HL Deb 17 November 1954 vol 189 cc1595-9

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move the fourth Motion, which, as your Lordships see, deals with patents.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty under subsection (3) of section forty-nine of the Patents Act, 1949, praying that the Patents (Extension of Period of Emergency) Order, 1954, be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 3rd November.(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, after listening to two of this country's most eminent lawyers entertaining us with the full force of their eloquence, it is perhaps a little impertinent on my part to join in this debate, but my point follows very closely the one raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I can now only plead that I speak on behalf of myself, because I was responsible in 1949 for piloting the Patents Act through your Lordships' House. The Government, through the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack, are asking your Lordships to declare that this country is in a state of emergency for another twelve months, because Section 30—I think I am right in saying that it is Section 30—under which this order is made, states in its opening paragraph: during any period of emergency within the meaning of this section. Subsection (2) of Section 30 says: In this section the expression 'period of emergency' means the period ending with the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty, or such later date as may be prescribed by Order in Council.

On the Second Reading of the Patents Bill in your Lordships' House I said— and I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT for March 29, 1949 (Vol. 161, col. 759): Clause 29, therefore, provides that any new period of emergency during which these special provisions would apply should be fixed by Order in Council. Of course, it is intended that they should apply only during a period of national emergency. On the Committee stage, the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, moved an Amendment—he will remember it very well, I feel certain. While I suggested that the declaration of a state of emergency should be by a Negative Resolution, the noble Viscount argued that it was of such importance that it should be by an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. So impressed was I by the arguments of the noble Viscount that on my own responsibility I accepted the Amendment. He will remember my saying at that time that if I was hauled over the coals by my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade, the House would have to forgive me if I came back and ate humble pie. My right honourable friend did nothing of the kind; he quite agreed.

That is the position in which we are to-day. Technically, as I think the noble and learned Viscount will agree, we are asked to say that to-day we are in a period of emergency, and the list of things, causes or purposes in respect of which there is special provision as to Crown use during emergency is almost as comprehensive as the list of the special provisions under Defence of the Realm Regulations that the noble and learned Viscount read out. Let me at least mark this up to the credit of Her Majesty's Government: twelve months ago they did attempt to put this into the Statute—an ill-starred attempt. All the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, did not satisfy your Lordships. The reason was one upon which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, touched and about which I am so apprehensive. Not only did the Government want to bring the emergency regulations into permanent legislation; they also wanted to embellish them with a lot of others. Your Lordships rose in your wrath from all sides of the House. That was on December 1, 1953. The Leader of the Government at that time postponed the Second Reading, which was tantamount to withdrawing the Bill, and it has languished in the pigeon-holes ever since. That shows how vigilant we have to be, not only about the continuation of emergency legislation, but also about the attempts of the official mind not only to hang on to what they already hold but to increase their powers so far as they possibly can.

This is a serious matter for industry. We are living in a competitive world and, as I said in my speech on Second Reading, it was intended that these wide, special provisions for the Crown use of patents should be used only in an emergency. I think the noble and learned Viscount will agree with me that twelve months is certainly long enough for consulting industry. From the remarks he made, I gather that perhaps one of the reasons for the delay in coming forward with another Bill to replace the ill-starred effort of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft (I am not blaming him for it), was the consultation with industry. If industry takes so long as the noble and learned Viscount would wish us to believe to make up its mind, it is far more dilatory to-day than it was when I was in office. I should have thought we could have had this measure in your Lordships' House before now, and I hope the noble and learned Viscount will give us the assurance that no undue delay will take place in making permanent these special provisions which every year we are asked to continue by saying that we are still in a state of emergency. I think the noble and learned Viscount will agree with me that this House did a great public service in refusing a Second Reading to the last effort of Her Majesty's Government, and I hope your Lordships will be as vigilant not only about the continuation of these regulations, as my noble and learned Leader has said, but also about putting them on the Statute Book. I hope I have not even soiled the hem of the charming white cloak in which the noble and learned Viscount dressed up Her Majesty's Government, but, if I have, I think he will agree that I have done it in a good cause.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just addressed your Lordships has been a Minister himself. He knows that complacency is one of the most serious occupational diseases which threaten Ministers of all kinds and at all times, and I can only say that I am grateful to him for disturbing any threatened onset of complacency that may come to Her Majesty's Government to-day. He knows that the powers contained in these regulations are necessary, especially in connection with the sale of defence equipment, as the Crown's permanent powers are not stated widely enough to cover certain offshore purchases at the present time. That is the main reason (there are others, with which I will not trouble your Lordships) why these powers should be continued. As I understand it, the Special Orders Committee have drawn attention to this extension, but I think it is fair to say that it is the method of extension to which they have referred. Nobody has tried to say the powers were unnecessary.

The noble Lard has elongated my lower extremity—I think that is the Parliamentary way of saying he has been "pulling my leg," in a charming way. This is an example of the second category of regulations which I mentioned to your Lordships earlier on. There are the regulations which it is fitting to do away with; there are others, like this one, which require to be superseded by statutory powers. I do not know whether the noble Lord thinks that the Government are more or less culpable, but all the Government did was to introduce legislation in order to deal with this point. That legislation incurred criticism in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord will remember (I think I am putting it rightly and shortly) that one of the grounds of criticism was that there had not been sufficient consultation with the interests affected in industry. When that happens, and it happens occasionally, though fortunately seldom, even in the best regulated Governments, there is only one thing to do—to make it absolutely certain that on the next occasion the consultations will be sufficient. It has a bearing on the matter, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will remember, because I am sure that when he was at the Ministry of Transport he had to face that awful time in a Parliamentary Session when departmental Ministers gather round with tears in their eyes to what has been called for a hundred years "the slaughter of the innocents," when certain Bills fall because of lack of Parliamentary time—I see that the noble Lord remembers that. The legislative programme being what it is, it has been difficult for this Bill, or any altered form of the Bill, to come forward, but I should like to assure the noble Lord that we are considering the matter most carefully, to see that consultation is right, and it is still our view that this is essentially the sort of regulation that ought to be replaced by legislation as soon as we can. I hope I have again taken the chiding of the noble Lord in as happy a way, if not in as charming, as that in which he expressed it. On what I have said, I hope he will allow this regulation to go through.

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

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