HC Deb 09 January 1974 vol 867 cc4-6

Message from 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 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 12th day of December 1973 made, in pursuance thereof, a Proclamation declaring that the industrial disputes then affecting, among others, 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: and the continuance of the industrial disputes affecting those persons and the continued reduction in those oil supplies having, in Her Majesty's opinion, constituted such a state of emergency as aforesaid: Her Majesty has deemed it proper, by Proclamation dated the 9th day of January 1974 and made in pursuance of the said Act of 1920, as so amended, to declare 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 12th December will expire at midnight on Friday 11th January, 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 since there is continuing uncertainty over oil supplies, the Government consider that it is necessary for the state of emergency to be continued.

Although the existing regulations will not expire until midnight on Friday 11th January, in view of the recall of Parliament this week it seemed right and for the convenience of the House that there should be no uncertainty as to whether or not the state of emergency would be extended. A further Proclamation and emergency regulations have therefore been made. The regulations—to be known as the Emergency Regulations 1974—will be laid later this afternoon and copies will be available in the Vote Office. They will come into force at midnight on Friday.

In accordance with the undertakings which I gave to the House last December, two major changes have been made in the new regulations. The provisions of the old Regulations 21 and 22 relating to fuel, refinery products, electricity and gas have been omitted, because there are now sufficient powers under the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Act 1973. The second change is to the sabotage regulation ; Regulation 30 of the new regulations has been redrafted to meet the point raised in the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and also in the debate on the last set of regulations concerning the lawful nature of industrial action falling short of a strike.

There is a minor change in Regulation 17(2) which is extended to cover the consumption of electricity elsewhere than on the premises of the consumer.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

I note without surprise the continuation of the emergency. As the underlying issues will be debated in the next two days, I do not think it useful to raise further questions.

Mr. Kaufman

Would it be in order at this stage, Mr. Speaker, to ask whether it would be possible for the Leader of the House to make a statement about energy Questions? As a number of hon. Members have tabled Questions to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on energy matters and as a new Department has been created, it is not clear what will be the fate of those Questions when trade and industry Questions come up on 21st and 28th January.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that is a matter for the Chair. However, I was under the impression that we were to have a debate on energy this afternoon.

Mr. Heffer

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a very simple question. As it now seems that the country is in a permanent state of emergency as a result of the Government's policy, and in order to save the time of the House, would it not be better to dispense with the Queen's Message in the way we have just had it until the occasion arises when we have a Message from the Queen that the state of emergency is over?

Mr. Carr

The simple answer to that question is "No". Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will play his part in seeing that that situation comes about.

Mr. John Morris

Can the Home Secretary tell the House when we last had a peacetime Government which had as many states of emergency as the present Government have had?

Mr. Carr

I think that this situation is indeed of a rather unprecedented nature and that perhaps we should all ask ourselves why.

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.

Mr. Speaker

I should point out that it can then be debated.

Message to be considered tomorrow.