HC Deb 07 February 1974 vol 868 cc1368-72

Message on behalf of Her Majesty brought up, and read by Mr. SPEAKER, as follows: The Emergency Powers Act 1920, as amended by the Emergency Powers Act 1964, having enacted that if it appears to Her Majesty that there have occurred or are about to occur events of such a nature as to be calculated, by interfering with the supply and 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, Her Majesty may, by Proclamation, declare that a state of emergency exists: And Her Majesty having on the ninth day of January 1974 made, in pursuance thereof, a Proclamation declaring that the industrial disputes affecting persons employed in the coal mines and on the railways and the reduction of oil supplies reaching Great Britain did, in Her opinion, constitute a state of emergency within the meaning of the said Act of 1920 as so amended, which Proclamation does not remain in force for more than one month: We, Counsellors of State, to whom have been delegated certain Royal Functions as specified in Letters Patent dated the twenty-fourth day of January 1974, being of the opinion that the continuance of the said industrial disputes and the continued reduction in those oil supplies constitute a state of emergency within the meaning of the said Act of 1920 as so amended, have, in pursuance thereof, made on Her Majesty's behalf a Proclamation dated the seventh day of February 1974 declaring that a state of emergency exists.

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 9th January will expire at midnight tomorrow, together with the regulations made in pursuance of that Proclamation. Since there has been no resolution of the disputes affecting the coal mines and the railways and there is still a short-fall in our oil supplies, the Government consider that it is necessary for the state of emergency to be continued. A further Proclamation and emergency regulations have therefore been made by the Counsellors of State acting on Her Majesty's behalf during Her absence from the United Kingdom. The regulations—the Emergency (No. 2) Regulations 1974—are in substance the same as those laid before Parliament on 9th January and will come into force at midnight tomorrow. They will be laid before Parliament later today and copies will be available to Members in the Vote Office as soon as possible.

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

Mr. Roy Jenkins

The House will note that this Government, who have proclaimed more states of emergency than any other, have now appropriately completed the record by being the only one in history to leave the nation with a state of emergency and without a Parliament.

Mr. Carr

The use of emergency powers is always not only serious but regrettable. It is what happens when moderation in a democracy goes out of the window.

Mr. Ogden

How can General Election preparations properly be carried out, how can free expression of opinion be allowed to take place in meeting halls, and so on, and how can the work of printers, postmen and everyone else be allowed to take place in a state of emergency? As the Government are asking the miners to withdraw their strike action, why are they not prepared to withdraw, or at least postpone, their state of emergency?

Mr. Carr

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will probably have something to say about the matter raised in the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question at the appropriate moment. Emergency powers exist for one purpose only—to maintain the necessities of life for the nation. They will be used as little as possible. That is an absolute truth. The less they have to be used the better everyone will be pleased.

Mr. Rost

Will the Home Secretary give an assurance that the emergency powers will, if necessary, be used to prevent the flying pickets—being organised at this moment by the Communist leaders of the National Union of Mine-workers—from disrupting the whole country and its services?

Mr. Carr

The law dealing with picketing exists quite outside the emergency powers. Such powers are not necessary to cope with that problem.

Mr. Kelley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there will be a deep suspicion in the country about the purposes behind the declaration that has been made? Is he aware that this will mean that in the greatest industrial crisis we have ever faced there will be government without Parliament? Is he further aware that in the coalfields there are people who are concerned about the prepararations that are being made to deal with normal picketing activities? Is he also aware that these things can be done without the sanction of Parliament?

Mr. Carr

I do not believe that there is deep suspicion in the country. I know that there would be deep disturbance in the country if the Government could not take the action necessary to maintain the essentials of life of the community. There is absolutely no truth in any suggestion that there is any preparation to deal with normal picketing activity. Such activity is and has long been protected by the law. Peaceful picketing means the right peacefully to communicate and peacefully to persuade people in pursuit of an industrial dispute.

Mr. Russell Kerr


Mr. Wellbeloved

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the people of this country will take note of the simple fact that in June 1970 the Conservative administration took office in an atmosphere of peace and prosperity and that in February 1974 they abdicate office leaving behind catastrophe and disaster?

Mr. Carr

I remember what succeeded "In Place of Strife".

Mr. Gorst

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if rampant inflation, greater than exists now, succeeds the General Election, then this or any other Government will have to come back to the House to ask for emergency regulations which will not be for one month but may be for a generation?

Mr. Carr

I am sure that holding the line against inflation is even more important in terms of the defence of society and democracy than it is in economic terms. It is just because we are doing this that we are determined to seek the approval of the people for the line we are taking.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Dealing with the rampant inflation of which the hon. Member for speaking, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he agrees with the Economist and other Conservative newspapers when they said that the reason for an early election would be that the 11 per cent. inflation of the past year under this Government would rise to 15 per cent. in the coming months?

Mr. Carr

What I remember from that independent newspaper the Conservative—[Laughter.]— I am getting confused with the Labour Record and apologise to the House for my confusion. What I remember from the independent newspaper, the Economist, is that it pointed out in a satistical analysis not many weeks ago that in 1973, for the first time for many years, this country's record in controlling domestic inflation was better than that of almost any other country in the world. I also remember and agree with the right hon. Gentleman's statement that one man's pay increase is another man's price increase.

Mr. Burden

May I remind my right hon. Friend that in July 1967 the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said in this House that if members of the public, or workingmen, tried to obtain an increase in wages as a result of devaluation, they should be "ruthlessly resisted"?

Mr. Carr

That is another statement with which I agree.

Mr. Ashton

Is it not an absolute denial of democracy and does it not amount to censorship, that during this election period television should be switched off at 10.20 p.m. or 10.30 p.m.? Have we not a tradition of late-night, serious discussion of electoral issues during an election campaign? Since television uses only 1 per cent. of the electricity supply, may I ask the Home Secretary to announce that the ban has been lifted and that programmes may continue until midnight?

Mr. Carr

As I said to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), these matters wil be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Lord President.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)

I beg to move, That Her Majesty's Most Gracious Message be taken into consideration tomorrow.

Message to be considered tomorrow.