§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The LORD STANMORE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
§ Power to extend purposes of certain Defence Regulations.
§ 1.—(1) If it appears to His Majesty to be necessary or expedient that any Defence Regulation to which this section applies should have effect for the purpose of so maintainng controlling and regulating supplies and services as—
- (a) to secure a sufficiency of those essential to the wellbeing of the community or their equitable distribution or their availability at fair prices; or
- (b) to facilitate the demobilization and resettlement of persons and to secure the orderly disposal of surplus material; or
- (c) to facilitate the readjustment of industry and commerce to the requirements of the community in time of peace; or
- (d) to assist the relief of suffering and the restoration and distribution of essential supplies and services in any part of His Majesty's dominions or in foreign countries that are in grave distress as the result of war;
§ he may by Order in Council direct that the Regulation shall have effect by virtue of this Act whether or not it is for the time being necessary or expedient for the purposes for which it was made.
§ LORD RUSHCLIFFEmoved, in paragraph (b) of subsection (1), after "persons," to insert: "Provided that no such resettlement shall be made without the consent of the persons concerned." The noble Lord said: My Amendment is to Clause 1, page 1, line 13, after "persons" 768 insert "Provided that no such resettlement shall be made without the con-sent of the persons concerned." It is 1945. moved in no hostile spirit at all, but simply in order to carry out what quite clearly is the intention of the Minister. In another place, the Home Secretary stated that there was no intention at all of applying this provision in order to move persons against their will; but, in order to secure that the work of the country should be carried on efficiently, it might be necessary to resettle persons in the places where they wanted to be. That assurance was given in the most explicit terms, and I move this Amendment so that it may be quite clear that the intention of the Minister will be carried out.
Page 1, line 13, after ("persons") insert the said proviso.—(Lord Rushcliffe.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD JOWITT)
I am grateful to the noble Lord 'for moving this Amendment, and I appreciate that he does so in no hostile spirit. I am glad to repeat the assurance which the Home Secretary gave in another place. The reason why we want these powers in connexion with resettlement is not that we contemplate as part of resettlement that we shall order anybody to any particular place or anything of the sort. Resettlement is, of course, voluntary, but in order to effect resettlement we may require power to retain requisitioned property or to requisition property undo Regulation 51 for purposes such as making training centres or for advice bureaux or something of that sort, in order, in other words, to have satisfactory machinery for ensuring that people are resettled in accordance—I quite agree—with their own desire.
There is another Regulation, Regulation 58A, which we are proposing to retain in force under this Bill. Those are the powers relating to the direction of labour. Those powers will be used not in connexion with resettlement or for purposes of resettlement, but for the purpose of securing a sufficiency of supplies and services which are essential to the well-being of the community—powers which I hope we may get rid of at the earliest possible moment and not have to use at all. They have nothing to do with resettlement, and I give the noble Lord the assurance for which he asks in the most definite terms.
769 The resettlement which we contemplate is purely voluntary. We do not contemplate directing anybody as part of the machinery of resettlement, but we contemplate that the necessary machinery shall provide what may be required for the setting up of training centres, advice bureaux and all the facilities of voluntary resettlement which the noble Lord and I both have at heart. For those reasons I cannot accept the Amendment, but I accept the principle which I know the noble Lord had in mind in setting it down. We do need these powers, but we do not contemplate any compulsion in connexion with resettlement at all.
§ LORD RUSHCLIFFE
After receiving that assurance from the noble and learned Lord, I do not press the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ LORD RANKEILLOURmoved, in paragraph (b) of subsection (1), to leave out all words after "persons" The noble Lord said: This matter was raised on. October 16 by my noble friend Lord Barnby and myself, and was replied to by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, who, if he will excuse my saying so, was slightly nebulous, which I attribute to the unprecedented celerity with which on that occasion he disposed of his robes and took up his position as a Minister of the Crown. He referred to a White Paper, Cued. No. 6539, but I could not but think that that Paper was somewhat nebulous too. It said a good deal about the methods and objects of stores being disposed of, but very little about the organization which was to dispose of them. It did, in particular, mention the creation of a disposal department, but it did not say how that department was to be constituted nor, apparently, did it have full powers of disposal.
§ I should be rather glad to have an answer to two questions. First of all, when supplies of a department are handed over to the various Departments—I will particularize and mention the packing department—of the War Office, the Admiralty or the Air Ministry, whose property do they then become? Are they the property of the Department or does the Ministry of Supply retain control of them? Formerly they were undoubtedly the property of the Department itself and the receipts would be an appropriation in aid of the estimates, but I gather rather 770 from the White Paper that the objections to any such arrangement have been felt because the various Departments might easily spoil each other's market. I presume, therefore, that that at any rate will not be done. This Disposal Department is apparently very limited, apart from its constitution. It does not appear to have the right of disposing of all the surplus stores and the like. What I would like to ask is, is the Disposal Department in creation already, and if it is, is it equipped with all that is necessary for the disposal?
§ I speak with some little knowledge of this because I had to answer for the Minister of Munitions in another place in the years 1919–21 and the disposal was under the charge of Lord Inverforth. He was able to realize an immense sum for the benefit of the Crown, but his market was not spoilt because he could put the goods on the market at the proper season. He was, of course, an absolutely first-rate business man. I cannot help thinking that if a new department of civil servants is created they will not be properly equipped. Is it equipped for disposal, because undoubtedly Lord Inverforth was assisted by a Disposal Board over which he presided? He was a very eminent business man. He was criticized, of course, but only on account of the redundancy of his staff and to some extent on account of delay. No one questioned the remarkable results he achieved. I suggest that this Disposal Department, if set up, should have jurisdiction over all classes of disposal and should be fortified by the addition of first-class business experience to enable it to do its work under the best conditions.
Page 1, line 13, leave out from ("persons") to ("or") in line 14.—(Lord Rankeillour.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am sorry that I did not know the noble Lord was going to ask the specific questions he did. Otherwise I should have been able to give him an answer more satisfactory to him and myself. So far as the amendment goes, we want the words here to secure the ordinary disposal of surplus material, for this reason. We have under Defence Regulation 51 a power to requisition. We shall need to maintain our rights to requisition and for the utilization of buildings, in order to facilitate disposal, to store the goods in the meanwhile.
771 Further, if I may give you an illustration, I would point out that as we go about the country we see a vast number of small dumps of explosives in our woods and forests. It would obviously be very desirable to move those dumps to one central position in order that we might remove what is an eyesore in some of the most beautiful parts of our country. For that reason it may be necessary to requisition, or retain in requisition, certain places. If it were necessary to do that it might be necessary to retain the powers under Regulation 50, which controls work undertaken on land. Obviously, if you have a large explosive dump you would have to take account of the nature of the work done on adjoining land, for obvious reasons. That is why we want this power and why we cannot agree to the Amendment.
As to the specific question the noble Lord asked me, as to whether this, that or the other was the property of the Department, he is an even greater authority on these matters than I am, but I should have thought that it was an error to speak of the property of a Department. Surely it is the property of the Crown.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
I do not question that. What I meant was giving a Department power formally to dispose of them or were they bound by the action of the Ministry of Supply?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am doing very little more than guessing. I should have thought they could dispose of them, but I will make it a point to ascertain if my guess is the right one and communicate with the noble Lord. We have not, at the present time, under contemplation the setting up of a Disposal Board in the sense that we had after the last war. The whole question of disposal is one which needs very careful consideration. The machinery applicable to one certain type of goods may not be applicable to another, but I entirely assent to the noble Lord's suggestion that in order to dispose of goods to the best advantage we should use the experience of the business man. There is also this point about disposal. We must be careful not to dispose of commodities like gas engines without due thought, otherwise we might do grave injury to the industries concerned. We must obviously have regard 772 to these considerations. We want this as one of our powers. We shall certainly try to exercise the powers in accordance with good sensible business principle and we shall try to enlist in this matter the help of business men.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
I may say that I do not attach any particular importance to the Amendment I propose, except for the purpose of eliciting information. But I hope the Lord Chancellor can say whether one body will be responsible for all disposals or whether the responsibility will be rather frittered about —and I do not use the expression offensively—by different Departments, which was rather the impression I got from the White Paper.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It will not he frittered about, but, necessarily, there will not be one Department, because we shall be dealing with a whole range of goods, and a machine which would be suitable for one type of goods might be quite unsuitable for another.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
I hope that, at a later stage of the Bill, I may get further information, which, I may say, it was indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, he would give when he got a little more erudite. I hope that time will come before the Bill comes before this House. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 2.51 p.m.
§ LORD SOULBURYmoved, in subsection (1), to leave out "whether or not it is for the time being necessary or expedient for the purposes for which it was made." The noble Lord: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Chesham I beg to move the Amendment which stands in his name. The purpose of the Amendment is to leave out from "Act" to the end of line Io, the words following "whether or not it is for the time being necessary or expedient for the purposes for which it was made." My purpose in moving this Amendment is to endeavour to ascertain from the Lord Chancellor the implication or intent of this rather peculiar phrase which, incidentally, occurs lower down in the Bill in an almost more objectionable context. I could understand an Order in Council directing that a Regulation shall have effect by virtue of this Act 773 because, for the time being, it is necessary or expedient for the purpose for which it was made. I find it more difficult to understand why it is necessary to put in words which, in effect, mean "in spite of the fact that the Regulation is unnecessary and inexpedient for the purpose for which it was made." I do not know whether it is ingenious drafting, or what its purpose is, but if the Government wanted something all-embracing for every form of Regulation, I cannot quite see why they should rot simply have drafted a provision saying that "the Regulation to which this section applies, so and so." Why this very curious phrase which I suspect is unexampled in any other Act of Parliament?
§ It really means that if an objection is made to the Government in connexion with any regulation, and the objection takes the form that the Regulation which is proposed was made for quite a different purpose, in different circumstances, and was now quite inexpedient and quite. unnecessary for that purpose, the Regulation shall nevertheless be deemed to be expedient and necessary for the purpose. That seems to be a very roundabout way of bringing forward a Regulation which, presumably, would be considered by His Majesty's Government as necessary and expedient. It is a sort of production by son e kind of magic of a new lamp for oil. The Government say, "Take this old and grim Regulation, rub it, and here is a new and bright one." Surely, that is not the way in which we should expect new Regulations to be drafted. I am bound to say that I should like explanation of the reason. It must be quite simple for the Government, if they want a new Regulation, to draft one. Why go through this curious procedure of keeping alive these Regulations, while admitting that they may be unnecessary and inexpedient? It is a very curious phrase, and I should be grateful to the Lord Chancellor d he would elucidate it.
Page 2, line 8, leave out from ("Act") to end of line Io.—(Lord Soulbury.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I have some sympathy with, the criticism of the noble Lord on the matter of drafting. The Bill which we have introduced to your Lordships' House was, of course, a Bill whir h we inherited from, the previous Government, and this passage of the Bill 774 was drafted by that Government. I think the reason behind it is not very far to seek. Surely, it is that, under the old Act, the Emergency Powers Act, regulations could be made for certain purposes if they were necessary or expedient for securing the public safety, the defence of the realm, the maintenance of public order, and the efficient prosecution of the war.
We want Regulations for wholly different purposes, which we have set out in (a), (b), (c) and (d), which the noble Lord will see are quite different The effect of these words is to make it quite plain that it cannot be said that a Regulation which is necessary for one of the purposes, (a), (b), (c.) or (d), can be objected to on the ground, for instance, that it is no longer necessary for the efficient prosecution of the war. The noble Lord will see that the words are "whether or not it is for the time being necessary or expedient for the purposes for which it was made." The purposes for which it was made were the purposes enacted in the Emergency Powers Act, and the effect of this clause is to make it quite plain. I am inclined to think the effect would have been the same had the words been omitted.
It is beyond argument, and true to say, that this Regulation, which we are now discussing, is wanted to facilitate the readjustment of industry, but it can-not be justified for the efficient prosecution of the war. I am selecting one from each side. The effect, of these words is simply to say that, so long as the Regulation is necessary for the readjustment of industry, it matters not that it ceased to be necessary for the progress of the war, or for the other purposes mentioned in the Emergency Powers Act, and, so long as that is so, the Regulation stands. That is the reason why these words have been inserted, and why the draftsman thought it better, in order to make it quite plain, that those words should be inserted. Therefore, I am inclined to the view that, even if the words were left out, the result would probably be the same.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
As I follow it, the explanation of the Lord Chancellor is one which I think those accustomed to find their way through rather elaborate drafting would accept. I do not bandy words about one Government or another; I think it rather a poor way of defending an 775 Act of Parliament to say "I got some words from another Government." The Lord Chancellor had the good fortune to belong to the previous Government, and, therefore, he should be particularly tender to their shortcomings, but the truth is that, when one looks, as the Lord Chancellor has said, the important words to seize hold of are the words at the beginning:If it appears to His Majesty's Government to be necessary or expedient that any Defence Regulation to which this section applies should have effect for the purpose ofvarious things. Of course, you may easily have a Defence Regulation which, at the time, was made for purely war purposes, and yet, it may be, that exactly the same regulation would still be regarded as necessary or expedient, though war purposes are exhausted, for the purposes (a), (b), (c) or (d). If I may respectfully say so —I only intended to shorten the proceedings—I think that the explanation the Lord Chancellor has given should be accepted, though, for my part I share the feeling that it is very doubtful whether the words between lines 8 and 10 are really necessary, and, indeed, I think that if we were to set to work afresh now, it is possible that a simpler form of expression could be suggested.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
When I referred to the previous Government I did not mean for a moment to suggest that I was trying to ride off on them, or anything of that sort. All I meant to say was that having inherited this Bill, on which a great deal of work had been done, we did not attempt to start at the beginning and to draft it again. We may have done better or we may have done worse, but it would have been very foolish to jettison all the work that had been done. That is all I meant to say.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
May I say a few words purely on the question of drafting? My own view always has been—and I have expressed it very often in this House—that the question to be determined is not whether the words may possibly mean what the Government think they may mean, but whether they are clear to the ordinary reader of the Act of Parliament. For my part, having read this particular clause about four times, I am still not quite satisfied that I know what the words do mean. I cannot help think 776 ing that the Lord Chancellor could easily, between now and the Report stage, with the assistance of the very able draftsmen who draft these documents, find words which would make the point really clear to anybody. Frankly, this is just the sort of topic which I have heard discussed in this House for two or three days when it has been sitting as a judicial tribunal, because all sorts of things can be suggested as to why the words were inserted. I invite the Lord Chancellor to say that he will find words as to which 'there can he no possible doubt.
§ LORD SOULBURY
I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor for the explanation he has given which I am bound to accept, in view of the remarks of the noble Lords who have spoken. I am not impressed by the inheritance argument, and if there is a case of damnosa hereditas I do not think the Lord Chancellor should invoke it. I should not have thought that affection for the previous Government would have prevented him from remedying its imperfections. But in view of the Lord Chancellor's explanation, I beg leave to withdraw.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2:
§ Power to make Defence Regulations for controlling prices.
§ 2.—(1) The powers conferred on His Majesty by the principal Acts to make such Defence Regulations as appear to him to he necessary or expedient for the purposes specified in subsection (1) of Section one of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, shall include power by Order in Council to make such Defence Regulations as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for controlling the prices to be charged for goods of any description or the charges to be made for services of any description, whether or not such Regulations are necessary or expedient for the purposes specified in the said subsection (1).
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ LORD RANKEILLOURmoved, in subsection (1), to leave out "of any description," where that phrase occurs for the second time, and insert "provided by any local authority or statutory body." The noble Lord said: I rise to move that certain words in line 42 be omitted. The 777 words are "of any description" following the word "services." I do not know whether this was in the original draft of the last Government, but, whatever the paternity, I suggest that the child has certain blemishes which ought, so far as possible, to be made good. The first difficulty I have is as to exactly what is meant by "charges." In an ordinary Parliamentary phrase, charges mean charges on the Exchequer. We are constantly told in this House that we cannot move, or al any rate ought not to move, certain Amendments because they will make r charge on the Exchequer. The same is true of private members in another place, unless they are fortified by a Resolution that can only be moved by a Minister the Crown. The same applies to Amend meats that would make a charge on the subject. That, however, cannot be the meaning here—at least I take it that cannot be the intention, though I am no: sure that the words could not be so construed. If so, it would mean that whatever charge fell on the Exchequer in respect ct the services done by any body or persons, the Government by Order in Council could lessen or increase those charges.
§ I believe that the words are perfectly capable of that construction, but obviously it cannot be meant, for example, that charges falling on the Consolidated Fund should be altered by the Minister. Yet I think the words are open to that interpretation. I believe that even that very exalted and mysterious person, the Comptroller and Accountant-General, who is not subject to any Government but is paid out of the Consolidated Fund, might have his salary reduced. Even the salaries of the Judges might be in jeopardy, although they are charged on the Consolidated Fund. Your Lordships will remember the general cut that was made, voluntarily or involuntarily, in the year 1931 on all manner of salaries, many of which fell on the Exchequer. I imagine that a Minister who may be in difficulties before the end of this Parliament, would welcome so simple a thing which would effect such a cut of, say 20 per cent. by an Order in Council. Therefore, although I am sure that is not the intention, I am riot at all certain that the words would not allow something of that kind to be done.
§ Now let me come to the words, "services of any description," apart from the question of charges. There seems to be 778 an extraordinary latitude there. For example, would it not be possible for art Order in Council to affect the fees of doctors? Would it not be in order to overhaul the scale charges of solicitors? Would it not be even possible to fix the fees of barristers? —though I am sure the Lord Chancellor would be rather disinclined to do that. Really, as this stands, we might, without consultation with the General Medical Council, the General Council of the Bar, the Incorporated Law Society, the Surveyors' Institute, or any other body of that description, make under these words a complete alteration in their financial position. What I suppose the Government really mean by these words is the general charges of a public utility service—charges for gas, for water, for electricity, perhaps dock charges and other things of that kind. In any case, I do not think the way to do it is by Order in Council. I can understand a case being made for that, however, which could not be made for the enormously wider area which these words seem to allow.
§ I am not particularly enamoured of the special words which have been put down —"provided by any public authority or statutory body." I dare say something better might be found, such as "essential public services," or something of that description. I do say, however, that the words are far too wide as they are, and do want qualification. For that reason I beg leave to move the amendment.
Page 2, line 42, leave out ("of any description") and insert ("provided by any public authority or statutory body").—(Lord Rankeillour.)
My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, may I, if I am not out of order, assure him with reference to an earlier matter that I will try to let him have the information as soon as possible.
In regard to this matter, I hope he will find me less nebulous. I hope he will find any clouds dissolved in a rain of knowledge, to which I am sure he will not offer an umbrella of indifference. As regards this clause, I do not know whether the Committee would wish me to deal straight away with the particular point raised by the noble Lord, or whether the Committee would wish the 779 general intention of the clause to be explained.
May I give the general intention of the whole clause and then at the end reply to the noble Lord? The general intention of the clause can be explained quite briefly. At the present time we are in a difficulty, and any Government would be in a difficulty, with regard to price fixing, and for this reason: that under Clause 1 we have got powers to fix the prices for essential goods and services but not for non-essential goods and services; while under the Price Control Acts of 1939 to 1943 we have powers to fix the prices for nonessential goods but only in general categories and not with reference to the prices charged by particular manufacturers. The object of this clause briefly is to stop a gap, to enable us to fix prices, if required, for non-essential goods and services, and if necessary, to fix the particular prices charged by manufacturers supplying such goods and services. That is the general intention of the clause. In order to avoid inflation and profiteering as well as to secure the best possible distribution of goods in short supply, we feel that a clause of this kind is essential.
As regards the particular point raised by the noble Lord, I am informed that his Amendment would not give us the powers that we shall inevitably require. In particular, we desire to control the charges for consumer services, not only public utility services but such services as boot repairing and laundries, as well as industrial services such as cloth finishing. Therefore a power simply to fix prices for public utility services would not give us all that we require. As regards the possibility of evil in the clause, I dare say, although I am not a lawyer, that those lurking possibilities might be said to exist. However, we require the clause and we must ask the Commitee to rely on us not to use the powers in an insane fashion.
I should like to have a little further explanation. The noble Lord has said that these powers are necessary to deal with a situation where goods might be in short supply or where there might be danger of profiteering. All those potentialities are, I should 780 have thought, covered by Clause subsection (1), paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). Subsection (1) of Clause 2 says:The powers conferred on His Majesty by the prinicpal Acts to make such Defence Regulations as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for the purposes specified in subsection (1) of Section one of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, shall include power by Order in Council to make such Defence Regulations as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for controlling the prices to be charged for goods of any description or the charges to be made for services of any description, whether or not such Regulations are necessary or expedient for the purposes specified in the said subsection (1).Therefore, these powers are to be used for purposes outside those very wide paragraphs of subsection (1) of Clause r of the Bill. I should like to know what these extra purposes are. You could not have a clause drawn more widely than this. The Government are asking for powers to control prices and to control charges made for services, not only for those purposes but' for any other purpose they possibly can conceive. I should very much like to know what they have in mind.
In the first place, we desire to stop profiteering of any kind. In the second place, as I thought I had made quite plain, we require powers to fix prices of non-essential goods. It is extremely doubtful whether such powers, in fact, inhere in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (1) of Clause 1.
Might I interpose once more? Will the noble Lord look at Clause 1, subsection (1) (a)? He will see that it reads:to secure a sufficiency of those essential to the wellbeing of the community or their equitable distribution or their availability at fair prices.If that does not cover profiteering, I do not know what does.
May I point out to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, that it only covers goods essential to the wellbeing of the community? I must reiterate that. I am afraid I cannot have made that quite plain in my opening remarks.
I must point out to the noble Viscount and to the Committee (I clearly have not made it plain 781 in my opening remarks) that we require power to fix the prices of goods which are not essential, or which might well not be found to be essential. The noble Viscount, I think, must accept it that there is a real danger under Clause 1 that we should not, in fact, be considered to hold power to fix the prices of, for instance, non-utility hosiery or goods of that kind which could not be regarded as essential to the community, but which, we feel, must have their prices 'fixed unless there is to be inflation, profiteering and general maldistribution.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
With each explanation this clause becomes more and more extraordinary. I thought Clause I was pretty widely drawn. I understood from the noble and learned Lord Chan. color that there were certain things absolutely essential to the community and that those commodities which were so vital should, while they were in short supply be controlled. I fully agree that certain things such as priorities might be necessary for the resettlement of industry during this transitional period, and things to help voluntary resettlement. He admitted that the clause was widely drawn and, speaking of those essential purposes which are defined in Clause 1 he said the Government ought to have those powers. Well, be that so, although they are very wide. I noticed yesterday that in a parenthesis the noble and learned Lord Chancellor, wishing to explain just how far he wanted controls to go, observed (with no very great relevance to the subjects under debate) that he was keenly locking forward to the time when he would be able to buy what he wanted, where he wanted, in the way and in the quantities he wanted. This really is a most amazing clause, as I now understand it. It hat nothing whatever to do with resettlement, with the reconditioning of industry, with goods in short supply, with essential goods—
May I interrupt to correct the noble Viscount? It would be misconstruing me to say it had nothing to do with goods being in short supply. I think noble Lords will recall that I made a reference to that.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
What I am concerned with is what this clause will give the Minister power to do for five years. Once he has done it, there is no 782 possibility of getting the thing undone. Whatever be the intention about goods in short supply, it is apparently conceded that this goes far wider than Clause 1. Indeed, there are no limitations, as written clown here, upon the powers of the Minister. Does this, or does this not, mean that the appropriate or inappropriate Minister could at any time in the next five years, if we passed this Bill, fix the price of any article whether or not it was in short supply? I am now dealing with the words of, the Bill; that is what matters, not the intention. Does this mean that the Minister can fix the price of any commodity, at any stage of its distribution, as it comes out of the factory or through every process of retail—that he could fix the price of every article of commerce at any stage? I believe from the explanation which has been given that that is the power which is set out here. I am not at all sure that he could not fix differential prices, and select one manufacturer and say, "You are to charge this price for this commodity." If I am wrong, the noble and learned Lord Chancellor will correct me.
There are clauses further on, to which we shall come later, which appear to give the Government an unlimited capacity to manufacture any commodity for any purpose. I am not at all sure that this clause, as it stands, does not give the Minister of Supply or the Minister of Aircraft Production or some other producing Minister the power to fix a price at which a manufacturer or retailer is to sell his goods, while leaving the Government Department free to sell at an unrestricted price. I am not dealing with the intention but with the wording, and I should like that answered. Certainly the Committee, before it parts with this Bill, will require a very clear answer as to whether or not this clause gives to the Government the power for the next five years to fix the price at any stage of any article, whether it is in short supply or not.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
The Committee have passed Clause 1, and Clause 1 gives certain powers for certain specific purposes—namely, those set out in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) of subsection (1). The clause which we are now discussing says, in effect, that those limitations are lifted and are to have no effect whatever so far as relates to the control of prices to be charged for goods or to be 783 made for services. Surely that cannot be the real intention of the Government—that, having imposed a limitation in Clause 1, it should be removed entirely for the great field of legislation that is contemplated in Clause 2. If the purpose is that stated by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham—namely, to remove a distinction between essential and non-essential goods—why not say so? That would be sufficient for the Government's purpose. Perhaps between now and the Report stage the Government will consider whether that is not the better course.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Perhaps I may be able to assist the Committee. This is rather a complicated matter, and I do not think that the distinction between Clause 1 and Clause 2 is at all understood. Under Clause 1, there is power to make use of certain existing Defence Regulations. It is quite true that we have to adapt them, because some of them refer to the war, and so on, but they are existing Defence Regulations. Those Defence Regulations, in so far as they deal with this topic at all, must have been made—I read from the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939—"for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community." Every Defence Regulation which we now possess, in so far as it deals with price, can be justified only upon the ground that it maintains "supplies and services essential to the life of the community." No Regulation now exists, therefore, which deals with supplies or services which are not essential to the life of the community.
That is the trouble that we are in. If in Clause 2 we merely have the power to continue existing Regulations, it is obvious that we shall not have power to continue any Regulation dealing with non-essential goods, because the existing Regulations do not deal with them. We want to have power to deal with nonessential matters. Exactly where the line is drawn between essential and nonessential is obviously very difficult, and for that very reason it is desirable that our powers should extend to both classes of goods. We might not be able to say that laundry charges and repairing boots were essential to the life of the community, but it is obviously desirable that we should have wider powers, and there- 784 fore the point of Clause 2 is this, that so long as the principal Act, the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act of 1939, continues —that is to say, until February 24 next —we shall have power to make Regulations under that Act for the purposes here specified—namely, where it isnecessary or expedient for controlling the prices to be charged for goods of any description or the charges to be made for services of any description.We shall have to make Regulations under this clause before February 24 next. Such a Regulation will come before your Lordships' House, and if your Lordships think that under any Regulation we are taking powers which are too drastic or too wide, you will have your remedy under Clause 4.
I would therefore answer the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, by saying that we are rather leaping before we come to the stile at this stage. It all depends on what the Regulation does, a Regulation which must be made before February 24. If that Regulation is in the very wide form to which the noble Viscount referred, your Lordships have your remedy. On the other hand, it is very difficult, since we have to deal with all sorts of emergencies, to limit the provision too drastically. I hope that the Committee will trust us to use this power in a reasonable way, and not in the way which has been indicated. I have never concealed the fact, however, that the basis of this scheme does involve immense powers, as I have already said, and we shall have to be checked if we use these powers in a tyrannous or arbitrary way. I cannot answer the noble Viscount, however, until I see the Regulations. He is bound to see them fairly soon.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It is uncontrolled except by the machinery of Clause 4. When we see a Regulation, if it is in the form which the noble Viscount fears, obviously steps can be taken about it at that stage. But for the moment I hope that I have been able to show the Committee that Clause 1 does not really deal with this matter, because it deals only with goods and services essential to the life of the community, and we now want to deal with non-essential goods, both because we want to prevent profiteering and also because we want to 785 prevent a situation of the following kind arising. Supposing you were to allow non-essential goods to rise in rice very much, and for it to be very profitable to make them, you might find all your labour attracted away from the essential goods and diverted to making these nonessential goods, the making of which would be very profitable. We should all desire to stop that, and I ask the Committee to say that the Government should lave power to do so, because it may lead to very great hardship among the poorer classes of the community, which your Lordships would dislike, on whichever side of the House you sit. I say, therefore, that we must have power to control the price of non-essential goods and the price of services.
One illustration was given in another place by one of the members belonging to the Opposition, who told the House that he was very glad to see this power, because he said that there was a shocking ramp going on in the price of funerals. I do not know whether that is true or not, but that is what he said. That is the sort of thing which could be dealt with by Regulation, if it is true. I suggest that it is desirable that we should have these powers. When a Regulation made under this clause comes before your Lordships, you will be able to look at it, as you will look at all these Regulations, with great care.
§ LORD SOULBURY
Would the noble and learned Lord tell me more clearly what he has in mind by the word "services"? The reason I ask is this. In another place the Home Secretary gay:: as an illustration of the way in which prices are rising, and as an illustration of prices which might have to be controlled, the recent increase in fees in secondary schools—a justifiable increase, as he admitted. It is true that he went on to say that he was not suggesting that this clause would be used to control school 'fees. But I would be glad to know whether the clause could be used to control, school fees, if the Government thought it necessary to use it for that purpose. I should also like to know whether this clans, could be used to increase or diminish the salaries of school teachers, which, as the Committee knows, have recently been settled through the Burnham Committee. Further, I would ask whether the clause 786 generally could be made to apply to wages in general in any district; whether "services" includes wages in any industry.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Manifestly, these are very wide words. Before giving specific answers one would want to see first the Regulation which is to be made under this clause. If we are going, in a Regulation, to take power to control these powers, that obviously is a matter which your Lordships will have in mind when you come to approve the Regulation.
I think the whole Committee will be very grateful to the noble and learned Lord Chancellor for the very full and courteous replies he has given. But following on what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said, I should like to ask whether the Lord Chancellor cannot see his way to consider, before the Report stage, whether there is any slightly more well-defined form of words which can be produced. He has made it clear to us this afternoon that the powers which the Government require in this subsection are clearly defined powers. He said, and I understand him very well, that subsection (1) of Clause 1 deals with a certain category of essential commodities, but that there are other commodities which may be in short supply which are not covered. I appreciate that the Government may wish to extend their control over these commodities. But this form of words covers anything. There is no conceivable charge or price which is not covered. If it is true that the Government need these powers—as I am sure they do —for specific purposes under abnormal circumstances, it is a pity to put a phrase as wide as that in the clause. May I refer to the profession to which the noble and learned Lord himself belongs—the legal profession? There is no doubt that a great lawyer quite properly receives very much higher fees than a less competent person. But it would be quite possible for the Government, so far as I can see, under this, to fix such a scale of fees that all the attraction of the legal profession for the more brilliant members of the community would he gone. The same would be true with regard to the medical profession. These words could be used for any purpose whatever, and I do ask that the Government may consider this matter before the Report stage and see whether they cannot suggest an alternative and more definite form of words.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am bound to say that if the Bill passes through Committee without being amended there will be no Report stage. I am very anxious to help in this matter as I entirely agree with the noble Viscount. I do not like having to use these very wide words. I concede at once that they give powers under which you might do wholly unreasonable things. On the other hand, the difficulty I feel arises in this way. We have got to have a Regulation, and it has got to be passed fairly shortly. It will then run for the next five years. All sorts of emergencies and contingencies might arise in the five years, which none of us visualize now. Therefore it seems to me that I must use wide words. But if it is possible on consideration to draft an Amendment giving the requisite powers specifically, so far as is possible, I will most gladly do so. If there is no Report stage, there will not be an opportunity—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If I have the opportunity, I will consider whether I can put an Amendment on the Third Reading. And may I say I shall welcome collaboration and help from any noble Lords who feel able to make suggestions? But, as I have said, I must have wide words because all sorts of emergencies which I cannot now anticipate may arise. If I could define powers which would prevent me having power to do these wholly ridiculous things which have been suggested, I should be very glad, and I shall be grateful for helpful suggestions.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
I, equally, am obliged to the noble and learned Lord Chancellor for what he has said. But may I ask him to consider that word "charges" before we reach another stage of the Bill? I should have thought that more appropriate words might be "costs of." The word "charges" is capable of being interpreted in quite another connexion. May I also say that it is possible for any member of your Lordships' House to move that the Bill be re-committed either wholly or in respect of any particular clause. That might well be a more convenient procedure than moving an Amendment on the Third Reading, which is not always convenient.
§ In view of what has been said, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
had an Amendment on the Paper, in subsection (1), after "description," where that word occurs for the second time, to insert "for the purpose of preventing an undue expenditure on such goods or services." The noble Lord said: In view of what the Lord Chancellor has said, I shall not move the Amendment standing in my name.
§ LORD O'HAGAN had an Amendment on the paper in subsection (1), to leave out "whether or not such Regulations are necessary or expedient for the purposes specified in the said subsection (1)." The noble Lord said: The discussion has covered the whole ground which I had in mind when putting this Amendment on the Paper. In view of what the noble and learned Lord Chancellor has said I certainly shall not proceed with it now. I would, however, like to say this. The remark made by the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, is one which, I imagine, appeals to most Back Benchers in this House—that the words in an Act of Parliament should be not so obscure that it is extremely difficult for the ordinary layman to understand the intention. It is true that on this occasion the noble and learned Lord Chancellor has made quite clear what is the intention of the Government with regard to this Bill, and that intention is one which all of us can understand and appreciate. But whether that intention can be conveyed to and understood by the ordinary citizen who has, to record his vote at the General Election is quite another matter, owing to the difficulties of getting the intentions of the Government really clearly before the electorate. For my own part, I conceive that one of the functions of this House is to make as sure as possible—given the conditions that exist—that the intentions of this. Government, and of any Government, should be clear to the electorate. But I will not waste your Lordships' time by pursuing that any farther. I very much hope, and I believe that many other Back Benchers also hope, that the noble and learned Lord Chancellor will be able to find words that will really convey in a more simple manner than is conveyed by 789 the wording of this particular part of the Bill, the intentions of His Majesty's Government.
§ clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 agreed to
§ Clause 4:
§ Parliamentary control over Defence Regulations and Orders and other instruments made thereunder.
§ 4.—(1) Every Order in Council made under the principal Acts (or under those Acts as extended by Section two of this Act) which contains Defence Regulations, every order or other instrument made under powers conferred by: Defence Regulations which is determined in accordance with regulations made under Section three of the Rules Publication Act, 1893, to be a statutory rule within the meaning of the said section and to be of the nature of a public Act or which is or is deemed to be a statutory rule to which the Rules Publication Act (Northern Ireland), 1925, applies (being at Order in Council order or instrument made after the passing of this Act), and every Order in Council made under this Act, shall be laid before Parliament as soon as may be after it is made; and if either House of Parliament, within the period of forty days beginning with the day en which any such Order in Council, order or instrument is laid before it, resolves that it be annulled, it shall cease to have effect, but: without prejudice to anything previously done thereunder or to the making of any new Order in Council, order or other instrument.
§ In reckoning any period for the purposes of this subsection no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which both Houses are adjourned for more than four days.
§ 3.39 p.m.
LORD RANKEILLOUR moved, in subsection (1), at the end of the first paragraph, to insert:
Provided that each House of Parliament may resolve that any Order or instrument shall cease to have effect twelve months after ':he expiration of the said period of forty days; and thereupon the said Order or instrument shall have validity for the shorter period only, unless renewed.
§ The noble Lord said: The main controversy excited by this Bill here and in another place relates to the duration of the Bill which is now proposed to be passed. That having been fully gone into on the Second Reading I do not propose to enter into it again at length. But the fact that the Bill has to have validity for five years does not necessarily mean that any Order in Council under the Act should have validity for the same space of time. The Lord Chancellor has told us that we have power to overhaul the Orders in 790 Council, but we have no power to amend them. It is true that it was pointed out the other day by my noble friend Lord Samuel, that while the Order could be rejected at the time, it was possible to state that it might be passed in a different form, but I submit that that is a very unsatisfactory procedure. Obviously there will be certain Orders in Council providing for a particular emergency which it is most unlikely would be required after a year or so 'had passed. I suggest that this is a very limited Amendment, and that either House should have the power to limit the duration of the Order and the Order should be renewed by another Order if necessary. If the Order were for the whole duration, for five years, it is surely possible that cases might arise which might not require anything like that amount of time, and there should be some power to reduce the period. I beg to move.
Page 3, line 39, at end, insert the said proviso.—(Lord Rankeillour.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I wish I could help your Lordships and agree to accept some Amendment here, but I am afraid I cannot. The scheme of the Act is as follows. The Bill is going to last five years and the Regulations continue, subject to what I will say in a moment, for the full five years of the Act. There is no provision for anything to the contrary except the provision in Clause 3, and the scheme of the Act is that if and when a Regulation becomes unnecessary, we can, by virtue of Clause 3, bring it to an end. Every Regulation, unless the machinery in Clause 3 applies, will be coterminous with the Bill. There are difficulties about accepting the suggestion which has been put forward in this Amendment. First of all, your Lordships will see that the Amendment provides in the last two lines:thereupon the said Order or instrument shall have validity for the shorter period only, unless renewed.There is, however, no machinery for renewal. The scheme is, as I have said, that the Regulation lasts during the Act, with power to bring the guillotine down on any particular Regulation and end it.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
May I ask the Lord Chancellor if there is any power to 791 bring in any amending Order, once the Order has validity, during the duration of the life of Parliament?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My understanding is that the power to make Regulations lasts until February 24, and we have to make our Regulations down to that date. Of course, we can make subordinate instruments under the Regulations afterwards, but the Regulations Themselves have to be promulgated by February 24. It is not quite clear in the Act, but I am advised that that is so. I think that that is the effect of Clause 1. At any rate I am understanding this in that sense at the present time. We have to make our Regulations once and for all. We shall have no more power to make Regulations after February 24 but we shall have power to make subordinate instruments under the Regulations.
The power lasts until February 24 to make Regulations. That is the effect of Clause 1, or at any rate that is what is intended. That being so, and the Regulations being made, you will realize that if this Bill passes there will be a great block of Regulations involved. Work has been clone on this matter for the last two years and a large number of Regulations are ready shortly to be made. They will, however, be in somewhat general terms because one does not exactly know what is going to happen. Regulations will he made, they will come into force by virtue of this measure and they will run coterminously with this measure until, as I hope will happen in many cases, we can bring the guillotine down and dispose of them. The noble Lord talks about renewal, but this Act does not provide any machinery for renewal, nor does his Amendment provide any machinery for renewal. That might be improved upon as a matter of drafting by the use of some other words, but the real substantial reason is the one we discussed on the Second Reading. I do not want to get back into the region of controversy again, but I cannot hold out any hope of our being able to accept an Amendment of this nature which might have the effect of limiting the powers we have to use.
§ LORD BARNBY
Arising from that answer, I should like to ask if anything is provided which is alternative to continuance or annulment? So many Regulations 792 have been built up by a process of amendment, relaxation and intensification throughout the period of the war. Is it to be understood that there will then be, on the passage of this Bill into an Act, any powers left to the Government other than continuance or complete annulment? It must surely be the case that a great number of Regulations which have been issued and are now in existence, are of a character that can only be progressively relaxed, by modification or truncation. If that is denied, as I understood from the answer given to Lord Rankeillour, surely we have before us a most alarming prospect of confusion in many industries where these Regulations apply. I will not mention particular Regulations because they will easily spring to the mind of all noble Lords. The whole point of the remarks made by noble Lords on this Bill and in regard to the Amendments is to intensify the disquiet that there should be a proposal to extend this power beyond a period of, anyhow, two years.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I am sure the Committee is sincerely obliged to the Lord Chancellor for the manifestly candid way in which he has explained to us a very complicated selection of words. I hope he will not mind any comments I have to offer but we all want to do what is right about this. I will first take the words "Order in Council." Clause 4, at line 31, says:…every Order in Council made under this Act shall be laid before Parliament as soon as maybe after it is made.The Act is to last for five years. Do I understand from my noble and learned friend that in his view, according to those who are assisting him, the only Orders in Council which can ever be laid before Parliament under this Act, are those which must be made before February 24? I think it is rather difficult to fit it in for the moment, but, of course, the Order in Council, as the noble and learned Lord will at once agree, is only the main direction, and it is probably, in the nature of things, a fairly general one, and not addressed to some particular case. It is obviously intended to authorize Regulations which will be more detailed, and which will cover, it may be, a considerable area of ground. I recognize that it is an improvement, as compared with the Defence of the Realm (Emergency Powers) Act, that the Government have provided 793 in this Bill that not only an Order in Council, but any Order, or instrument, any Regulation, as I understand it, made under art Order in Council will also be laid. I acknowledge that that, as far as it goes, is an improvement on the previous practice, although rather offset by the fact that it is for five years. However, it is an improvement.
Let us take the sort of instance mentioned just now by the noble Lord sitting beside the noble and learned Lord, in his explanation of Clause 2—taking power to make a law, by Governmental decree, that some non-essential article, or some nonessential service, shall be priced at a particular price. It may he neither more nor less, a maximum or a minimum, but I would ask for information. Are we to understand that, when such an Order is made, it will be laid on the Table, and. will there be any power during the five years to alter it at all? I would like my noble and learned Friend to tell me that.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The answer is, and it answers the point made just now, that Clause 3 gives power to revoke or vary. An Order in Council under this Act may revoke in whole GI in part, or may vary a Regulation. You may vary Regulations.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Yes, that is what I mean. The noble Lord is, catching me up on small points. Under the Act, it is possible to vary, and, therefore it would not be quite right to say that you cannot make an Order in Council after February 24. That, after all, is varying an existing Regulation, and the position, as I see it, is that there is no power to make a new Regulation after February 24, none whatever.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
A new Regulation. You may only utilize existing Regulations, and you may only utilize' them if you bring in an Order in Council before February 24. Thereafter, Order: in Council can be made under Clause 3, and will be made, for the purpose of revoking or of varying Regulations, but not for making a new Regulation.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
if I understood the noble and learned Lord rightly, he said it would not be possible to make a new Regulation after February 24, not a new Order in Council. Supposing there was an Order in Council on February 23, by which the Government are authorized to make Regulations which they thought necessary over a range of matters referred to in the Order in Council, do I understand that, in no circumstances, can there by any Regulations, even of a subordinate character, after February 24? I am surprised.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I was careful to say that I distinguished between Regulations and subordinate instruments. The noble Viscount need not look so worried about it. He understands quite well what a subordinate instrument is. He knows the distinction between a Regulation and a subordinate instrument, and he is able to understand that, whereas you cannot make a new Regulation after February 24, you can—as I thought I said—issue subordinate instruments under a Regulation, which is varied only because it was made before February 24.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
It is not that I look worried, but I want to be clear in my own mind. I had thought that a Regulation was subordinate to an Order in Council, and that an Order in Council might authorize the making of a lot of Regulations. I had not understood that it was inconceivable that an Order in Council made before February 24, might authorize the making of Regulations. I understand from the noble and learned Lord that that is not so. I have every reason to believe he is right; I am only inquiring, and I am not complaining because he takes that view. However, I do not think it makes the main question any better, because it really shows the extent to which we freeze and crystallize the position on February 24 next, and, having done that, everybody is to take what comes for the next five years, so, really, it does not improve matters. I confess I did not understand the point.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
May I ask the noble and learned Lord one question? Under this clause, as drafted, does it mean that every subordinate instrument is bound to be laid before Parliament—all the small Orders?
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I think that is a very great improvement on the procedure operating hitherto, and, of course, gives both Houses of Parliament a much greater control. I am very much obliged for that, but it was not quite clear.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
When I was Minister of Food, there were three or four of these things a week, and, although we got rid of about one-third during my tenure of office, the alterations which had to be made in the price curve meant that there were numerous Regulations. I understand now that that procedure will go on, but that, whereas before they had not to be laid before Parliament, now, under this Bill, they will have to be so laid.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I accept at once the noble and learned Lord's ruling on what is the law, but what I want to dear up is how this is going to work, and I say this in no polemical spirit. Although there are certain things we have to fight about on this Bill, we want to make the thing work in the most practical way. As I understand it, it is perfectly clear that any Order in Council has got to be made before February 24, and that every Regulation has to be made before that date, but that these subordinate instruments, which, I presume, are the detailed way in which the Regulations will be carried out, can be made after that date, and will come before your Lordships. I should like to have this assurance, because the noble and learned Lord himself and the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said we must take these powers because we do riot know—and I have some sympathy with this—what situation we may be in next year. There may be this or that difficulty, when, we shall all agree, certain action should be taken.
The whole of our object here—and I do not think it is at all a Party one; I would say it is a common-sense one—is that we should act when it is necessary to act. I do not think there will be a great deal of disagreement between us as to when or how it is necessary to act. We have all the same purpose in view—to stop inflation and to keep prices down. Really we all want the same kind of thing.
796 Obviously a tremendous number of Orders in Council and Regulations will have to be tabled in Parliament before the 24th February. When the Lord Chancellor comes to defend them here, he will have to say—and I am not quarrelling about this; he is bound to say it "I am taking these immense Regulations, certain of which I can justify. There are certain things in short supply which I have to control to-day." We would probably pass those Regulations in two minutes. Of others he would say: "I cannot tell you whether I shall want these or not The financial situation may develop in this way or in that. I do not know whether a particular Regulation will be necessary or not, but I have to have it now because unless I take it now I cannot get an instrument without an entirely new ad hoc Act of Parliament." Leaving all politics aside, that is an extraordinarily unsatisfactory situation for Parliament to be in. The whole purpose of Parliament as a Council of State is to try and do what is right in the circumstances of the time when action is made necessary.
These Orders and Regulations can, I take it, be made so wide in their terms that they would be able to operate without a subordinate instrument being introduced. The Chancellor might say: "I take power now to control the price of this or that," although it may not be necessary at the time. What I think would give great satisfaction to the House and the country would be this. If the Lord Chancellor could say: "When I make an Order or a Regulation and put specific things into it, and the powers I wish to exercise, I will do so because I can justify it in regard to present circumstances. But where I am taking much wider powers than that,.—powers which I can exercise in the future—I will not take specific action on them without coming to Parliament with a subordinate instrument, which I would then be prepared to justify on the facts of the case." I believe great satisfaction would be given if we could have such an agreement.
I would rather like to re-draft this Bill. I do not happen to be concerned with it except as a member of the last Government. Acts of Parliament, however, with the best draftsmen in the world to help us, very often get us into trouble. I would rather have had the Act so framed that he 797 who runs may read. I appreciate, however, that what has taken a year to do it may not be possible very satisfactorily to amend between the Committee stage and the Third Reading. If the Lord Chancellor, on behalf of the Government, could give us a firm assurance that when action is to be taken it will not be taken in general terms in respect of things which cannot be justified at the time, but that he will come with a subordinate instrument asking our approval when they can be justified—and I am sure that would be given if the case were made out—then I believe it would be plainer sailing for the Government and for your Lordship' House.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I say frankly that I have very considerable sympathy with the observations the noble Viscount has made. He has correctly stated the dilemma with which I feel we shall be faced. We shall have to take wide powers, because goodness only knows what emergencies and difficult it s we are going to come up against. On the other hand, I do not want to have conferred on us very wide powers which we might use in a wholly unreasonable way. I cannot give him any assurance now dm t we shall be able to follow his suggestion. I know that the draftsmen, as I think I said before, have been working on this thing for the last two years. I am ashamed to tell your Lordships that I have not seen the result of their work—perhaps some of your Lordships opposite at sort e time may have done so—and, not knowing how they have done it, I do not know how far this idea has been present in their minds. Nor could I at the present time contemplate jettisoning two years' work. All I can say is this—and I think the noble Viscount will believe me when I say it—that I have sympathy with his point of view. If it is possible with any of these Regulations to try to adopt a e course he has suggested where we are taking very wide powers to guard against contingencies which may or may not arise, and we may have the necessity for some subordinate instrument which may come before the House, that is an idea which frankly appeals to me. While I make r o promise as to our ability to carry it out, yet if I can do anything in that direction, I shall look upon the suggestion with a favourable eye and give it my support.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
I cannot say I am fully reassured, though I admit that the Lord Chancellor has gone thoroughly into this matter. It has certainly been a surprise to me to hear that an Order in Council will have to be passed before February. I certainly had not read that before into the Bill. However, we have had a discussion which has not, I think, generated undue heat, and I therefore ask leave to withdraw my Amendment. But if there be no Report stage of the Bill, your Lordships will not be surprised if there is a Motion to recommit. I beg leave to withdraw.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5:
§ Application of principal Acts and effect of their expiry, and adaptation of other enactments.
§ (5) The provisions of Parts II, V and VI of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945 (which confer temporary powers to acquire and retain possession of land used for war purposes and to maintain, use and remove war works) shall, subject as hereinafter provided, have effect as if the expression "war period" included any period after the expiry of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, during which this Act is in force and as if the expression "war purposes" included the purposes specified in subsection (1) of Section one of this Act, and any other provisions of the said Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945 (except Section forty-five thereof), shall, so far as they relate to the provisions aforesaid, have the like effect:
§ Provided that no powers shall be exercisable by virtue of this subsection unless the appropriate Minister has certified—
- (a) in a case where the powers arise in consequence of the doing of work on land, that the work was done after the date of the expiry of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, for the purposes specified in subsection (1) of Section one of this Act, or that works constructed in the course of the work have been used after the said date for the purposes aforesaid; or
- (b) in a case where the powers arise in consequence of the possession or use of land or damage caused by the use of land, that the land has been used after the said date for the purposes aforesaid;
§ and has served a copy of the certificate, either by delivery or by prepaid registered letter on any person to whom compensation under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of Section two or subsection (2) of Section three of the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, is in course of payment in respect of the land to which the certificate relates.
§ In this subsection the expressions "Minister," "works" and "the doing of work on land" have the same meanings as in the 799 Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945, and the expression "the appropriate Minister" means the Minister by whom or by arrangement with whom or on whose authority or direction the work was done or the land or works were used for the purposes aforesaid, and Section fifty-six of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945 (which relates to the exercise of powers by the Board of Trade), and subsection (2) of Section fifty-eight of that Act (which relates to the proof of certificates) shall apply for the purposes of this subsection as they apply for the purposes of that Act.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ LORD AUDLEYmoved to leave out subsection (5). The noble Lord said: In rising to move the Amendment standing in my name, I think I can state my one object quite simply and very briefly. It is this. I admit that I, in reading this extremely important subsection of Clause 5, have found it very difficult and confusing to understand. I would therefore ask His Majesty's Government if they would give your Lordships more detailed information of the subsection, and perhaps a far more outspoken declaration as to what extent and for what broad purposes they intend to use these very large and very lengthy requisitioning powers. I would particularly ask His Majesty's Government to give your Lordships some indication as to the degree of use to which land and buildings must be put after February 24 in order to qualify for the Minister's certificate. I beg to move.
Page 4, line 43, leave out subsection (5).—(Lord Audley.)
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving me a chance, on behalf of the Government, to explain this subsection, but I have no doubt that the Lord Chancellor will be required before the end of the discussion, because it is a matter of great complexity. It took me about an hour to understand it, and I am sure it will take the rest of your Lordships, who are no doubt a great deal quicker than I am, more than the five minutes which I feel I had better allot myself now. The Requisitioned Land and War Works Act was a measure passed this year, by agreement, to bring to an end in an orderly fashion a situation widely created during the war by the requisitioning of land by the Government for emergency war purposes, or by the emergency use of land by the Government for similar purposes. 800 I say that rather emphatically at the beginning because on reading subsection (5) at first some of your Lordships, if you are not very mud' quicker than I am, might get the impression that this is a requisitioning clause and that the land required under this Bill, if it has to be obtained, will be obtained under this clause. However, I am informed that that is not the purpose of the clause; the land, if it has to be requisitioned, will be requistioned under Clause 1. This is a clause which is really intended to round off what one might call a peace-time emergency situation in the same way as the war-time emergency situation was rounded off by the Act referred to.
As your Lordships are aware, under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act the Government were given two years from the end of the war period, that is to say from February 24 of next year, to make up their minds whether they wanted to retain the land they had requisitioned during the war or used during the war. Under that Act a certain procedure and a certain tribunal were established to enable all claims to be fairly heard as between the Government and other parties. By accepting the principle of the Bill before us to-day, your Lordships have accepted the doctrine that we are confronted with a peace-time emergency lasting, as it may well do, up to five years. Putting it in a nutshell (I hope not incorrectly from the legal point of view) this subsection of Clause 5 simply extends the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act and makes it applicable to the conditions of this peace-time emergency. It is obvious, if we accept the Bill (as we have accepted it through giving it a Second Reading), that some such clause as this is necessary, because under the Bill before us it will be possible for the Government either to requisition land for economic emergency purposes or, as will be more likely to happen, to adapt for dealing with the economic emergency land which was obtained for dealing with the war-time emergency.
That being so, some such clause as this will be necessary, and I am sure the noble Lord will realize that no Amendment such as that of the noble Lord, which would delete this subsection altogether, could possibly be accepted without wrecking the Bill. However, I will not conceal from your Lordships that a difficulty arises 801 under the machinery here suggested because it obviously is most important to make sure that when we are dealing with what I may call economic emergency land we do not hold up decisions regarding war emergency land—that is, land that was used purely for the war emergency. We must make sure that if any of you' Lordships have had a house or an estate requisitioned simply for dealing with the war emergency, you will not have to wait for seven years from next February before you can get a decision as to what is going to be done with your property. I wish to emphasize that in this Bill a. sharp distinction is drawn—a distinction to which discussion in another place con tributed greatly—between land which was used during the war for the war emergency and land which may, or may not have been used during the war for the war emergency but which will be requisitioned for the peace-time emergency, for what I may call the economic emergency.
Perhaps I can quote an instance to the noble Lord. There is a part of the county of Dorset known as the Isle of Purbeck. In the early years of the war a very large portion of the island was taken over by the War Office and the Admiralty for war purposes. The eastern end of the island has now been handed back to the unhappy inhabitants who, over four years ago, were turned out at a fortnight's notice. They were then told that the land was being taken over for war purposes and that it would be handed back. The War Office have not yet found it possible to release the western end and have not even said when they will be able to release it. The inhabitants, who have been living in lodgings for four years, can get no information as to what their future position will be.
What will be the effect of this clause on a situation of that kind? That land was taken over for war purposes. It cannot be said now that it is actually being retained for war purposes becaus2 the war is no longer in progress. It is a continuing occupation. The land has been used for tank exercises and is still being used for that purpose. Will this clause make it possible for the War Office to say to the inhabitants of the Isle of:" Under the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Bill I am 802 afraid we must expect you to stay out of your homes for another five years"?
May I offer the noble Viscount a view which I believe to be the correct one? If the land is to be used for tank exercises and other military purposes the War Office, or the appropriate Government Department, will have to make up their minds within two years whether they are going to put in a claim to the War Works Commission to retain the land permanently. Any claim of that kind put in by any Government Department would in no way be reinforced by this Bill; it is a claim that might have been put in quite apart from this Bill. Whether the Government would in fact be able to retain the land, if they desired it for the purpose mentioned, depends on the previous Act, and this Act would not assist them in any way. They would have to make up their minds quickly—if one can call two years from next February quickly—as to whether they wanted it or not.
In the case of land which has been acquired and used during the war for war purposes the arrangements already reached under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act will apply and the Government will still have to make up their mind within two years from next February. In the case of land which may have been obtained for this purpose but which is required for the purpose of the economic emergency, or in the case of land which is acquired for the first time for the purpose of the economic emergency, the Government will be given another five years, so they will not have to make up their minds about the economic emergency land until seven years from next February. There is a sharp distinction drawn, a distinction which, I think I am right in saying, gave considerable satisfaction in another place where all parties contributed the best of their thought to this subject.
§ LORD AUDLEY
I would like to thank the noble Lord very much for his explanation. I beg leave to withdraw.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Clause 6:
§ Application of powers of Minister of Supply.
§ 6.—(1) For the purposes of the Ministry of Supply Act, 1939 (which confers powers on the Minister to acquire, produce or dispose of 803 articles required for the public service and to exercise certain other powers in relation to such articles) the expression "articles required for the public service" shall include any supplies which the Minister of Supply considers it necessary or expedient to maintain, control or regulate for any of the purposes specified in subsection (1) of Section one of this Act, and the expression "works required for the public service" shall be construed accordingly.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ LORD RUSHCLIFFEmoved, in subsection (1), to substitute "it is necessary for" the Minister of Supply considers it necessary."The noble Lord said: I have read this clause with what care I can and so far as I can see it is certainly capable of misconstruction. It gives the Ministry of Supply power to produce just whatever they like; to control the production of just whatever they like; to sell at any price they like; and to sell to whomsoever they like. I adopt, therefore, the words used by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton a moment ago when he said that it gives them unlimited manufacturing capacity for any commodity. Further, it gives them power, as I read it, not only to manufacture but to control the raw materials out of which the manufacture is made. If that be the true construction, and if it really means that, what is the position of the manufacturer who is being urged on all hands to do his best to increase exports? If at any time the Ministry, with these unlimited powers, may produce what they like and sell what they like, the position of the manufacturer becomes hopeless. I may have misread it, but I submit that this clause is capable of that construction. If it is, we should like to know; if it is not, we shall indeed be relieved.
Page 5, line 44, leave out ("the Minister of Supply considers") and after ("it") insert ("is").—(Lord Rushcliffe.)
§ LORD BARNBY
In supporting the Amendment, it is difficult in a few words. to give expression adequately to the kind of apprehensions which naturally spring to one's mind, following the very wide example of the fields to which this provision can apply which has just been given. It serves to emphasize the misgivings and anxieties which industrialists feel at the taking of powers for the longer instead of the shorter period. It will not be denied by anyone that, as the noble Viscount 804 who leads the Opposition has said, it is proper that wide powers should be given for a period; but traders have definite misgivings as to what are likely to be the effects of the continuance for longer than a minimum period of some of these powers.
To illustrate the difficulty of covering this matter adequately, let me take the example of the export trade. Under the various Regulations which have been issued during the war, a system of regulation and direction of the manner in which exports shall be achieved has been built up. It is a fact which has not been sufficiently ventilated in Parliament that there exists to-day, at a time when such wide appeals to promote exports are being made, a denial of the right of the willing exporter, who has the materials and the capacity to participate in the export trade, of the right to do so. It means that new entrants, who may have adequate capacity to embark on exports and to make a willing contribution to promoting the export trade, are denied the right to do so by the exercise of powers under these various Regulations. It is therefore right that apprehension should be voiced at the possibility of these powers being prolonged beyond the minimum time necessary.
There is another point here which naturally arises from the reference in this clause to Clause 1. This is a matter to which Lord Rankeillour referred earlier, and concerns what is called "the orderly disposal of surplus material." It is very difficult to understand exactly how this surplus material is being disposed of. Those who have carefully read the White Paper on the subject have learnt that there have been many modifications of the procedure laid down, and the methods of allocating certain kinds of material to certain bodies for disposal differ widely according to the character of the commodity and the trade concerned. There is much confusion as to the procedure, and so it seems to me that this is an appropriate point at which to draw attention to the dangers and confusion which arise from the unnecessary prolongation of this position. I also hope that the noble and learned Lord opposite will be able to give some reassurance to industry with regard to the misgivings that are widely held as to the denial of the right of new entrants to come into 805 industry, a denial which may apparently be extended over a long period, and also with regard to the disposal of surplus Government property.
§ VISCONT SIMON
I should like to add a very few words about this clause. We owe so much to the noble and learned Lord Chancellor for explaining in clear language some of the earlier provisions that I feel it would be an advantage co hive a simple statement from him here. I believe that it was my noble friend Lord O'Hagan who said earlier this afternoon that one of the functions of your Lord ships' House is to try to make legislative proposals of a complicated character plain to the people of the country, and that is a not unworthy object which we all have. As I understand the matter, Clause 6 (1) authorizes State trading to any extent. Under the powers given under this clause, there is no article which the Minister of Supply might not manufacture or otherwise acquire; there is no shop which he could not open as a State shop; and there is no sale to any member of the public that he chose to make which he c mild not make, and he could make it at any price he liked. If he ran the shoos under these powers—a do not say, of curse, that he would—on the general basis that it did not matter how mush it cost, because the taxpayer would make up the difference, he would riot only he supplying articles at a wholly uneconomic price, but, incidentally, be engaged in ruining an enormous number of the private traders of this country.
Is not that what this clause says? If it does not, no one will be better pleas3d than I am. The Lord Chancellor corrected me on the last occasion, and I am very willing to be corrected again. But let me read the words:For the purposes of the Ministry of Supply Act, 1939 (which confers powers on the Minister to acquire, produce or dispose of articles required for the public service and to exercise certain other powers in relation to such articles …Let me stop there. The Ministry of Supply Act, 1939, is a temporary Act, which apart from this new legislation would expire very shortly. The general purpose of the existing Ministry of Supply Act is to enable the Ministry of Supply itself to undertake the production and provision of articles which are needed the public service. It might be that private supplies were not adequate and 806 therefore as long as they were wanted for the public service, the Ministry of Supply, under the existing Act, could set to work to make them. If cement for aerodromes is not adequately forthcoming in the ordinary way, I suppose that under the existing Act the Ministry of Supply can set up a cement factory and provide cement for aerodromes.
Now what is the new power? It is this:The expression articles required for the public service'"—that is what at present he has power to produce—shall include any supplies which the Minister of Supply considers it necessary or expedient to maintain, control, or regulate for any of the purposes specified in subsection (1) of Section one of this Act ….Let us go back to subsection (1) of Section one, and see what these extended purposes Sare. At present, of course, the purposes must be purposes of supplying what is wanted for the public service. But as soon as you introduce, by this curious reference, "subsection (1) of Section one of this Act," it would appear that the Minister of Supply is empowered to supply anything which, in his opinion, is necessary or expedient to secure a sufficiency of supplies and servicesessential to the wellbeing of the community or their equitable distribution or their availability at fair prices"—that last part, I imagine, means at what the Minister considers fair prices—or to facilitate demobilization and other things.
The noble Lord sitting behind me remarked, though speaking with a gentleness of voice which showed that he did not wish to be violent, that it would seem that the Minister of Supply under this new Bill will be at liberty to manufacture, to advertise and to sell to the public any mortal thing which he considers will facilitate the readjustment of industry and commerce and the requirements of the community generally in time of peace. That is indeed the position if I understand it rightly. If I am wrong, I hope the Lord Chancellor will correct me. I shall accept correction with pleasure. I am not for a moment suggesting that all these powers are going to be used in every sort of direction, but I do think that if the Government produce a Bill which contains provisions which for five years are going to put into the hands of the Minister of Supply the power to set up shop with 807 anything he likes and to sell things at any price he likes to everybody, that is a very material part of the measure.
There is no question here of the Courts being invited to interfere; the draftsman, when so instructed, knows well enough how to avoid that. So the Minister of Supply is not merely to be allowed to do this in respect of things which really are proved to be essential to facilitate the readjustment of industry and commerce and all the rest of it, bat is empowered to do it in any case that he, the Minister of Supply, considers it necessary or expedient that it should be done. I think I may safely tell your Lordships this—and I do not think that the Lord Chancellor will correct me. When the Law Courts are appealed to to reverse a decision of an executive Minister in some matter in which he has considered it necessary or expedient to exercise his powers, the Courts do not assume that the Minister acted in bad faith. The Judges and other people may think, privately, that he has made a mistaken use of his powers, but the Court is only concerned with the use of his powers, and if he has the requisite power nobody is going to correct the matter by litigation.
There is a stock reply to the argument which I have endeavoured to present which is always the cause of a certain amount of amusement in some quarters. Indeed, it is not infrequently received with laughter. That reply is to the effect that you will find a section like this in the previous Bill. Yes, I knew that would provoke a smile. I am always glad to give innocent hilarity to anybody. I wish I did it oftener. But there is a difference in this matter, which, possibly, the Lord Chancellor will be willing to concede. The previous Bill was a Bill which, at most, was to operate for two years. What has happened is that the previous Bill has received what I think on the Second Reading of this measure now before us my noble friend the Lord Chancellor described as certain embellishments. The effect of one embellishment is that this is to last for five years instead of two. Now, whatever may have been the justification for taking these very unparalleled powers—there has been nothing like it, I think, in this country before—these powers for the State to set up shop, am I not entitled to say: "Well, these may have been tolerable 808 powers to confer on a Minister when in the pinch of the Japanese war, which we calculated then would last eighteen months, but the situation is very different now that the Japanese war is over"? The difficulties which will have to be faced in the future are difficulties of a very different character from those which faced us when the previous Bill was drafted.
I desire only to make this matter plain. If I have stated it wrongly and the Minister has not got these powers, if it will not be possible for him to say with regard to any article which is now provided by private enterprise: "I will put the people who are producing this out of business; I will set up a factory and sell it at half price and the taxpayer shall make up the difference"—then the noble and learned Lord Chancellor may tell me so. If I am right, then surely it will be agreed that this is a very remarkable clause in a very remarkable Bill.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Before the noble and learned Lord answers, may I be allowed to ask one question as to the intention of His Majesty's Government with regard to the working of this clause? We have heard a lot today about the intention of His Majesty's Government, and frankly, I have not been terribly impressed. The whole of this Bill contains, as is admitted by everybody, immense powers, the widest powers, and we have been told over and over again that it is the intention of this Government to use those powers in a certain way. But this Bill is to go on for five years. I am perfectly certain that we, on this side of the House, have received with complete confidence the assurance that the Government will be good and fair. But, as I say, the Bill is to go on for five years. I do not know that the present Ministers, or even the present Government, will continue in office for five years, and, therefore, I rather accept their intention as being, perhaps, of a temporary nature. Now what I want to ask is this. Is it the intention of His Majesty's Government, under this particular clause, to allow any manufacture of armaments to go on other than by the Ministry of Supply? I take armaments just as an example. I suggest that it is rather a good one, and probably the Government spokesman will be able to give an answer direct. That is all I wanted to ask before the noble Lord replies.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The last question has nothing whatever to do with this Amendment, and I could not possibly be expected, without any notice of it being given beforehand, to answer it. So far as I know, we do not intend to interfere with the manufacture of armaments by private firms at the present time. There has been, to the best of my knowledge, no statement to that effect, but if at is the best answer that I can give on the spur of the moment.
The Amendment is an Amendment to leave out the words "the Minister of Supply considers it necessary or expedient" and to insert the word "is." The effect of that is this. Someone has got to decide this thing. If you use the word "is," it means that a decision has got to be made by a Court of Law, but in the other case, if it is the opinion of the Minister, it is not for the Court at all. I venture to suggest that this sort of matter is not one which is suitable for the Courts at all. Let me give you an illustration of whit the Minister of Supply wants to do. At the present time there are two particular lines on which he wants to help. He wants to be able to make available medical supplies for the people of Europe, who are in very great distress at the preset time. He has got his factories. We wait to supplement what ordinary private trade can do and produce some medical requirements and supplies. How can the Courts possibly pronounce judgment after hearing evidence, as to whether or not that was, or was not, within the purposes of paragraphs (a), (b), (c) or (d)?
Another practical difficulty is this. Your Lordships will sec that if the Minster of Supply is going to manufacture that class of commodity, he has obviously got to make his plans, prepare his layout and get his factories going for making these things. It is quite impossible that you should put him in the position of doing all those things, making preparations to make all these things, when, at a later date, on going to sell one of them, some Court should have to pronounce that it is quite illegal and invalid. It is not common sense to do that at all. He must know when he starts tooling up for his factory, whether what he is going to make is legal or not. The Minister of Supply must decide. He must look at the thing honestly and fairly and ask himself this question: "Is it really necessary that I 810 should come in and undertake this production and sell for one of the specified purposes?" Let us consider the first one—to secure a sufficiency of those supplies essential to the wellbeing of the community or their equitable distribution or their availability at fair prices. Where goods are equally distributed and available at fair prices, there is no need for the Ministry of Supply to come in at all.
As you know, we have a housing programme and there is a great shortage of houses. That is another example of where the Minister of Supply can come in. We shall want every single house we can get and we shall want all that can be supplied from the Ministry of Supply. He will have to ask himself with regard to any particular housing component: "Is this really justified for one of the purposes (a), (b), (c) or (d)?" Therefore, I will answer the question in this way. It is quite true that this matter is not within the purview of the Courts; it is for the Minister of Supply to decide. I regard that as quite inevitable. I do not think it is a matter which the Courts can decide upon. It must be left to the Minister of Supply. As to the Minister's powers, his powers are to do that which is necessary for one of the four purposes (a), (b), (c) or (d). That is the position.
I will now come to the last point. I do not object particularly to the fact—for it is a fact—that this clause is copied verbatim from the previous Bill, the Bill of the Coalition Government. It was an excellent Government and it was a very excellent clause and we adopted it, but it makes it rather ridiculous to come out with the sort of thundering speech which the noble Viscount did. After all, there is an important distinction and I do not doubt it, between two years and five, but it was not two years; it was two years plus one, plus one, plus one. I do not dispute the difference. If I had been in any way responsible—I was not in the last Government and was not concerned with it at all—for the initiation of a clause of this sort, I should rather have moderated my language.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I am very sorry to receive the rebuke. Never mind that. Will the noble Lord very kindly answer my question? I am sorry it was thunderously produced, but is my interpretation of the powers conferred by this clause correct?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I thought I had answered the point. I have told you what my interpretation is. I do not know if it differs at all. I said that it is for the Minister of Supply to decide and no Court can check him. He must decide whether the purpose he has in mind is for one of the purposes stated under (a), (b) (c) or (d). He must decide that; he cannot just go into business because he thinks there is a good opening and he will make a bit of money. He must decide for one of the purposes (a), (b), (c) or (d), and if he comes to that honest conclusion there is no Court which can check him. That, I understand, is what the noble Viscount said, and if he says that I have the satisfaction of agreeing with him. When he put the clause forward he obviously understood it in the same sense that I now understand it. I am very grateful to him for making plain to us what the clause means. We both understand that and we both agree.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
May I make a suggestion in order that we may see where we really are? I follow and agree with the views expressed by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, as to the construction of the words in the clause. I think I also follow, from the point of view of the Government and as explained by the Lord Chancellor, the desirability of some such words being inserted in Clause 6. There are two words, however, which I think have led to some misconception about this clause and the intention with which it is inserted. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, talks of the position of the Ministry of Supply and says that it is not a very desirable thing that the question should be submitted to a Court of Law. The first thing I have to suggest is that the word "considers" is one which leads to a good deal of misunderstanding. I suggest that the right word from the point of view of the Government is that which we commonly see in clauses of this nature, and that is "satisfied." That makes a very great difference to the sort of attitude with which the Minister approaches the problem.
The other thing which I think is equally important is this. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has again and again spoken of things which the Minister considers necessary. There- 812 fore, I think we should confine the clause to that. For my part, the words which I think are the most unsatisfactory words and may lead to great trouble in the future, are the additional words "or expedient." If you leave the clause thus, with "supplies which the Minister is satisfied are necessary," I, for my part, think that a great deal of the objection to the clause goes, but if you are going to leave it "considers to be expedient," as part of the thing which the Minister has to consider, for my part, I do not see why it is an impossible view that the Minister should think it expedient, at some time or other, to set up shops, as has been pointed out by noble Lords who have already spoken, all over the country for the purposes of making money, if the Government are in need of it. It is always expedient for a Government to make money, if it can, and it may also be considered expedient by the Minister. Therefore my suggestion is that the Lord Chancellor will find he gets everything he needs by Clause 6 if he substitutes for the word "considers," the words "is satisfied," and strikes out the word "expedient" in the collation "necessary or expedient."
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his suggestion. I think I can accept the words "is satisfied" for "considers," but I am not so sure about the word "expedient." However, I will have the matter gone into.
Personally, I feel that this clause is against the interests of the country. We have been told that it has been passed for five years instead of two. Surely, it is a case, not of five or two years, but one of peace conditions or war conditions? We have arrived at peace conditions, and, for the life of me, I cannot understand why the Government should take powers of this nature at this time. This clause will, so far as I can see, create of the Minister of Supply a dictator of trade in this country for five years. He will be enabled to do anything he likes with trade, to set up shops, to produce, to manufacture, or anything else, so long as he is satisfied, if the Amendment of the noble and learned Lord is accepted, that it is necessary in certain interests, which are very widely stated in Clause 1 of this Bill.
813 The present Government, as we know, believe in Government trading. They believe in nationalization, and in everything of that kind. That is their theory, but some of us on this side of the House do not believe in Government trading. We believe in free enterprise and enterprise that will give the individual traders the very best chance. This particular clause, on the other hand, is going place into the hands of the Government a weapon under which, if they pursue their policy, to control all industry. If they control it at the same speed with which they have effected it in the last three months, at the end of the next four years the whole of the trade of the country may be placed in the hands of White hall and the Government. I do not know what the mover of this Amendment proposes to do, but I should gladly follow him into the Lobby. I feel that this particular clause is an entire subversion of everything we stood for in trade in this country in the past, and I think it contains, in that sense, a most revolutionary change of policy on the part of the Government towards trading as a whole.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Just one word. I hope the Lord Chancellor will consider very carefully deleting the word "expedient." I am not going to argue about private enterprise and national enterprise have my own view about that, and, when Nationalization Bills come up, we can discuss them and have our good battles about them. I am quite sure—at least I hope I am—that it is not intended by the Government to bring into this Bill nationalization by a side door, and that if they wish to nationalize something they will be perfectly honest and will say that it is nationalization.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
If I may be allowed to make my speech, I think the words are really designed to permit that. I quite understand the clause saying "where it is necessary," "where supplies are short," and so on, as in the case of physics and medicine, which the noble and learned Lord mentioned, but let him consider the words "where the Minister considers it expedient," expedient in order to facilitate the readjustment of industry and commerce. I believe it would be quite possible to construe those words as meaning, if there were a Minister who 814 honestly believed that the right way of readjusting industry was to set up a State industry in the place of, or in competition with, a private enterprise, that he could do so. On the words as they stand, it would be possible for a Minister, not because goods were in short supply, to set up a competing industry and try and drive the other industry out of business. That. I am perfectly certain, is not what is intended under this clause. As I have said, if nationalization is going to be put forward it will be put forward as a specific proposition to a particular industry, and, that being so, then I do not think the word "expedient" in connexion with the words in subsection (1) is wise. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for saying he will consider deleting the word.
§ LORD BARNBY
Referring to the words of the noble and learned Viscount, I admit that he did not give much consolation to those who expressed misgivings, but he did give encouragement to the belief that he is prepared to review the matter. Arising from that, it seems appropriate, to reinforce the ground on which the appeal is made, to ask him to bear in mind the kind of situation that may arise. It is with some temerity that one enters into a passage of arms between the present Lord Chancellor and two ex-Lord Chancellors, and one has some anxiety lest sparks flying from the parries might burn one. One's feelings are extremely strong on this matter. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, put quite squarely what the issue is. This clause gives to the Government power to enter into trading of any character. I, like the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, do not propose to enter into a discussion on the propriety of Government engaging in private trading, but I would ask the noble and learned Viscount when he is considering some aspects of this matter—as lie said he was prepared to consider them—to remember the points I made as to the danger of the effect of the denial of new entrants to so many forms of activity which are at present excluded by these orders, and the question of the disposal of surplus Government property.
The noble and learned Viscount answered a question about the manufacture of armaments. He would not have forgotten that if the Government want to 815 embark on an ordnance factory, or the production of medical supplies, it is perfectly possible for them, possessing those powers of production, to grant leases to private enterprise which could produce the articles with efficiency and at far less cost. There is that point, and I cannot help in the matter of surplus Government property bearing in mind my experience as a member of the board which existed after the last war. It might amuse the House to hear of one incident. I remember the agony of the appeal of a distressed purchaser of some 17,000,000 yards of flannel. He had "taken a nose-dive" and he came and asked for clemency with regard to an allowance. He said: "My great-grandchildren will still be selling flannel." It is not always an advantage for a Government to embark on the risk of commercial losses. So it is with regard to this particular clause of the Bill. I hope the Lord Chancellor, in promising consideration to the Committee—and we certainly pay tribute to his inclination to meet the views of the Committee—will bear in mind those particular points.
§ LORD RUSHCLIFFE
While not being, of course, completely satisfied with what the noble and learned Lord says, I do not press the Amendment. I am afraid it is true, and it has been made abundantly clear, that in fact this clause in the Bill does give the Ministry of Supply the right to make almost everything which any ordinary person needs for his everyday life. There it is, and there it must be. However, I do not propose to divide on the matter.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 6 agreed to.816
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ Schedules agreed to.
§ Bill reported without amendment.