HL Deb 25 November 1926 vol 65 cc849-52

had given Notice to move, That the Regulations made by His Majesty in Council under the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, by Order dated the 20th instant, shall continue in force, subject, however, to the provisions of Section 2 (4) of the said Act. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the Resolution which stands in my name. I do not think it necessary to say anything about the general character of it, for we are familiar with the reasons which have induced your Lordships on more than one previous occasion to pass these exceptional measures. I have, however, to say that we have hopes that the condition of the coal trade will enable us to abolish some of these exceptional measures before the month has expired. If that be so, it requires, of course, a new Order in Council. When the Government are advised that such a course would be desirable they will bring forward the necessary Resolution to your Lordships to amend and mitigate these Regulations. Your Lordships would, of course, in that event have notice.

Moved, That the Regulations made by His Majesty in Council under the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, by Order dated the 20th instant, shall continue in force, subject, however, to the provisions of Section 2 (4) of the said Act.—(The Earl of Balfour.)


My Lords, I think it is very satisfactory to hear from the noble Earl that there is a chance of mitigating certain of these Regulations (which certainly are very strong) on the ground that the difficulties in the coal trade are likely, at any rate partially, to be settled. I presume the Government have considered what are the Regulations that they think may be mitigated and the noble Earl would perhaps indicate what they are. I ask that for this reason. I have drawn attention on former occasions to one or two of the Regulations which, in my opinion, are exceptionally objectionable, having regard to the Common Law principle by which these matters are governed in this country. There was a reference to it in the other place yesterday. Where complaints have been made to the noble and learned Viscount about magistrates, amongst others, I have noticed, as far as I have seen them, that they have arisen partly in respect of the very questions which I think are most difficult and in regard to which I, at any rate, should desire a mitigation to be introduced at the earliest possible moment.

I do not want to deal with this at any length because I have done so previously, and I will only take one illustration relating to proceedings which are taken under Regulation 21, where a person has attempted, as it is called, to cause civil disaffection. One understands mutiny, sedition and matters of that kind, but it is quite obvious that civil disaffection may be something about which there is a difference of opinion when the parties are dealing with such questions as may arise in connection with the coal strike. That is one of the matters upon which one feels very strongly that it should not be within the power of the Chief Constable of a particular county to prosecute perhaps a member of the other House, because, after all, that member has only been expressing his political views, though he might not express them in the particular way that would be most friendly and amicable. What I should like to know very much is whether the noble Earl can tell us whether a provision of that kind—I take that as a test provision—is likely to be mitigated shortly.

There are also other provisions, such as the noble Lord said, I think, that he had not studied much last time, provisions like those contained in No. 14. They show the other side of these Regulations. They contain ample power, if necessary, for the Government to take over the production and distribution of coal in this country and to control prices, and generally they give very wide powers indeed. I am not suggesting that powers of that kind may not be otherwise than useful during the continuance of the coal trouble, but I should like to know what is the noble Earl's view, or the view of the Government if they have formed one. I understood last time that in their view No. 14 could not be practically used if the Government thought it necessary to bring pressure upon the coal owners or the coal miners in order to bring a dispute of this kind to an end. I understood him to say that when we discussed the question last time. I do not want to go further than to ask the noble Earl if he can give some information on the point whether the Government think they will be able to introduce mitigating Regulations within a short time.


My Lords, by leave of the House I may perhaps say one word in answer to the noble Lord. I do not think we should gain much by discussing particular phases or particular parts of these Regulations, and I hope noble Lords opposite and the House at large will be content with the statement that the Government are most desirous of returning to a normal state of affairs, and in proportion as circumstances allow us to do that we shall take full advantage of the opportunities given us.


My Lords, I cannot say any more, but the noble Earl will appreciate, of course, that that gives no information at all.


My Lords, I do not want to enter into a dispute with the noble Lord across the floor of the House, because I believe I am not in order, but how could I reply in any other way than I have done? The Home Secretary is, of course, watching the course of events most carefully and critically. He has expressed in another place on behalf of the Government, and I think with the full acceptance of members in another place, his intention of mitigating these Regulations as and in proportion as circumstances will permit. I do not think it is possible for me to say more than that. He would, of course, have modified, and the Government would have modified, these Regulations had they after careful examination thought that could be safely done in the existing state of the coal industry. They have come to the conclusion that it could not safely be done yet, but prospects seem on the whole fairly satisfactory and we have every hope that mitigation which is at present impossible will become possible before the month has elapsed which requires these Regulations to be renewed, if, unhappily, that necessity should occur. I quite agree that I have given very little information to the noble Lord except to express the good intentions of the Government, but I would ask how it is possible without the gift of prophecy, which unfortunately I do not possess, to give him any more accurate information as to the future course of events.

On Question, Motion agreed to.