HL Deb 20 November 1951 vol 174 cc353-78

2.51 p.m.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty under section eight of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, praying that the said Act, which would otherwise expire on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-one, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-two. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this Motion, together with the four succeeding Motions standing in my name, have one common subject matter, and I think it will be convenient to your Lordships, following the example set by the noble and learned Viscount who stood in this place last year, that I should deal with them together, at any rate so far as their general consideration is concerned. I will make certain broad observations about them all, and, of course, if any particular question arises upon any Motion your Lordships will be at liberty to raise it, and I will do my best to deal with it.

All these Motions have one common object—namely, that your Lordships should join in an humble Address to His Majesty that the several enactments and regulations which are covered by them should be continued for a period of one year. The fact is that all of them will die on December 10 of this year, and our object in moving these Motions is to ask your Lordships to agree that they shall not expire until December 10, 1952. That will give them all one year more of life unless, in the meantime, they, or some of them, are revoked. I have spent some time—as I hope your Lordships have not—in trying to find my way through the jungle of legislation upon which the several regulations to which I must refer are founded. I do not think I should ask your Lordships to come with me into that jungle: I fear that if I were to try to guide you we might both lose our way. I think it will be sufficient if I remind your Lordships simply of one thing. All the regulations, whether founded upon the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, upon the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Act, 1946, upon the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1947, or upon some other Act, will perish in one year. All the regulations, taken in the aggregate, constitute a body of legislation which touches us in every aspect of our social and economic life, and it must be clear that if, at one and the same time, all of them suffered a sudden death, there would be chaos, a breakdown in the machinery of government, which would make things quite impossible. Therefore, we come to your Lordships and ask that all alike may be renewed for one year.

In doing so we are conscious of the terms of a passage in the gracious Speech of which I would venture to remind your Lordships, in which it was said that His Majesty's Ministers would review the whole field of controls and regulations with a view to reducing their number and, where possible, embodying such of them as must be kept in permanent legislation requiring annual renewal by Act of Parliament. That is our object; that is what we propose to do. I am quite prepared for it to be said—indeed I have received some warning that it will be said—that in doing so we are in some measure departing from promises made at the Election and, indeed, departing to some extent from the attitude which has been adopted in the past by members of the Conservative Party.


Hear, hear!


How right I was! But, my Lords, I do not think that it can be suggested in this House, where sweet reason always, or almost always, prevails, that His Majesty's Ministers are asking anything unreasonable in asking for one year in which to carry out that review to which I have referred. Who can suppose, that coming into office, as His Majesty's Ministers do, after a long sojourn in the wilderness, and finding problems of the utmost gravity and complexity to deal with, that they could within any shorter measure of time review this whole field and say, "This is a regulation with which we can dispense; this regulation must be held for a further spell"? It is impossible, within such a short time, within any measurable short time, thus to separate the sheep from the goats, and to say, "This we will keep; that we will not keep."

I have explained the policy which we will pursue. I want to make two things clear. In the first place the continuance of these regulations for one year is, of course, subject to this: that at any moment any one of them may be revoked by Order in Council upon the advice of His Majesty's Ministers, and your Lordships may be very sure that, as soon as it is possible to deal with the matter in that way, the appropriate Orders in Council will be made. Let me remind your Lordships of this point, which emphasises the difficulties under which His Majesty's Ministers must labour. Many of these regulations demand the consideration not of one Minister or one Department only: they demand the consideration of two, three, four or even more Departments which are concerned—as, for instance, those numerous regulations which deal with price control. Your Lordships will easily understand that the revocation of such an order as that demands consultation perhaps between the Ministry of Food, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Health. All these things will take time, but they will be approached with the earnest desire, so often expressed from the Government side of the House, to remove as many restraints and restrictions as can possibly be removed. After all, I know how vigorously your Lordships on the Government Benches object to many of these regulations. But I will say to your Lordships, at least this: that we are, after all, in the position of the unwilling householder upon whose doorstep an unwelcome baby has been left, and who can do nothing else than care for it until he has determined how reasonably to dispose of it. One supposes that in the hearts of those of your Lordships who sit upon the Opposition Benches there still lingers that affection which fiction at least ascribes to the parent who leaves her child upon an alien doorstep, who casts one last lingering glance at it, and wishes it well.

Although I think I have said almost all that need be said in support of this Motion, yet, since this is, as I believe, a very grave and serious subject, I would, with your Lordships' indulgence, which I know I shall often require in this House, add a few general observations. This form of legislation by regulation is a matter which has been the subject for some time now of considered, cogent and, I think, often legitimate criticism. But I would venture to say to those noble Lords who condemn it root and branch that the time has now passed when it is possible to carry on the government of this country without some form of what is called delegated or subordinate legislation, of which this is typical. If your Lordships will forgive a personal reminiscence in this connection, I may say that it is now just twenty years since a Committee, known generally as the Donoughmore Committee or the Committee on Ministers' Powers, issued their Report. I can speak personally about this matter, for I was myself a member of that Committee on which there sat distinguished men of every and no political faith. I remember well the late Lord Bridgeman, father of the noble Lord who now sits in this House, Miss Ellen Wilkinson, Professor Laski, Lord Justice Scott, Professor Sir William Holdsworth—that great and venerable name in the Law—Sir John Anderson and many others. That very strong Committee came to the unanimous conclusion, and so reported, that legislation in this form was the only means by which the machinery of government of this country could now be carried on. So it is hopeless to think that we can get on without it.

But in that Report, we were most careful to point out (I venture to speak of it in that way because I was myself one of the small sub-committee of three which drafted the Report, so I am returning to a subject with which I had at one time an odious familiarity) that such legislation as this must be controlled by the proper safeguards, such as affirmative and negative Resolutions, laying before the House and that most important Committee which works in another place to deal with regulations of this kind. Therefore, while this type of legislation cannot be dispensed with, it must be subject to the proper safeguards. It is apposite to that to remember what the noble Viscount on my left, Lord Samuel, if he will forgive my quoting him, said in this place last year—and, if he will allow me to say so, there is no more experienced Parliamentarian and no one wiser in the theory and practice of government. He reminded us that: It is the nature of Government Departments to be prompt to enact but very slow to repeal. I do not know if the noble Viscount remembers using those words. What he said is, in the experience of all of us, very true. Therefore, this kind of legislation, of which we have had such a spate, must always be subject to vigilant safeguards.

The second general observation which, with your Lordships' permission, I would make about this kind of regulation is this: ordinarily, one expects to find a regulation dealing with a particular subject matter made under the appropriate Act. If you want to find a regulation about explosives, you would look to find it under an Explosives Act, and so on. The difficulty—the vice, I would say—of this kind of legislation by regulation is that they are all cast hotch-potch under the general head of Emergency Regulations. I think there is here a grave problem to which I venture to call the attention of your Lordships. It is a doctrine of our law that ignorance of it excuses no man. With this multitude of regulations, many of them carrying a severe penalty for a breach, who is to know whether he has committed a breach of any one of them? That is a serious matter. Let me put it in concrete form. Supposing that one of your Lordships wished to ascertain the law, shall we say, in regard to midwives—I can think of a more likely topic for your Lordships' evening study, but suppose that was the law which one of you wished to ascertain—where would you expect to find it? Would you expect to find it in a regulation under the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act? Surely not. Yet you would find it there, nevertheless. I am not suggesting that I can find a remedy for this difficulty, except that by every means in our power we should sweep away those regulations which are no longer needed, putting them in their proper place in a proper Act of Parliament. That is one of the things we hope to do in the course of this year or, it may be, in the course of another year.

Having made those two general observations upon matters of form, may I be allowed, before I close, to make one further observation on a question of substance? For myself, I must confess to a grave and growing apprehension at the way in which this multitude of regulations has invaded our life. They are called "emergency measures." They were imposed to meet an emergency—the emergency of savage war. They have been reimposed since 1945 to meet grim necessities of peace. But is life always to be an emergency? Are we to go on for ever in an emergency in which this multitude of restrictions—the volume of which is astonishing to anyone who looks at them—is to continue in existence? Are we to submit to them for the rest of our lives, touching, as they do, every citizen in every walk of life and in every aspect of it? I beg your Lordships to think back. Suppose that in 1935 you had been suddenly confronted with the mass of regulations which now exists: I venture to think that your Lordships would have been aghast. Yet there is a generation growing up—for it is now twelve years since most of the regulations were imposed—which has never known what most of your Lordships have known—liberty and freedom of choice in so many matters in which it now is restrained and restricted. So I venture, as a last general observation, to say this: Let us all unite by every means in our power to get rid of these terrible restraints as soon as we can.

May I conclude by using the words of a very wise man who lived a long time ago? This was a precept of Confucius: Govern the people by regulations, and keep order amongst them by chastisements, and they will lose all self-respect and flee from you. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty under section eight of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, praying that the said Act, which would otherwise expire on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-one, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-two.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to-day with recollections of the past. I remember well many occasions, from 1945 onwards, on which I had to introduce in some form or another these various measures. I confess that I wish the wise words which the noble and learned Lord has just uttered had been uttered on those occasions. I have looked up these debates but I am not going to trouble your Lordships with a mass of quotations. I was subjected, as nearly as one can be subjected in this House, to violent abuse for daring to bring in these regulations, and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, in particular (I am sorry to sec that he is not here with us to-day; I hope it does not mean that he is unwell), always used to refer to a book written in comparatively youthful enthusiasm by my right honourable friends Mr. Attlee and Sir Stafford Cripps. Every time these debates came up, the book was there. I began almost to know the quotations by heart. And if the noble and learned Viscount left it out, the noble Marquess the Leader of the House used to bring the book into play. The continuance of these regulations was said to be a monstrous act of Socialism, and all the rest of it.

We know it is a fact that we must have this system of government by regulations. By all means go through the regulations carefully: prune where you can prune, and cut out where you can cut out; but speaking for myself, I believe that the Government must have the power to make regulations, and that that power will have to continue for a very long time indeed. Here I think we come to a fundamental reason. I am surprised that your Lordships accept the position, as you obviously do, which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has enunciated. If, as some of your Lordships think, our present trouble is due simply to the wicked Socialists and their Socialism, all you have to do to put things right is to go back to a system of laissez faire: do away with all these controls, and let us have complete competitive freedom, with everybody pursuing his own ideas and his own plans, and everything will soon be right.

In his last speech on this topic the noble Marquess the Leader of the House referred to the rise in price in Axminster carpets, afgalaine and glacé kid shoes. My noble friend Lord Addison asked him whether he blamed that rise on the Socialist Government. "Entirely," said the noble Marquess—it had nothing to do with the rearmament programme or the entry of the United States into the purchasing markets of the world; it had nothing to do with these things; it was entirely the wicked Socialists. If the Government really believe that, then there is no need for regulations at all. Sweep them all away. On the other hand, if the short time which the Government have now had in office has induced a more realistic point of view, if they begin to realise that the problem is much more fundamental than that, that it is a problem of 50,000,000 people in this country finding it very difficult to obtain their food and raw materials by means of exports—if that is the position, they must realise that they are in a world where it is necessary to plan. To my mind, it is just as foolish to-day not to plan as it would be to send an army into the field and have the soldiers get into whatever position they liked instead of deciding how the army should move.

I concede at once that it is necessary to continue these Acts—all of them—and I do not think it unreasonable to say that the Government should have time to consider and see which of these regulations they want to get rid of or to amend. But, after all, when they constituted the Opposition, they were not in ignorance of these matters. Take, for example, the matter of identity cards. When we had a debate on that matter this House went to a Division, and noble Lords determined that the whole system of identity cards should be got rid of. I rather sympathised with the attitude of the noble Lords opposite. It seemed to me a nice piece of Victorian Radicalism, which I always liked; but I understood at the same time that, unless we had identity cards, we should have difficulty about keeping up to date the National Register, and that unless the National Register were kept up to date there would be considerable difficulty in regard to compulsory military service and the like. Those arguments were advanced by my noble friend Lord Shepherd. But no! the Opposition in those days, the Government Front Bench to-day, voted against us and nailed their colours to the mast: identity cards were to go.

What is the position to-day? The noble and learned Lord comes forward (I say this merely as an illustration) and asks: "Let us have time to consider." But did noble Lords not consider when they upheld that position. Were they so utterly irresponsible as not to consider the consequences then? If that was the position then, what is the position to-day? I am glad to think that noble Lords have seen the light of reason, and now appreciate that these regulations need careful consideration. And I hope that they will receive careful consideration. In the meantime it seems to me that "Set the people free" must wait. I suppose that at the present moment the Government are busy restoring confidence in the City. They do not seem to have had very great success so far. Let us hope that when the Government have achieved their results, they will find time to "set the people free." If I may give a word of advice to them I would say: Do not be led astray by the foolish observations that were made on this topic in the past. Preserve to yourselves proper and adequate powers for the immense task which confronts you—because an immense task it is—and do not jettison the power you will require simply because you lack courage to say that your previous remarks were exceedingly foolish, as indeed they were. Those are the observations that I desire to make on the main topic. As your Lordships see, I am entirely at one that we should agree to all these Motions, and I think the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has taken a convenient course in discussing them all together.

The noble and learned Lord went on to tell us what he proposed to do. He proposed to collect all these Orders, bits and pieces, and to join them into a series of Acts, or possibly into one Act, so that we might have a more convenient method of dealing with them. The noble and learned Lord will forgive me if I am wrong.


I said nothing of the kind. I said that it would be quite hopeless to expect to be able to collect all the debris into one Act.


I feel that it would he difficult to pass a series of Acts of Parliament. This involves some sixty or seventy different topics, and I hope that they will be grouped in some way. What meant was that I do not think there is any merit in having some of the regulations in the form of Defence Regulations, others under the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, still others under the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, and so on. I would rather have one Statute containing all those things, so that, at any rate, we should know where to look for our law. That was my ambition. We mentioned in the gracious Speech of 1950 that we might regularise the position and get rid of some of these strange divisions in that way. But that prospect excited the most violent opposition, and we never went further.

I should like to add these considerations. Since I believe that this system of government by regulation in a limited sphere is necessary and must survive, I think it behoves all of us to consider carefully the safeguards which we can adopt. I have never been against consideration of the question whether the House might not have power to amend these regulations, instead of rejecting them. That is a matter well worthy of consideration, although there are obvious difficulties about it. For instance, anybody who has conducted as many Bills in either Chamber as I have, knows quite well the value of having first a Committee stage and then a Report stage, so that there can be time to consider between those two stages what can be done with regard to Amendments. If we had simply a proposal to amend these Orders, we should have a Committee stage without a Report stage. In this House we have a Committee stage, a Report stage and a Third Reading, and we can, and frequently do, move Amendments on Third Reading. I am not satisfied that we should get a satisfactory result if we tried to short circuit that procedure and put all those stages into one.

The question merits consideration and, for my part. I should gladly take any action I could to consider whether we could increase Parliamentary control in that way. I feel that one difficulty (for the moment, I am thinking aloud, as it were, and this would not arise in your Lordships' House) is that in another place it could give rise to tremendous opportunity for obstruction. If Members were allowed to move all sorts of Amendments on any Order, it is difficult to see how any Orders would ever be passed through. I am speaking, perhaps, with some faint tinge of Whitehall still left about me, and I dare say that argument will appeal more to noble Lords opposite to-day than it would have done a month or two ago. But it is a matter worth considering, when we do come to consider (as I hope we shall) what we are to do about this question, since we must have this method of legislation, I believe, for many years to come. I do not think we can go back to the laissez faire of the Victorian age.

The other thing I want to say is this. Two or three weeks ago I saw a case reported in the newspaper in which the Lord Chief Justice was dealing with a mistake made by a magistrate about one of these Orders, and the paper set out what the order was. I am bound to say that it did strike me as the most unparalleled jargon I had ever read. The Lord Chief Justice said: "Is it to be wondered that a bench of magistrates goes wrong about an Order drafted like this?" I do not desire to attack anybody here, and least of all the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. This is something which I failed to do, and I hope that he will succeed where I failed. I believe that we should do a great deal of good if we succeeded in getting these instruments drafted in language which the ordinary people could understand.

We have now, in addition to the Order which is formulated, an explanatory note underneath it saying in plain English what it is all about. That strikes me as most unsatisfactory. If you can explain by means of a note in plain English so that all can understand it, why must you have that jargon which none of us can understand? I ask the question: Is it really necessary? I have the most profound regard for the Parliamentary draftsmen, who work in circumstances of great difficulty, with very little time to spare, and do their work exceedingly well, and I do not want to seem to be criticising them. I am merely raising a query: is the language used by lawyers necessarily so difficult and obscure that we must have that language used by lawyers, and then some kind of explanatory statement so that the ordinary man in the street can understand what it is all about? If the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will devote his great talents to the consideration of this question, and use his influence to see the Orders themselves are drafted in simple language, so that we do not need to have the explanatory memorandum, then I feel he will have done a most valuable piece of work for which noble Lords on all sides will be grateful.

I have felt it necessary to make those observations. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, in going through these Orders and regulations, will succeed in getting rid of those that are not needed. The last time I did this I got rid of 78 out of 150, which is rather more than half; and I have no doubt that, in the circumstances of to-day, the noble and learned Lord can prune them and get rid of a good many more. If he can, good luck to him! But I would venture to say, as I have said before: Do not prune too far and find that you have lost the power to do things which in the present difficult set of circumstances must be done, or may have to be done, if you are to succeed in restoring stability and prosperity at home. For the rest, I should advise my noble friends on this side of the House to assent to this and the succeeding Motions on the Paper.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches I would express concurrence with the course proposed by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, in the Motions that appear before the House. We welcome most cordially the general survey which he has been good enough to make of the whole situation regarding these regulations, and applaud enthusiastically the spirit which has inspired those observations. We welcome his assurance that the Government propose to introduce, either this year or next year, legislation to codify this part of what is the law of the land, though not precisely the statutory law of the land. Whether that codification should be effected in one Statute or in several is a point on which apparently there are differing views between the present Lord Chancellor and his predecessor—a controversy into which I should be most chary of entering. At first sight, however, it would appear to me that it would be to the convenience of the courts and of coming generations if the codification were not based upon the historic origin of these various regulations which emanated in one Statute in time of war but, rather, were distributed among the subject matters to which they relate.


If I may say so. I do not dissent from that at all.


Then there would not appear to be the same difference of opinion that was apparent when we first heard those two speeches. Of great importance in this connection is the degree and the meaning of the control by Parliament over the enactment of these legislations, and their review and revocation. Two years ago I introduced in your Lordships' House a Bill entitled the Liberties of the Subject Bill, which contained about a dozen clauses dealing with the different subjects, of which perhaps the most important was that providing for the increase of power of both Houses of Parliament during the enactment of these regulations. Unfortunately, those proposals did not at all meet with the approval of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Jowitt, and of the then Government. Indeed, the Government opposed one by one all the separate provisions of that Bill, and although your Lordships' House, by a large majority, passed it on Second Reading I did not proceed with it because the Government had stated that they would give it no facilities in another place and, therefore, it would not have been right to put your Lordships to the trouble of spending time in Committee and Report on a highly technical Bill which, from the very beginning, was doomed to a speedy end. Therefore, the matter has not since been before your Lordships' House. I earnestly hope, however, that when the present Government are reviewing the whole subject, they will not only deal with the regulations we have but will also consider the procedure to be adopted with regard to regulations still to come.

The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Jowitt, has said that there must be regulations, and in introducing my Bill two years ago I emphasised that point. We have now passed away from the nineteenth century laissez faire State and, in the interests of the public itself, have greatly enlarged the powers of the State over the public. If there were no power of making regulations, and if everything had to be done by deliberate enactment in every detail, passing through all the stages of Parliamentary legislation in both Houses, the congestion of Parliament would become quite intolerable. Therefore, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Jowitt, has said, there must be regulations unless the Government are to abandon planning altogether. But it does not follow that, because you should not abandon planning, therefore you should not have proper Parliamentary control. That is where I find myself in disagreement with the noble Lords on the Benches to my left. They seem to think that if the principle of planning is once accepted, it is not necessary to trouble too much to ensure a scrupulous care in the enactments.


No, no.


Yes, indeed. I bring that criticism against the noble Lords of the Labour Party quite deliberately, and I think it is justified. Indeed, many of the intellectual leaders of the Socialist movement have publicly stated, more than once, that it is essential that a Government resolved to carry out a full policy of Socialist legislation must have much larger powers of securing its passage through Parliament than exist now, and certainly much larger than would exist if amendments were made to increase the power of Parliament. They have asked for general Statutes laying down certain principles of nationalisation and leaving all the implementation of those Statutes to regulations.


Without Parliamentary control?


Without any subsequent Parliamentary control—




Certainly they have resisted the greater Parliamentary control which was involved in the Liberties of the Subject Bill. I always thought that the reason why they opposed that Bill as a whole was much more because of that provision than for any other reason. Therefore, I think that those of us who are not Socialists but who do accept the general policy of planning and the Welfare State may say, on the one hand, that that is our policy and, on the other, that in all this kind of legislation we believe in the fullest possible Parliamentary control throughout. I trust that that may be effected by some future Resolution by the present Government. This debate to-day has, perhaps unexpectedly, carried this subject a good deal further forward. The speech made to-day by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Jowitt, has certainly been much more helpful than anything which has been said before, and the promise that the Government in power will consider this matter and take effective legislation is one which we should welcome.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, the Conservative Party dislike rules, regulations and controls in principle, and I think they have always done so. It is almost ironic that at the moment a Conservative Government have to come to Parliament because, in the present state of our affairs, it is impossible in a day to do away with all these things. For that reason, I feel that we should say a word from the Back Benches, because we sympathise with our leaders very greatly in this matter. They dislike the task they have to perform, and yet we feel that they have to do it.

One of the reasons why we all dislike these regulations so much has been referred to by the Lord Chancellor, and that is the fact that we never know when we are breaking the law. We suspect that every day of our lives we are probably breaking the law; and, having been brought up as law-abiding citizens, we do not like that position at all. We find that burden somewhat intolerable, in fact. That lends particular point to the Lord Chancellor's suggestion that some method should be found of so modifying these rules and regulations that the general public may have some idea as to what is, and what is not, the law. However, we realise that these things cannot be swept away at once. We hope, and we believe, that during the Recess Ministers are going to devote their energies to seeing what they can dispense with. It is not a thing which can be done in a hurry because, as we all know, once the Executive get a power they relinquish it with extraordinary reluctance. It is like the crocodile and the bulldog: Give them a regulation and they will never give it up. It needs a strong—minded Minister to overrule his official advisers and give up a power which might one day come in handy.

There is one particular regulation which I suggest should be looked at very carefully, and that is the power of the Post Office to demand an identity card for identification purposes. It has always seemed to me that that definitely weakened the security in the Post Office. It is just as easy to steal an identity card as it is to steal a Post Office bank book, and if you present the two documents at once the conscience of the official behind the counter is salved for all time, whereas in the old days he had to look you in the eye and, if he thought you were a rogue, call upon you to identify yourself in some way which you might not expect. The unexpected check is far more efficacious than the known check. I know that it is in that spirit that Ministers will examine those regulations and repeal them like corn falling before the scythe.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, this is a delightful debate, completely inverted. The Socialist Party had arranged that these regulations should terminate in December. The Conservative Party are proposing that they should continue for one year, and yet all the speeches from the Woolsack and the noble Lord opposite are the same speeches which were made when the Socialist Party were in power. It only shows that a good deal of what went on in the last Parliament was Parliamentary performance. I do not complain about that, but I was really moved by the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, for example, about identity cards. I am of old Radical faith, and I am amazed to hear that the Government are proposing to continue the power to retain identity cards. I have forgotten whether the noble Marquess the Leader of the House spoke on this matter, but I imagine that the Under-Secretary might be present to reply to some of those moving passages which stirred our hearts. As to the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Jowitt concerning amendment, I would not venture to differ from him; but I am eager to hear what the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has to say on this subject. The other place has the same power to amend statutory regulations as this House. Suppose they amend in one sense and we in another; we should then get a disagreement between the two Houses, and we should also be in the position of legislating without the Parliament Act. These statutory rules, because they were de minimis have always been exempt from the Parliament Act, and it was always in the power of this House, Parliament Act or not, to "chop off their heads."

What about the form of these things? I am very proud to be a member of this House, and am intensely interested in its procedure. We are supposed to have the same number of days for considering these regulations as the House of Commons have. In fact we do not. We adjourn for longer periods at the weekend, and the period for consideration is very much shorn. Secondly, what about the laying of these regulations? I have been making some inquiries about what is meant by "laying," but I have not been able to find an answer. I know what is meant by the laying of a regulation when Parliament is sitting, but how is the laying done when Parliament is not sitting? Is something put through a letter box or under a door? Some of these regulations become operative before they are laid. I believe that all that is necessary to cover them in such instances is to write a letter—I do not know to whom, but I suppose it to be the Lord Chancellor—explaining that it is necessary to have these regulations into operation prior to the time when they are laid before Parliament for discussion and approval. Only the other day a regulation was made bringing a penalty to bear on the Bank of Iran in connection with the quarrel about oil. This regulation had been laid and made effective, but it had never been seen in this place. An explanation of some kind was made, to the effect that the regulation had become operative because it was expedient that it should.

This is a subject well worth discussion. Of course it is reasonable to give the Government time to consider it. If anything can be done to increase Parliamentary control in these days of the planned State it will be welcomed by all reasonable people.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I believe that in the 1930's the Conservative and Unionist Peers made a very strong protest against the laying on the Table of the House of regulations which were not procurable by us, so that we could see what they were. We received a promise that the practice would cease. I hope that it has ceased—I have not acquainted myself with the present state of the matter. I range myself behind the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, on this subject because I believe it to be a very important one. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor referred in his speech to new-born babies and quoted from the Chinese. I would remind noble Lords opposite that after Chinese babies have had their bound feet loosed it takes them some little time before they are able to walk. I hope that indulgence will be shown to the Government who find themselves at the moment in the same position.


My Lords, I think it is undesirable that some of the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, should go on the record without any contradiction. Unfortunately, I was myself responsible, as a Minister, for the drafting of a number of Orders made under these Statutes, and I know well what a burden of responsibility is placed upon a Minister. We all desire the utmost Parliamentary control compatible with getting the job done, but I think it is quite untrue to say that the Labour Party are reluctant to see effective Parliamentary control. Quite the contrary is the case.


My Lords, some of you may remember that about twenty years ago the late Lord Sankey set up a Committee to examine the whole question of these regulations. I am afraid that it was not a very good Committee—I was a member of it. However, the Committee achieved something, and I think it is unfortunate that it was allowed to die. A great deal of work was put into the matter by Lord Sankey himself, and I have no doubt that the minutes of the Committee's deliberations are available.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I entirely agree with what has been said—that this debate, which appeared likely to be of a purely formal character, has turned out to be an extremely interesting and valuable one. It has brought forth expressions of opinion from noble Lords in all parts of the House, and I think it is well worthy of being read by a wider audience. Like other noble Lords, I had not intended to speak and I will be very brief. But one or two things said by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Jowitt, deserve some reply from me. He poked a good deal of fun at us on this side. That, of course, is perfectly legitimate, and I have no complaint to make. But I feel that he himself fell into the error of overstating his case. It is a well-known forensic device and he gave way to the temptation. He gave the impression that the Conservative Party, prior to coming into power. had pledged themselves to a policy of abolishing immediately all controls. That was the general trend of his argument. I do not know where he got that from. No doubt he read it somewhere. Certainly he did not get it from anything said on our Benches during the last two Parliaments. Take my own case. I have never said that all controls should be abolished in a moment. On the contrary, I seem to remember making a comparison, in one of my speeches, between tariffs and controls, and saying that, in the early years of this century, we in this country fell into the error of dividing ourselves into two camps, one thinking that all tariffs were good and the other that all tariffs were bad—whereas we now know that they are simply an administrative device which is good in some cases and bad in others.

I suggest that the same is true with regard to controls, and I believe that I shall carry the House with me in saying that. I entirely agree with what was said by the Lord Chancellor, in his extremely profound and interesting speech: that some restrictions are absolutely vital in the modern world. But I maintain that, looked at from the point of view of a Parliamentary democracy, they are not a good thing in themselves, because they tend, however one may wish to avoid it, to take power from Parliament and put it into the hands of the Executive. It is perfectly true that these regulations are laid on the Table, but that does not take the place of a proper Bill, which has to go through both Houses and be debated through all its stages. They must, therefore, be regarded as an inevitable evil. To my mind, the best thing one can do in the circumstances is, first of all, to do what I think the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, himself suggested—strengthen Parliamentary control as much as we possibly can; and, secondly, reduce the scope and number of these regulations as much as is practicably possible.

What is our position to-day as a new Government? As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simonds, has said, we have come from a wilderness into a jungle—a not entirely happy situation. However active we may be with our efforts, we cannot expect to cut a way entirely through that jungle in a very few weeks. All we can do is reduce the area of the jungle progressively and make it not a desert but at least a place possible to move in. That is the only way in which we and the whole country can advance safely. That is the purpose of the measures which have been introduced this afternoon by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Take, for instance, the Supplies and Services Act. That was introduced in 1945. It was to run for five years. Now the period has been reduced to one year, and at the end of one year it will have to be reconsidered. I hope that, at the end of one year and perhaps before, some of the rules and regulations that come within the scope of that Act will have been eliminated—that indeed a large number of them will have been eliminated. But, at any rate, the Act itself has to be reviewed by Parliament again at the end of the year and, from the Parliamentary and constitutional point of view, I think that is a sound procedure.

The effect of the measure that we are discussing to-day is to give us a breathing space to see what we can do in the first year of our tenure of power. In that connection, I hope that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Jowitt, will not be too despondent about identity cards. He seemed quite sad about this subject, and I should like to say a word of encouragement to him. Identity cards may yet go—I wish to encourage him and raise his spirits as much as I can. But what is equally true—and he, with all his experience, will know it—is that you cannot remove a device like the identity card without putting something in its place.




It may not be an identity card: it can be something much less—merely an administrative device of one kind or another. That is a matter which has to be examined. Unfortunately, we were not in a position to examine these things before, because the noble Lords opposite were in occupation of the Government offices. But the fact remains that they will be examined and I, with other noble Lords, hope very much that identity cards can be abolished at an early date.


I think that one of the difficulties is this. If we are to have a National Register and the individual has to remember his number, the only possible chance of remembering his number, in the case of the ordinary person, is to have an identity card. Mine is "DJ/WN/24 58." I could never possibly remember that if I did not have an identity card.


I admire the noble and learned Viscount very much for telling us his identity! I may say that I, too, always carry my card, but very few people in this country do in fact carry their identity cards. Noble Lords opposite have had to defend the identity card for two years, so I am not surprised that they carry theirs; but there are a great many people who do not.

Now, one word about a very important point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, with regard to Amendments to regulations. I think he is quite right. It is a very difficult question. The only way I see by which, possibly, we could find a way through it would be to lay regulations in draft and allow them to be debated, so that suggestions could be made in this House. Then they could be taken back to their offices by the Ministers, and one would hope that, when the final regulations came before Parliament, they would be agreed. I am not suggesting that that is what the new Government are already deciding to do. I am merely thinking aloud about possible ways out of the present difficulty.


That is a very interesting suggestion. But does the noble Marquess suggest that, if the regulations were laid in draft, each House should have the opportunity to tender Amendments to the draft?


No. I am speaking purely for myself in what I say. My idea is that there should be a free and frank debate upon the draft. I was not suggesting that Amendments would be proposed, but that suggestions should be made.


Hear, hear!


And that could be done in both Houses. As I say, it is a purely personal suggestion, but I believe that it is a possible way out of the difficulty.


A good idea.


My Lords, I have kept the House quite long enough. In spite of a little light chaff that has gone on across the House, it seems clear that everybody is delighted with the measures that have been proposed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I hope that they will be rapidly and uncontroversially passed through this House.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for following the Lord Privy Seal, but he did not notice that I rose before he began his speech. I am not one of those persons who judge values according to the clock or the calendar so I do not mind being called a Victorian Radical. Whether or not I ant a Radical, I am certainly more than one-third Victorian at my age. In this debate words are being used which I regard as quite important. For all the levity and brevity of the speeches that have been made (or some of them), words have been used that raise important issues, and I think some of them are misused. For instance, we were told that we cannot go back to laissez faire. I agree. The trouble about laissez faire was not its insistence or emphasis upon the note of personal liberty; the trouble was that it was a principle of leaving things alone with a great deal on top that was not libertarianism at all—the power of exploitation, the power of monopoly and all the privileges that went with the Whig dynasty of the past. Laissez, faire included those. It was not just a question of leaving human beings to live their lives as independent and self-responsible men and women. But I do not propose to defend laissez faire.

I suggest that, when we talk about regulations—I am not competent to go into their details because I have not had time to study a large number of them—as a means of carrying out planning, and when we say that we must have government by regulation if we are to plan, I think we need to know what it is we are planning—at any rate, first of all. What are we planning? The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Jowitt, indicated that one of the reasons why we need to continue this kind of emergency legislation into the future is that we have a population of 50,000,000 people, unable to feed themselves and dependent upon imports and exports. That was his main reason for saying that he thinks this kind of legislation is inevitable. But that, surely, raises a very fundamental question—that of how near we ought to be able to get to feeding ourselves, rather than depending upon capitalistic competition in a world where such competition must eventually lead to economic disaster. To call the idea of planning capitalism "Socialism" appals me. It is nothing of the kind. Streamlining capitalism, which is what is being done, may be inevitable: we have got to live; we have got to have to-morrow morning's breakfast, and to-morrow's dinner. We have the circumstances outlined by Lord Jowitt. But do not let this be called out of its name. It is not Socialism at all. No one in the early days of Socialism imagined that Socialism was to be run by means of interminable interferences with personal liberty, or by means of regulating a competitive system. I rise in order to emphasise that point.

Let us understand what it is we are doing. So far as we can, we are organising, an effective system of commercial competition on high-powered industrial lines. That was never envisaged by the Socialists of the Victorian Radical era. We stood for abundant personal liberty. It may be true to say that, in order to establish a system of economic justice, it is necessary to have planning, but surely not planning by Parliamentary legislation upon this particular kind of model. Surely it must be a planning which includes at least doing away with laws as well as making them—doing away with laws that protect privileged circumstances, and making laws in order to make it possible for people to live in comfort and decency and in conditions of progress within a Socialist system. I cannot develop that theme in a debate of this character, but I wanted to strike that note because it is about time that some of us got back to first principles, and we are not considering first principles at all to-day; we are considering only these immediate things, the things that were talked about on the political platforms at Election time, with the idea of how far we could get the people to vote for this Party or for that. We are neglecting the fundamental things that, after all, will sooner or later be forced upon us.

If we just leave 20 per cent. of nationalised capitalism, on the one hand, with, on the other, 80 per cent. of high-powered, planned industrial economy based upon the most effective streamlined capitalistic principles, then we must come to a time when greater production by all countries, the smaller with the larger, with our own Dominions and Colonies all going in for secondary industrial production, will mean an overflowing; and, as a result, all the calamity of over-production intensified by an atomic age will be upon us. There is nothing in all these things which we are to-day calling Socialism which offers any basis at all for handling a position of that kind. If there is anything in this Socialism of which we have been talking so much, and in which I have had such faith all my life, then that Socialism goes side by side with the greatest possible amount of human liberty and personal freedom.

It is true, of course, that it is impossible to do away with regulations of this character merely by waving a magic wand or passing a magic Resolution. I think that the speeches which have been made by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Samuel and Lord Stansgate express the common-sense point of view, a view which has also been expressed by the Lord Privy Seal. That is what I feel about the whole matter. These regulations go against the grain. They are not good things in themselves, and we cannot excuse them upon the ground that we are implementing a wonderful new, planned society. Lord Jowitt pointed out that you must have innumerable regulations in order to make war. If you make war you must dispense with personal freedom. I should hate to have to admit that in order to establish Socialism we must also dispense with personal freedom. If that statement were true, then, although I do not believe in war now, I should become the pacifist of pacifists, and certainly I should no longer call myself a Socialist.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, before we pass from what Lord Stansgate has already agreed is a most interesting debate, I wonder whether I may raise one question which the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel, raised and which was challenged by the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot? Lord Samuel in his speech made the point that in his view the Socialist Party were not so anxious for Parliamentary control as noble Lords below the gangway and noble Lords on this side of the House. Lord Wilmot rose in his place to repudiate that statement, in order that such a monstrous allegation should not be allowed to remain unchallenged upon the record. My Lords, equally for the sake of its being recorded in Hansard, I should like to remind your Lordships that perhaps the pure views expressed by Lord. Wilmot have not always been those expressed by the leaders of the Socialist Party, and neither have opposite views been repudiated by the Socialist Party. Sir Stafford Cripps wrote Problems of a Socialist Government. That is cheered by noble Lords opposite, as no doubt will be the sentiments expressed in that book about which I am going to remind your Lordships in one moment.


What is the date of the book?


The date is immaterial; it is the beliefs which are in the heart of the person concerned that count. Those reach beyond dates. Sir Stafford Cripps said: The Government's first step will be to call Parliament together at the earliest moment and place before it an Emergency Powers Bill, to be passed through all its stages on the first day. This Bill will be wide enough in its terms to allow all that will be immediately necessary to be done by Ministerial Orders. These Orders must he incapable of challenge in the courts. Sir Stafford Cripps followed that up in the following year with another book, called Where Stands Socialism?—as it were, as an improvement. In it he said this: The devising of the detailed administrative methods for the working out of the plan are not matters with which the House of Commons need concern itself. So far as I know, the responsible leaders of the Socialist Party have never made any authoritative denial or implementation of that statement. What was in their hearts then remains in their hearts to-day.

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, before I put the Question, may I do something that I ought to have done before—namely, offer an apology on behalf of the draftsman of the White Paper, the Continuance of Emergency Legislation. He has pointed out that in this Paper, which should be in all respects accurate, there has been one omission. I do not think your Lordships will think it a very serious omission, but in fact at the bottom of page 3, beneath Regulation 62B there should be Number 66, which regulation refers to the delegation of the functions of the Ministry. I thought I ought to mention that in case there should be any misunderstanding.

I would add that I do not want to be misunderstood in one thing that I said. Something that fell from the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Jowitt, and also from the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, makes me think that perhaps I have been misunderstood. Nobody can contemplate that the whole body of these regulations can be put into legislation. What I intended to say was that in so far as we are not able to get rid of them, I hope (although I do not promise this) we may be able to find a place for them in appropriate legislation.

On Question, Motion agreed to: the said Address to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.