, the existing law—lead to a great deal of anxiety among not only the 24 trade unionists involved but other trade unionists throughout the country, including the executive of my union, which asked me to raise the matter in Parliament to find out how it was that ordinary, peaceful trade unionists, law-abiding and on a perfectly proper demonstration, were taken into custody when they returned to their homes by bus, kept in custody for a considerable time, had their homes searched—and all for no apparent reason, other than that one of them was suspected of having something to do with the fire at Woolworth's.

This sort of incident leads to trade unionists feeling that laws are being introduced specifically against them. The right hon. Gentleman must make it clear that this is not the case. If he wants trade unionists to co-operate with the Government's future efforts to overcome the emergency, he must make it clear that the Government are prepared to cooperate with trade unionists, explain the law to them, and not use it against them unfairly. If he tells us that that is the stand that the Government will take, I shall be prepared to support him in getting the emergency regulations extended, but not otherwise.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

I take this opportunity to ask the Secretary of State to deal with a question posed to me by a firm in my constituency. Meredith's is a small firm which has agreed with the union so to reduce the temperature in the factory as to ensure that no extra oil will be used in running its private generator for five days a week instead of three.

I understand the objection to working a five-day week when it is necessary to use additional oil for the generator, but, where no additional oil is involved, will the Government make provision for small firms to work a five-day week, lest they have to go out of business?

11.0 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Robert Carr)

As are all Home Secretaries on these occasions, I am in a difficulty because, although the Home Secretary of the day is responsible for the making of emergency regulations, his right hon. and hon. Friends in other Departments are responsible for using them. It is a difficult if not impossible task for a Home Secretary to reply to questions that concern the Department of Trade and Industry and other Departments, so I hope the House will be reasonably tolerant with me.

In reply to the question asked by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin), my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry, who has been listening, tells me that earlier this evening he signed an order which allows private generators to be used in industry and commerce with their normal allocation of oil but with no extra allocation. I hope that will help the hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members who have not spoken tonight but have had similar worries about firms in their constituencies.

The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) and my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) addressed themselves to Regulation 21. I do not want to appear to ride out on a technicality but, in making my statement last week about the renewal of these regulations, I went out of my way to point out that although there had not been time to remove from the regulations certain of these matters, many of them were now covered in the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Act, which Parliament has just passed, and that my right hon. Friend would operate in these areas under that Act and not under the emergency regulations. Therefore, strictly speaking, the matters to which the two hon. Members object, or wish to be included, come not under the regulations but under the Act. I repeat that I am the Home Secretary and not the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for not having answered their points in detail.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry listened to all that the hon. Member for West Ham, North had to say, and I know that he will take it seriously. The object of having powers at a time of difficulty is to try to ensure that priority users are satisfied. It is not always easy to succeed, but that is one of the objects of having these powers.

I accept that paraffin oil is a most important material for many people, and that for many poorer people it is a vital commodity. I understand that, generally, the supply has been fairly good but that there are some areas, including certain parts of London and East Anglia, where the supply has been difficult. I have been told that I can assure the House that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will do everything he can to improve the supply in areas where there has been difficulty. The same powers exist for paraffin as those which exist for petrol. I am sure that the House will forgive me for not being able to give a figure. If there is any evidence of profiteering my right hon. Friend would like to know about it. He has powers to take action.

I turn to the wider issues which were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). I accept that he takes a strong view and that he has strong arguments for the view which he takes. I can assure him that my right hon. Friend's decision has nothing to do with morals. He is not seeking to obstruct one form of activity and to encourage another or at least not to obstruct another on the basis of morals. Rightly or wrongly, he has acted on the basis of the need to conserve fuel of all kinds and to do so in a way which, as far as possible, is acceptable to the public.

The Government have taken the view that floodlighting, per se, should be banned. Floodlighting is a fairly large user of electric power. It is used, by and large, for sports which, in the past, have been daylight sports, or which can be daylight sports. We have taken the view, at a time of a fuel shortage and a need to restrict the use of electricity, that floodlighting should not be used to enable sports to continue which, by their nature, are traditionally conducted or could be conducted in daylight.

I accept that there is an argument that those people who have generators and have accumulated fuel for a long time should be able to use it. However, a difficult issue of judgment arises. We have felt—and I accept that this is a matter of judgment—that it would be offensive to many people—for example, housewives restricted in the use of electricity and people working nearby who are restricted in the number of hours that they can work—to see floodlighting used for sports activities, no matter what the source.

I accept that it is a difficult decision, but it was on the basis which I have described and not on a moral judgment on the superiority and desirability of some forms of activity and the moral inferiority of others, such as greyhound racing that the matter was decided.

I accept that many activities cannot go on except indoors. It would be wrong to imagine that they have escaped restrictions. They are restricted in the amount of heating which they can use. It is not true to say that they have escaped. They are not being allowed to continue for a moral reason. They are being allowed to continue under restriction. They are using less power than hitherto. That is because we believe that it is important for society, as far as possible, to have open to it its traditional forms of activity and leisure. We believe that these other activities can be conducted in daylight without using scarce power.

Mr. Rees-Davies

May I put two matters to my right hon. Friend which shatter his argument? I used to be a great lawn tennis player, indoors. Anyone engaging in that sport has to have floodlighting. Floodlighting indoors is no different from floodlighting out of doors, yet I may play tennis indoors but I cannot go greyhound racing out of doors.

My second point is that this is a totally moral judgment. If I am able to provide all the necessary electricity because I have conserved sufficient fuel with which to generate it I am not asking my right hon. Friend for anything. Therefore, the only judgment which he can pass upon me is a moral one. My right hon. Friend says that an old woman living nearby might complain. What my right hon. Friend is saying is that she might complain because she is jealous because someone has been far-sighted enough to provide these facilities. It is a moral judgment, just as it is a moral judgment when deciding whether to play lawn tennis indoors under floodlighting or go greyhound racing under floodlighting out of doors.

Mr. Carr

I must repeat that I am not the Minister responsible. As far as I know, floodlighting for indoor tennis will be as much forbidden as for any other sport indoors. I do not think that that point arises.

I accept that a moral judgment is implied in being concerned about what other people will think. What I meant to say was that there was no moral judgment in thinking that greyhound racing was morally bad whereas the theatre, the cinema, or the bingo hall was morally good. In that sense there is no moral judgment.

As for Weatherby's and horse racing, I understand that the secretary made it clear in a radio programme today that although there will be difficulty it will be possible to produce the Racing Calendar on a three-day operation.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I have in my possession a letter from Simon Weatherby, which I have passed to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and to six other Ministers, in which that statement is contradicted. He tells me that Weatherby's can operate only on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and that it cannot print and publish the Racing Calendar, which is crucial to racing, unless it can publish on Friday and Saturday. Incidentally, the letter has also been sent to my right hon. Friend, but it has probably not reached him yet. It has been sent to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. It was posted on the board this afternoon. It is not true that it can continue to operate. That is the view of those concerned with the management of racing.

Mr. Carr

I shall ask my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Trade and Industry to listen carefully to what my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet says, but I believe that a spokesman for Weatherbys said on the radio today that they could manage, even though with difficulty and for a short time. But I will have that matter looked into.

The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. James Lamond) asked what action we had taken. Under the new regulations taken last week, so far we have taken no new action. Under the previous regulations, which lasted for the month until last week, we took action to control floodlighting, the amount of heating, and so forth, and the allocation of oil and petrol supplies, and we imposed the 50 m.p.h. speed limit, and so on. Those actions are now carried on under the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Act and not under the emergency regulations. Therefore, the emergency regulations are not being used at all now, but they were used in the first month. The main reason why we feel that we need them over the next few weeks may be in connection with certain transport services. However, I repeat that we shall not use them unless we have to do so.

I assure the hon. Member for Oldham, East that the Government have no intention of using the law against trade unionists. He fairly said that it might not be the case, but he was reporting what people felt about the situation. We shall do all that we can to take away that feeling. I cannot do more than give that assurance. I appreciate the feelings that were aroused by the Colchester incident, to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

In this context, I think that I am entitled to say today, when, alas, we have had further bomb incidents in this country, that the trouble at Colchester was potentially a question of another bomb. When we are looking for people who may be planning and carrying out that kind of activity we must be prepared to have our affairs inquired into far more than would normally be acceptable. If I were a member of a coach party I hope that I would understand if, in those circumstances, I was examined by the police, but I might be rather angry if we were not living—temporarily, I trust—in that kind of context. I believe that in that situation the majority of people would think it right for the police to make inquiries on a scale—and, perhaps in an intrusive way—that would not normally be acceptable as their practice.

One of the evils that terrorists bring into society is that by their very methods they draw people who love liberty and are great defenders of civil rights into having to allow things to happen simply to protect themselves against terrorism of this kind. Without going into a great dissertation, I repeat my assurance that we do not intend to operate the law against trade unionists.

The hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham) said that these regulations might be all right on a once-in-a-lifetime basis, but not if they had to be used seven times in three and a half years. What we have needed seven times in three and a half years has been the ability to use them. Luckily, we have had to use them only to a small extent in those seven months.

The greater use of these powers can be said to be the fault of a particular Government. However that may be, I believe that it is also part and parcel of a basic change not only in conditions, but in the tempo in industry whereby, in a modern technological society, small groups of people can threaten the very life of a community in a way which was not possible until recently. Indeed, the basic safeguard is that no Government can ask for these emergency powers unless they can satisfy the House that they are required to deal with events of such a nature as to be calculated, by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel or light, or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of the essentials of life. That is the basic condition before one can ask for these or any other regulations to be made. Given that basic condition, I do not think that one can do with much less than the regulations that we have. Nevertheless, the job of the House of Commons is to be critical about this sort of thing, and I do not object to that basic question being asked.

Mr. Latham

I think that the right hon. Gentleman has understood the burden of my argument, which is that if emergency powers are to be used so often, for whatever reason, one should look seriously at them. I draw his attention to Regulation 20, the significance of which escapes me. It says that: Any sewerage authority may … discharge … foul … water into any natural or artificial stream, watercourse, canal, pond or lake. … The right hon. Gentleman will remember that, in the Queen's Speech, we were told: My Government will lay before you measures providing for greater control of environmental pollution. A fortnight later we have this regulation. Why?

Mr. Carr

I shall not attempt to give the reason for a particular regulation at this time of night, but I take the point that it is right that these regulations should be looked at critically.

This brings me to the last point, and it was also the first point, since it was raised by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), as well as by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray). Here we see Parliament doing its job. These regulations are now being looked at in detail—in a way in which, perhaps, they were not before—by our Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. This shows the value of Parliament's having Committees of this kind.

I must make it clear that the wording which is challenged, in Regulation 32 particularly, is not peculiar to this set of regulations. I am advised that exactly the same words have been used in every set of regulations since 1949, introduced by successive Governments, and they have never before been queried. I am not complaining about that. It is right that they should now be queried, and the Joint Committee is serving Parliament by querying them.

Hon. Members have raised a difficult and complex legal point. I do not think that I can undertake a review of the regulations in this four-week period, but I shall consult seriously with the Law Officers and bear this point in mind should we, unfortunately, ever have need for the regulations again. Meanwhile, I can assure the House that it is not the Government's intention to use these regulations to outlaw or to prevent anything that has traditionally been regarded as a legitimate trade union activity. I hope that the House will take that assurance from me, accept that it is a complicated legal point, leave me to consult the Law Officers and take the outcome of those consultations into account if, unfortunately, we ever have to have further regulations in future.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Regulations made by Her Majesty in Council under the Emergency Powers Act 1920 by Order dated 12th December 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th December, shall continue in force, subject however to the provisions of section 2(4) of the said Act.