HL Deb 07 February 1946 vol 139 cc344-50

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.

[Clause 1.—Temporary Continuation of Emergency Laws.]

[The LORD STANMORE in the Chair.]

6.12 p.m.

VISCOUNT SIMON moved, before the proviso to subsection (1), to insert: Provided that Defence Regulation 22 (Billeting) as so modified shall not continue in force beyond the thirty-first day of December nineteen hundred and, forty-six unless Parliament hereinafter so determines.

The noble and learned Viscount said: I have two Amendments down to be considered, and notwithstanding the hour I think that I should bring them to the attention of the Committee. This Bill, the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Bill, is a measure which a few days ago my noble friend, the Lord Chancellor, spoke of, so far as its form was concerned, in very scathing language and registered his determination never to propose to this House any other Bill so malformed if he could possibly help it. It is undoubtedly a very difficult Bill to consider, and the difficulty arises because there is a very large number of Defence Regulations affected. It does appear to me that there are two matters at least which your Lordships should consider a little further. In the first place, the Bill takes the regulation about forcible billeting—the business of putting upon a resident in a house a civilian party or parties—and simply extends that for two years. The result is, of course, that the Defence Regulation which deals with the matter, Defence Regulation No. 22, is to be regarded as running automatically without any further trouble to anybody until the end of next year. Really, when I look at it, I cannot help feeling, however necessary it may be in some cases to billet one family upon another, that it is a very troublesome provision.

It sets out that any person acting under the authority of the Minister of Health or the Commissioner of Works—he has got to produce that authority— may serve upon the occupier of any premises a written notice (hereinafter referred to as a "billeting notice") requiring the occupier of the premises to furnish therein: while the notice remains in force, such accommodation by way of lodging or food or both, and either with or without attendance, as may be specified in the notice for such persons as may be so specified.

Where a room is wanted the Order says that it is to be provided exclusively for the use of the newcomer. The present occupant has to turn out and the Ministry will decide what the appropriate remuneration is to be. There is nothing at all to provide that before the Order is made careful consideration should be given to the extent either to which inconvenience is caused or there is room. It does seem to me to be rather harsh to say: "Oh, we will extend that for another two years." There are a great many people in this country—I know some of them—who have taken people into their houses without any Order at all. They did it as their duty, and out of a sense of good citizenship. No one wants to stop people acting in that way. But I cannot believe that it is absolutely necessary, things being as they are, to keep this regulation alive as proposed. I am moved rather to the view that it is a great pity at one blow to say: "And so it will be for two years further."

My suggestion, as contained in my Amendment, is to extend it for one year unless Parliament hereinafter so determines. It seems to me that if you only consider the ordinary citizens, so many of whom are feeling very heavily burdened by the Orders made, it is particularly harsh and unnecessary to say as one of the evidences of how we are getting on under this new dispensation that the billeting should be kept on for another two years. I should like people to know that 'billeting is felt to be in many cases a real hardship and that it is, in many cases, a real hardship. Is it not better that the Ministry of Health should realize that in employing this regulation now they are in fact using a war-time provision which we should like to get rid of as soon as we can? Is not this one of the things which is better expressed by giving authority to extend it for a year? When the time comes it can be extended if it is found necessary to do it. That is my suggestion. It is not made in any captious or censorious spirit. I know that all your Lordships present—and those who, not unnaturally, have already gone—are all anxious that all citizens should be decently treated. I feel that there are cases in which great hardship is being inflicted and it is being endured with a great deal of public spirit. What is the objection to saying that in this matter—at least we do not expect it to be taken lightly—where we should have it, it should be carried on for another year?

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 15, at end insert the said proviso.—(Viscount Simon.)


I rise to support the Amendment moved by the noble and learned Viscount. There is nothing very much more that I can add except to agree with every word that the noble Viscount has said. I have had the privilege for five years of having two families living in my house and I can assure your Lordships that it has been part of one's war effort. I make no complaint to-night about that, but I ask your Lordships to give us some little encouragement. Our houses are getting into a very bad state. It is very difficult to get them repaired and I very much doubt if part of my house will stand much more before I shall have to get assistance and have the families taken away and put into a waterproof building, possibly in the centre of Salisbury Plain! At the end of the year the Government could extend this if necessary for a further period, but in the meantime we should like a few crumbs from the master's table. I suggest to His Majesty's Government that they should accept this Amendment.


I agree with both the noble Lords who have spoken. It is no good blinking the fact that this particular provision is one which does inflict a great hardship in many cases and it is one I should like to get rid of at the earliest possible moment. I do not think it is the worst in this collection of regulations; I think there are others I dislike still more, but of course I shall not tell you them.


Perhaps the Lord Chancellor would move an Amendment on Third Reading.


It is idle to deny that is is difficult to have people billeted upon you, but there will be billeting tribunals to whom appeals can be made. We have done everything to see that the thing is as fair as possible but, as I say quite frankly, it is one of those regulations I should be thankful to get rid of at the earliest possible moment. Having said that, I cannot hold out the slightest hope—and I should be dishonest in holding out the hope—that there is the slightest chance of finishing billeting this year. In three respects it is impossible. In the first place, it is quite impossible with regard to the children. There are many children whose parents have died or who have disappeared during this war and for them we have still to resort to billeting. Anybody who knows the situation must know, whatever wonders are performed in the way of housebuilding, that it is quite impossible that we should be able to get rid of this so far as they are concerned.

There is another respect in which it is impossible; it is impossible in respect of nurses. We have got these hospitals. We have not got a chance of building homes for nurses at the moment so you have to accommodate these women, who are doing magnificent work, somewhere near the site of their work. We must have the power and I may say that the fact that we have got the power does enable us in many cases to get agreement. People say, "There is the power there and we had better be reasonable." There is one other case. I was Minister of National Insurance and I was the Minister in the other place who introduced the family allowances scheme which is going to come into force fairly soon. We had to consider where we were going to locate the offices. We came to the conclusion then that we would take an opportunity of getting some of these great offices out of London and so we decided that that office should go to Newcastle. I am sure that that is right. It means for the time being great hardship, but it is an awful pity to my mind to give up the idea of moving out of London just because you have got to go through two or three years' hardship.

We have got to reduce the hardship as far as we can. It is absolutely impossible to contemplate going on with that move at all unless we have the power of billeting and so I say regretfully that this power, which I dislike and which we all dislike and want to get rid of at the earliest possible moment, is one which we must have, and it would be playing with the thing to say that there is the slightest chance of getting rid of this power within the two years. But let us remember that the noble Viscount was good enough to point out to me that this is not necessarily a case in which these regulations go on for two years. We have the power to bring these regulations to an end and I hope to be able to tell your Lordships from time to time that a very large number of them will disappear, but I am quite confident, I regret to say, that this will not be one of the regulations I shall be able to get rid of. So while sympathizing with everything the noble Viscount has said I cannot accept the Amendment.


I am bound to say that I have listened to the Lord Chancellor with great regret. We do not propose to divide the House on this issue to-night, but there were phrases in the Lord Chancellor's speech which struck cold to my heart. He said that "We must have the power," and he said that because we have the power then we can go and discuss the matter and we get agreement. That, my Lords, is not the sort of country we want to live in. Think what the phrase means, "We must have the power." It is not the Lord Chancellor, it is not the noble Lords who sit on these Benches, but it is some very junior civil servant who is going round the country. The Ministers are responsible, but civil servants are the people who are going round, they are the people into whose hands we are putting the temptation to bully the people of this country. This prolonged vista of hardship which the Lord Chancellor seems to think will be necessary for this country is something very discouraging. I am bound, with respect to the Lord Chancellor, to say that he would have given a great deal more comfort not only to those who sit on these Benches, but to the country as a whole, if he had said, "Well, we need these powers now, but in twelve months' time we shall have done our best to get rid of them. We may not, Probably we may not have succeeded, but we will come back to you then and tell you what we have done and will ask you to give us further time if we need it." I wish, my Lord, it had been possible for you to take that view. It would have given great satisfaction not only to the people on these Benches, but to the country as a whole. However, if my appeal cannot be valid with you, we shall not divide the House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

First Schedule: