HL Deb 21 November 1918 vol 32 cc346-57

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee—(Viscount Sandhurst).


My Lords, the noble Viscount in charge of this Bill was kind enough to say that I might refer again for a moment to a matter in regard to which I called his attention last night on the Second Reading of this Bill. The Bill has to do with the re-instatement of those who are serving in various employments in this country, and I suggested that the local tribunals which had had charge of the question of taking men out of their employments and bringing them into the Service would be of great value for the reverse process of bringing them back again. The noble Viscount was not able to tell me last night whether he thought there was anything in that suggestion, and he said that I might ask him again this morning. Perhaps he will be kind enough to say whether he thinks there is anything of value in the suggestion.


My Lords, my noble friend has correctly stated the matter. I was not in a position, as he will understand, to give an undertaking offhand on behalf of the Department, but I am now able, I am glad to say, to assure him that the Department will be very pleased indeed to avail themselves of the help of the gentlemen and the bodies to whom he refers, who have gained very great experience in these matters. They have shown great public spirit, and there is no doubt that their experience will be of much assistance and value to the Department.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Power to take possession of premises for employment exchanges.

1. The power of making regulations under the Defence of the Realm (Consolidation) Act, 1914, as amended by any subsequent enactment, shall include power to make regulations authorising the Commissioners of Works, or, as respects Ireland, the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, to take possession of any land, including buildings thereon, which the Minister of Labour may certify to be required, in connection with any scheme of demobilisation, for the purposes of employment exchanges or the accommodation of the staff of any department of the Ministry constituted for reinstating in civil life persons who, during the present war, have been serving in His Majesty's forces or otherwise engaged in work of national importance.

THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY moved in Clause 1, after the word "make," to insert "with the consent of the Treasury." The noble Marquess said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Stuart of Wortley, who is unable to be present, I desire to move this Amendment. I do not think that your Lordships would wish me to repeat the arguments that were used in your Lordships' House yesterday, and which are very fresh in the memory of all noble Lords. We view with a certain amount of suspicion this very general power which is to be given to the First Commissioner of Works to take whatever premises he thinks fit all over the country, just as if the Defence of the Realm Act Regulations in all their vigour were to be continued in force in this respect. We suggested yesterday that there ought to be some check. Not that we suspect the right hon. gentleman of any sinister designs, but he evidently is of a very lavish disposition and anxious to do the thing in slap up style. My noble friend denies that?


Oh, no, it was the language.


I apologise to your Lordships. It was, perhaps, a little too colloquial for the audience which I am addressing. The words which are upon the Paper, and which I suggest that your Lordships should insert, are "with the consent of the Treasury"; that is to say, the Treasury should exercise a real control over the power which is given to the First Commissioner of Works. Formerly the Treasury control was what the taxpayer relied upon to protect him from extravagance in matters of this kind, and in the old days the Chancellors of the Exchequer whom I have had the great honour of knowing and serving under were accustomed to give an emphatic "No" at first to any proposal for increased expenditure. and one would hope that the present Government in that respect would follow in their footsteps. I confess that I have occasionally had my faith in the Treasury shaken of late; therefore what I require is not the insertion of particular words so much as the absolute assurance of the Government, which we should entirely accept, that the Treasury would exercise a real control over these proceedings. I do not know whether under the regulations as they stand the Treasury is ever consulted. I do not know, for instance, that in the taking of any of these premises during the war the Treasury has ever been asked for their consent. I suspect not.




My noble friend, who really understands this subject. having served on a Committee which investigated it, tells me that the consent of the Treasury has been of a perfunctory character. That may be right under the great pressure of war, but it ought to come to an end now and the full control of the Treasury be restored. I do not know whether the Government will accept these words, but, at any rate, I hope that I shall receive from the Government, in the presence of my noble friend the Leader of the House, who is responsible as a member of the War Cabinet, an assurance that Treasury control shall be a real thing if we grant these extensive powers to the first Commissioner of Works.


I entirely agree with all that has been said by the noble Marquess. I have an Amendment on the Paper which the Amendment moved by the noble Marquess would not cover. I agree that the Treasury ought to have control over this expenditure, and I have only risen now because I hope I shall not be told later that the point I wish to raise has already been dealt with by this Amendment, because the two matters are really different.


I quite enter into the feelings of the noble Marquess who has moved this Amendment, but as for the enthusiasms of the First Commissioner of Works which he mentioned—or his intentions for efficiency at any rate—I should like to say that that gentleman is, I believe, the President of the War Cabinet Accommodation Committee, and in regard to these premises which have exercised various noble Lords at different times that Committee is doing its utmost in the direction that noble Lords opposite wish, towards emptying buildings of officials whose work may be done, so that they may be replaced by the officials of the Labour Department working in the labour exchanges. For instance, that has already been done at Tottenham and in one or two other places, and is being done also in premises occupied by the National Service Department. So that I think the First Commissioner is fully alive to the requirements which have been mentioned. Really there cannot be any reasonable fear, or any fear at all, of taking premises of an imposing style such as we have heard of. For the most part the places required are halls or small buildings where counters can be set up on ground floors, so as to ensure that a number of people can be attended to at the same time.

In regard to the Amendment, the noble Marquess of course understands better than I do about an Order in Council made by His Majesty. When that is put in force the Department has to go to the Treasury for authorisation of the expenditure required. I trust that this will be a reply to the noble Marquess with regard to the necessary caution and care that he desires to see.


We should like to have the words in the Bill. There have been too many cases in which the Treasury have been given the go-by, and have only been asked for a covering approval after the steed has been stolen.


I do not think that what the noble Viscount (Lord Sandhurst) said quite covers the point. It is quite true that the Treasury would have to approve, in a sense, the passing of an Order in Council before it absolutely comes into operation, but if the Government, qua Government, have decided on a thing, the Treasury control really comes to nothing at all. What you want is that as a matter of course, before anything of this kind is done, the Treasury should be referred to. But this really emphasises the wakening of a sleeper who has slept during the war; and, taking the view of the noble Viscount himself, I do not see why he should object to the insertion of these words. I must say I think it is desirable at this particular stage, halfway between war and peace, that we should in some way record our view that the active and actual control of the Treasury should be revived.


I venture to suggest that the object aimed at by this Amendment will not be served if it is carried. This is a proposal to insert words after the word "make"—that is, to make the general regulation. What I imagine noble Lords want is the application to a particular case, and it seems to me that the words "with the consent of the Treasury" ought to come after the word "Ireland" instead of after the word "make"; because, as it stands, it will only make it necessary for the Treasury once for all to consent to a general regulation or series of regulations, and will leave it then to the Commissionser of Works to act without the consent of the Treasury.


I need not say that I should always bow to the opinion of the noble and learned Lord on a matter of this kind; but it is not merely his authority—he has convinced my reason also—and I quite agree that the words ought to come at the lower point that he has indicated.


I will put the Amendment in the amended form which has been indicated.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, line 9, after ("Ireland"), insert ("with the consent of the Treasury").—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


I hope the noble Viscount will see his way to accept these words, if not in the precise form in which they are moved—although I confess they seem to me to be entirely adequate—at any rate in some operative form. The noble Viscount must know quite well that there is no little public uneasiness on this question of expenditure, and, so far as the purely technical point is concerned which was raised with regard to the operation of an Order in Council. I do not think that His Majesty's Government need greatly concern themselves. It is, of course, true that the general powers given under an Order in Council are not subject to subsequent review by anybody, but as a matter of practice there can be no slight to the Privy Council in saying that in each particular instance special reference should be made to His Majesty's Treasury in matters of expenditure.


The noble Marquess moved the Amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Stuart of Wortley, but what he was concerned with was not so much the actual terms of the Amendment as the principle that lay behind it, and I think I am correct in saying that he said he would be satisfied if a definite and binding assurance was given by the Government in this respect. My noble friend Lord Sandhurst intended to give, and I think did give, that assurance; but if he was not sufficiently explicit in the matter I give it on his behalf and on behalf of the Government. I do not know that there will be any great objection to putting these words into the Bill except this—namely, that we are not anxious to give to another place to-day the opportunity of reconsidering this measure. Personally I am very anxious that it should, if your Lordships agree, pass this House without amendment. Your Lordships are well aware that if the Bill goes to another place opportunities of discussion and possibly of disagreement may arise, and on general grounds I should be anxious to avoid that. Therefore if the noble Marquess adheres to what he said in his opening remarks, and will be content with a definite engagement on my part, on behalf of the Government, that the Treasury shall be consulted in every case, I am willing to give it.


I think that, as the noble Viscount says there is no great objection to the words, they ought to be inserted. The noble Earl does not want the Bill to go back to another place. Is that really the way to do legislation when there is a provision which is clearly proper to put into a Bill, merely on the ground that there is a certain peril in its going along the corridor again, and therefore we should not do what is obviously indicated as our duty? After all, the House of Commons is not in the least likely to throw out this Bill because we put in an Amendment of this kind. They will, of course, applaud the Amendment; they desire that the Treasury should be consulted. There is no objection to it on that head; and I think, after what my noble friend has said, it would be better to put the words in.


I should like to say a word in support of the noble Marquess. If the policy advocated by the noble Earl is adopted in regard to the Amendment of the noble Marquess, it will, of course, be adopted with regard to the Amendment of the noble and learned lord on my right (Lord Phillimore), and also with regard to my Amendment. I would make this practical suggestion. When you look at this Bill, is there any real urgency for passing it at all in this Parliament? Could it not stand over until the meeting of the new Parliament? For my part I think it would be much better to withdraw the Bill altogether if we are not allowed to amend it, and to give the new Parliament an opportunity of passing any Bill that will be found necessary when that Parliament is elected.


I have heard many hard things said of the present House of Commons, but I have never heard it suggested that they would be likely to object to an assertion of Treasury control, if necessary, for a particular object of this kind. I entirely agree with my noble friend behind me (Lord Salisbury) that an Amendment of this sort is likely to be applauded by the House of Commons, with an expression of satisfaction that your Lordships should take so strong a line on this particular subject. It is important to remember that in the other House there is no possibility of raising other disputed points on a matter of this sort. The Rules of Order there, unlike our own, as we know, would entirely prevent anything of the kind. The matter would simply be put in puris naturalibus to that House, and I am certain would be accepted by them with enthusiasm. I therefore hope that the noble Earl will agree.


I am never anxious to fight on a point of form, but I would observe that noble Lords opposite seem really to have shifted their ground a little. When Lord Salisbury spoke he asked for an assurance. I have given an assurance. I do not know whether the noble Marquess has such a profound distrust of Ministers in general, and of myself in particular, that he is not satisfied with that; but if that is the position, and if he wants the assurance—which he says the House of Commons will so eagerly accept—put into the Bill, I am not disposed to resist it.


I am very much obliged to the noble Earl.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD PHILLIMORE moved, in Clause 1, after the word "take," to insert "during the war." The noble and learned Lord said: The object of this Amendment is to make it clear that what the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council said was the intention of the Bill shall be the real effect and purport of it. I have no doubt that the noble Viscount (Lord Sandhurst) has been advised that these words are unnecessary, but I confess to having a doubt upon the subject. I think I can satisfy your Lord ships that the words are not unnecessary, and that they are required in order to carry out that limitation which the noble Earl said the Bill should have.

This is one of those pieces of legislation by reference which I, as an old Judge, detest, and which constantly leads to Parliament enacting that which Parliament has never thought of or known anything about. The way in which this scheme is drafted is that the power of making Regulations for one purpose is to be turned into a power of making Regulations for another purpose. Be it so. But the power of making Regulations for the defence of the Realm is for the war and during the war. The powers in this Bill are super-added powers not for the war and not necessarily during the war; and there is no reason why they should be held by any Judge who has to construe this Act as limited to the period of the war. I want to make it quite clear that they are limited to the period of the war—that is to say, not that the Commissioner of Works may not retain possession of that of which he has lawfully taken possession, but that he should not take possession of further buildings after the war has come to an end. I know that the noble Earl has said that this is the intention of His Majesty's Government, and that so far as this is concerned he has given a sort of undertaking to this House that so the Act shall be so construed.

But I have two observations to make upon that. The noble Earl, will, I trust, long remain in his present exalted position as one of the leading representatives of His Majesty's Government. Yet there may be a change of Government; and subsequent Ministers may not find themselves bound by the noble Earl's undertaking, if I may call it an undertaking. Further, the First Commissioner of Works will be doing these things without any reference to the noble Earl. The noble Earl will not hear of them, nobody will hear of them, until the deed is done and it is too late to prevent it. Then it would be idle to go to the Judges and say that Hansard shows that this was not the intention of the Bill. As your Lordships know, learned Judges never look at the speeches of your Lordships in this House, or at the speeches of Members in the other House; they never look at discussions leading to the construction of an Act. They say that the words speak for themselves and that they must construe them as they stand.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 9, after ("take") insert ("during the war").—(Lord Phillimore.)


In reply to the noble and learned Lord, I am afraid I can only repeat what I said yesterday—which he has in some degree anticipated—that I am advised that it is clear that the power to take possession comes to an end with the end of the war, as do all the other Regulations of the Defence of the Realm Act. The reason that this Bill was brought in was, as I explained, that it was considered that while the Defence of the Realm Act had to do with matters for the prosecution of the war, this was a matter to deal with demobilisation, which concerns peace; but in regard to the termination of the powers under that Act it in no way differs, as I have stated two or three times, from the original Defence of the Realm Act. Therefore I cannot accept the Amendment of the noble and learned Lord.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

LORD SOUTHWARK moved, in Clause 1, after "may," to insert "subject to appeal to the Treasury on the part of owners and occupiers of land or buildings." The noble Lord said: This Bill, and other Bills which have been passed, place too much power in the hands of individuals without appeal, and I will give one little illustration of the sort of thing that has been done. I have a case where a warehouse was commandeered, and stores were turned out, and the former occupants were compelled to find new premises, causing them great inconvenience and expense and detrimentally affecting their goods. All this was done notwithstanding the fact that equally suitable premises in the neighbourhood could have been taken without causing any disturbance or inconvenience. There was, however, no appeal, and that sort of thing is going on all over the country. All I ask is that those whose land or buildings is being commandeered should have an appeal somewhere. I thought it was possible there was some Court of appeal, unknown to me, already in existence, but if it was so I am sure it was not known to those whose land or buildings had been commandeered. In my Amendment I am suggesting the Treasury as the Court of appeal, although, of course, I should prefer another body. I think the local authority, such as the town council or the urban or rural district council, would be preferable to the Treasury, because they would know the nature of the business being carried on and whether other suitable premises were available. But rather than that there should be no appeal I suggest that those whose property is commandeered should have this appeal to the Treasury. I do not wish to make a long speech, but I could bring any number of cases, illustrating the hardships that have been inflicted, unnecessarily, where with a little practical common sense they might have been avoided.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, line 11, after ("may") insert ("subject to appeal to the Treasury on the part of owners and occupiers of land or buildings").—(Lord Southwark.)


According to the Amendment on the Paper it appears to me that my noble friend is anxious to appeal to the Treasury on a matter which, by the action of your Lordships' House a few minutes ago, they will have already given a decision upon. It does not seem to me that this is a very practical or sensible solution; but were that not so, I should feel obliged to ask your Lordships to reject the Amendment for this reason—that the Treasury can know nothing about the local needs either of the exchange or of the local people, and it would necessitate a great deal of inquiry, correspondence, and expense, and therefore delay; whereas speed, as I have endeavoured to show on more than one occasion, is almost the essence of the matter in regard to these labour exchange buildings, with crowds of people not only in the near future but on Monday waiting for relief. I venture to suggest to my noble friend that owners are sufficiently protected by the right of appeal to the Defence of the Realm Losses Commission to which I referred yesterday.


I should like to say this in answer to the noble Viscount. The Amendment of the noble Marquess which has been accepted is placing the Treasury in control of the purchasing or taking of premises, but that has nothing to do with dealing with persons whose property has been commandeered. As the noble Viscount said, we have an appeal to Lord Terrington, but that can all be avoided if there is an appeal before compensation has to be given. I hope that noble Lords will consider that owners should have some right of appeal before their property is taken. There are very many harsh cases, and I am speaking of what would be appreciated throughout the business world, with regard to premises taken in this autocratic way.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX. having been suspended) Amendment reported: Bill read 3a and passed, and returned to the Commons.