HL Deb 17 November 1954 vol 189 cc1574-93

2.42 p.m.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VIS-COUNT KILMUIR) rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her 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-four, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-five. The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, I rise to move the first of the Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper—that dealing with the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act. As your Lordships will see, this is the first of five Motions which stand in my name, and it will be necessary to invite your Lordships to approve each Motion in turn. It may, therefore, be convenient to your Lordships if I deal with them in one speech, since they are closely related and are all concerned with the continuance of emergency legislation. The Motions are in similar form to those which have been placed before your Lordships at about this time in recent years by my noble and learned predecessor, Lord Simonds. Though this is the first time I have had to present such Motions to your Lordships, I do not come to them as a complete stranger, because I have had to present them in another place on the last three occasions.

Briefly, their purpose is to keep in force for a further year a number of Defence Regulations and Emergency Provisions which would otherwise expire on December 10 next. The Motions are described in paragraph (1) of the White Paper on Continuance of Emergency Legislation which has been presented to the House, and their effect was explained in greater detail in the remaining paragraphs of the White Paper. I do not think I need refer at length to what your Lordships will find in that document, but I think it would be for the convenience and information of the House if I made a few remarks as to the progress which has been made by Her Majesty's Government in clearing away the remnants of the legislation which was originally passed for the purposes of the war, and to explain why it is necessary to come before your Lordships once again with Motions of this kind.

We are mainly concerned here with the Defence Regulations which are dealt with under the first and second Motions on the Order Paper. Before proceeding further, I should explain that the latest edition of the Defence Regulations is this twenty-first edition, in the grey cover, which I hold in my hand and which gives the regulations in force up to December 27, 1953. I think I may claim with the general approbation of your Lordships that this volume has undergone a considerable slimming process during the last three years, with a considerable reduction in its bulk and with no harm, I think, to the health of the body politic as a whole. It has been the constant aim of the Government to bring the Defence Regulations to an end as rapidly as possible, but, as your Lordships will appreciate, this is not a simple matter. It has been necessary to examine every regulation separately and to decide the earliest date on which it could be revoked without detriment to the public interest, and this review has been intensively pursued.

In most cases the powers conferred by particular regulations were of such a kind that sooner or later they could be dispensed with altogether, and those have been the easiest category to deal with. Some of the regulations contained provisions which needed to be incorporated in some form or another in the permanent law and those have had to be retained until an opportunity came for legislation. If your Lordships will be good enough to look at the table in paragraph 5 on page 4 of the White Paper, I think you will agree that substantial progress has been made in the elimination of regulations. Out of the total of 215 regulations which we inherited when we took office, no fewer than 146 have gone completely. Of the remaining 69, provision has already been made in a Bill which has been before your Lordships' House, the Food and Drugs Amendment Bill, for the revocation in England and Wales of nine regulations constituting the Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations. Further to that, 35 out of the 60 then left are of the nature of ancillary and formal regulations, the provisions in most of which must continue so long as one substantive regulation is left. In effect, therefore, leaving aside the Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations which I have just mentioned, only 25 substantive regulations are to be continued by the Motions before the House, and even of these a number are in attenuated form—that is to say, some part of their original provisions has been revoked.

May I call your Lordships' attention especially to Regulation 55, because any noble Lord who has studied this question must have appreciated that Regulation 55 is the most potent and extensive of these examples of substantive regulations? I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the Order in Council made a few days ago and laid before this House, which has an important effect on Defence Regulation 55 and those associated regulations which confer powers to operate economic controls over a wide range on Ministers who are the competent authorities for the purposes of these regulations. These are the regulations which are referred to in Defence Regulations (No. 9) Order, to which reference is made in the Appendix to the White Paper. Let me remind your Lordships of the wide nature of Regulation 55 as it originally stood. It gives the Government power for the wide range of purposes that are set out in the Supplies and Services Act to regulate or prohibit (and I quote): the production, treatment, keeping, storage, movement, transport, distribution, disposal, acquisition, use or consumption of articles of any description.

I cannot quantify your Lordships' imagination, but I do not think the imagination of any noble Lord could extend to any form of economic control to which that regulation in its present state does not apply. It is a wide-reaching regulation, necessary, as we all admitted, in times of war but, I submit to your Lordships, not necessary to-day. To-day these powers are required only for very limited purposes and in relation to a handful of commodities.

The Government consider it wrong in principle to retain wide powers which are no longer needed, and I am sure few, if any, of your Lordships would question that principle. The effect of the new Order which is to come into operation on January 1 next would be to restrict Regulation 55 and the associated Regulations, 55AA and 55AB, to the purposes for which they are currently required, the control of paper, manila, hemp, tinplate, iron and steel scrap, strategic goods and some other purposes especially in connection with agricultural products and welfare foods, all of which are carefully defined in the order. I say, with all modesty, that that is a good example of our general approach to the whole question of emergency legislation, which may be summed up as the elimination of these powers whenever possible, the super-session of others by permanent legislation and the progressive narrowing of those which are left. I venture to suggest, also, that it illustrates what I may call the practical approach of the Government. There has never been any question of an indiscriminate sweeping away of controls, irrespective of the problems that face us as a Government to-day: each control has been the subject of separate examination, and some have necessarily had to be retained longer than others. The steady improvement in the economic state of the country has enabled us to reduce the economic controls, broadly speaking, to the small number defined in the No. 9 Order which I have just mentioned.

I do not want to detain your Lordships much longer, but I think I should say a word or two about another aspect of the matter which may be of interest to your Lordships, especially in view of some of the debates which have taken place during the last week or two. That aspect is that, even when powers have had to be retained, it has been the aim of Her Majesty's Government to diminish the use of these powers as much as possible. I will take as an example the requisitioning of land, because I know that that is a subject which has raised great interest in your Lordships' House, even in the short time that I have had the honour to be a Member. The power to requisition land, which for this purpose includes buildings, was originally given by Defence Regulation 51, and the continued retention of land requisitioned under the regulation is authorised by the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945. Since 1951 the number of buildings held on requisition by Government Departments under these powers, excluding houses and flats held by the housing departments, and a few factories, has fallen from 3,858 to 1,267, a reduction of 67 per cent.; and over one-third of this reduction was brought about in the last year. It is hoped that most of the remaining properties held on requisition by the Ministry of Works will have been released by the end of next year. I should mention, in passing, that one of the advantages of the end of food rationing has been that a large number of properties formerly held by the Ministry of Works, on behalf of the Ministry of Food, have been handed back to their owners.

I should now like to deal with another aspect which I think is of interest to your Lordships, if your Lordships will bear with me for a few moments longer. Where land has been requisitioned by the Service Departments the drive to reduce reliance on emergency powers, either by derequisition or purchase, has continued steadily. May I take as an example the land under requisition by the War Office, who are naturally the largest user? That land has been reduced from a peak figure of approximately 700,000 acres to 69,000 acres, and the process is still being vigorously pursued. I am sure your Lordships will agree that that reduction in the use of the powers is a matter of great interest and moment to the public. I should like to take one other example which I know is also a matter that has been much in your Lordships' minds—namely, the figure for offences under the regulations. A great reduction was made before the year which is now under review. The overall reduction is something like 95 per cent., but I should like your Lordships to know that the good work goes on, because offences have fallen from 1,596, in the first half of 1953, to 477—that is, less than one-third—in the first half of 1954; and preliminary figures for the third quarter of this year indicate an even steeper drop. I am sure that everyone in your Lordships' House will welcome that reduction, because it is a dangerous field of offences, where the purpose of the creation of the offence, and in some cases the terms of the offence, are of necessity less well-known to the subject than the well-tried provisions of the criminal law.

We shall continue to keep under close review the Defence Regulations which are still in force, but I must be frank with your Lordships and say this. The majority of the substantive regulations which remain fall into the second class of regulations to which I have referred; that is to say, they must continue until there is permanent legislation to replace them. Two of the Bills concerned have already been introduced—the Mines and Quarries Bill and the Food and Drugs Amendment Bill. The Food and Drugs Amendment Bill gets rid of the nine regulations which I mentioned earlier, the Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations; and, similarly, Regulation 60A will be revoked when the Mines and Quarries Bill comes into force, probably in a matter of some months' time. But a number of other Bills will be required before the hard core of regulations now remaining can be finally disposed of.

Legislation will also be required before the provisions contained in the third, fourth and fifth Motions on the Order Paper can be terminated: these relate to wheat, the sugar industry, and to patents and registered designs. Your Lordships will not expect me at this stage of the Session to attempt to forecast when all the necessary legislation can be introduced—some of it is of considerable complexity and requires consultation with the interests concerned. But I can give an unqualified assurance that we remain firm in our purpose of clearing up the legacy of war-time powers, and our record up to date, which I have outlined to your Lordships, may be taken, I hope, as earnest of our intention to secure that the purpose is carried out. It is against this background that I ask your Lordships to agree the continuation of these powers for a further year. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her 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-four, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-five.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, I cast my mind back to the year 1945 and I remember having to move in that year a Motion similar to that just moved by the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor. I had to move Motions on the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, on the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Act, 1946, and on the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1947. Those of your Lordships who were here then will remember the sort of passage that I had on those occasions. I can only say that when I started I had hardly a grey hair on my head; but when I had finished trying to deal with the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon (who unfortunately is no longer with us) and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who also, unfortunately, is not with us this afternoon, I was as I am to-day. I only hope that a like fate will not befall the Lord Chancellor.

I mention these matters for a definite reason. With the general proposition which the Lord Chancellor has enunciated, every sensible person would agree. If we are to have these powers, or powers of any sort, they ought to be in the form of legislation: they ought not to be in the form of regulations. I agreed with all that the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton (I see him sitting opposite to me looking, I am glad to say, very well) said. He impressed that upon me in the year 1945. He held up his hands in horror. I have just been reading the debate, and he made a most eloquent speech in which he said that he was in a Stygian gloom that these regulations could really go on for five years—1945 to 1950. But here we are, almost ten years after the end of the European fighting, still going on with these regulations.

With great respect to him, it is a complete fallacy for the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor to say, "Look, I have abolished such a lot of the regulations; I have abolished two-thirds of them." It is true that two-thirds of them may have been abolished, but they may be mere trimmings. Look what remain, and what we are asked to pass ten years after the war. They are immense powers. I do not say that they have been misused, either by this Government or their predecessors—I do not think they were. But it is not right—and here I call upon Lord Woolton to support me—that the Government should take these vast powers unless they really need them.

We have reached a stage now—and I will show how vast the powers are in a moment—when, ten years after the war, I say it is quite intolerable that the Government should come to us, and for the Lord Chancellor, in a charming little speech, to ask us to pass these immense powers unless the Government make out a case to show that they are necessary. The Government have not attempted to make out any case. The line I am going to take is this. So far as there is any importance in what I say, I shall suggest that we do not divide on these regulations to-day, but that we resolve that, if another year comes and we are again asked to approve these regulations, then, on whatever side of the House we sit, having regard to what was said in the past about the undesirability of these regulations, we shall say, "No." After all, the present Government were elected largely on the cry, "Set the people free!" We want to set the people free, and we shall see, as far as we can, that if ever this happens again we do not give the Government carte blanche on these sort of powers for which they are asking to-day. The Lord Chancellor said, "There are only twenty-five," but the Lord Chancellor counts groups. For instance, Regulations 91 to 93 and 97 to 102 are each taken as one. May I indicate to your Lordships how vast these powers are? It really is no answer to say that the Government have not abused them: they ought not to have them.

Let us look at some of the regulations. Let us take the first one. Regulation 46 deals with shipping. I am glad to see the noble Earl the Postmaster General sitting opposite to me; he is a competent authority and a reasonable person, on most matters, at any rate, if not on all. But these are the powers he has. He can issue a ukase, and he can tell any shipping owner on what trade his ship is to be engaged, what she is to carry, where she is to go, what hire she is to charge; and he can make such provisions as seem to him necessary and incidental thereto. The whole of the shipping trade of this great country of ours—one of our greatest industries—is under the control of the Postmaster General, if he chooses to exercise his powers. Why is that necessary? May we be told by the Lord Chancellor what is the necessity for allowing Her Majesty's Postmaster General (I take him as an example, because we trust him as readily as we do any of the other people concerned) to have the power to exercise these momentous powers, the powers of dictator? Adolf Hitler had not greater powers than the Postmaster General has in regard to shipping. Why should he have these powers? It is nothing to me to say that the Postmaster General is a most reasonable person, and that it is unlikely that he will exercise these powers. I agree with that. But he has got them. He may not know it, but he has got them, and I ask why he should have them. It is called "control of trade by sea," and it certainly is.

By Regulation 50, any person authorised thereunder by a competent authority may do any work on any land. He may walk on to a man's land and do what he likes on it. He may start digging a pit or may mine upon it. He may do exactly what he likes, and nobody can say him nay. Indeed, if the owner obstructs him, or does not give such particulars as he is asked to give, he commits a criminal offence. I ask the Lord Chancellor: Why are the powers in Regulation 50 still required? For what practical purpose are they still required? Let us see whether we cannot "set the people free" as far as that is concerned. Regulation 50A deals with corresponding powers as to water. Regulation 51 gives a competent authority power to take possession of any land he likes, and a constable may use such powers as is necessary to deal with anybody obstructing the taking possession of such land. What is the practical point of that regulation?

The Lord Chancellor himself has referred to Regulation 55. I have described Regulation 55 as conferring immense powers, and there can be no doubt that Regulation 55 does confer immense powers. It is difficult to limit what the powers are with regard to business. Regulation 55AB is headed "Price control of goods and services." A competent authority has complete power to control the prices of goods and the powers of services. Regulation 56 deals with public utility undertakings. Regulation 58AA deals with the power for preventing strikes, and I should like to ask about that. The Minister of Labour has power for prohibiting a strike or a lockout in connection with a trade dispute. What is the good of that power? Is it ever used? You may easily make an order prohibiting a strike, just as you may "summon spirits from the vasty deep." But it does not follow that you will get the spirits or that you will stop the strike. Is it any use having those powers? When were they last used? Why do we need to confer upon the Government these powers to-day?

Then we come to Regulation 59, a particularly bad sort of regulation. That regulation—and there are other examples of it—gives power to make regulations altering Acts of Parliament. Is that desirable? Is it really said that, almost ten years after the end of the fighting, we must have such a regulation as that whereby it is possible to override Acts of Parliament? Regulation 85 enables a competent authority to authorise anybody to enter upon land. For this purpose "land" means "buildings," though in the case of buildings twenty-four hours' notice must be given, unless the competent authority says that there is reason why notice should not be given. Why to-day do the Government want these drastic powers to do that? It used to be said that an Englishman's home was his castle. I was fortunately reminded of that almost ten years ago by the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton. I really cannot sit here silent and let the Lord Chancellor get away with all these regulations ten years later, when I remember what was said to me ten years ago. Why is it that you must have this power to break into people's houses, on giving them twenty-four hours' notice, for any purpose you like, once it is authorised by a "competent authority"—which means nearly all the Secretaries of State and various other Ministers, including the Postmaster General?

I pass to Regulation 91. Not long ago—I cannot recall the actual occasion—I introduced a Bill casting upon directors of companies the obligation to show that they were innocent if their company was convicted. If the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, were here, I am quite certain he would remember the occasion. I was vigorously opposed. I was told that that was a monstrous thing to do. Yet here is Regulation 91 in which you are doing it. Regulation 91 says this: If any company is convicted of any offence, then every director of the company is presumed to be guilty unless he proves he is innocent. That regulation you are retaining for another year. Why are you doing that? You protested violently on some Bill or other not very long ago against my proposal to do that. Indeed, I had to give way; I altered it. Here it is being done. I say this simply is not good enough. If you get your regulations this time, as you will, I give notice hereby to the Lord Chancellor that if he moves these regulations another year and if I oppose him, I shall try to get support from all sections of the House to say that these things ought not to go on. You do not meet the point at all by saying. "I have abolished two-thirds or three-quarters or seven-eighths of the regulations," if the residue which you keep is the residue which contains all these immense powers.

I described them in 1945 as "immense powers," and immense powers they are. We ought not to go on letting the Government get away with them every year as though it were simply a matter of course to move these regulations, making profound changes in the law of this land. It should not be assumed that this House will accept them as a matter of course. On another occasion, if not to-day, we will do our best to assist in "setting the people free." We certainly do not grudge to the Government the powers that they really need. If the Government want these powers, we will give them; but let us give them in the form of proper legislation, so that the lieges may know what their obligations are, and not give them in this form, where we have a kind of mixed grill containing all sorts of powers. One has to look at all these complicated Acts of Parliament, and anybody but a skilled lawyer will find the greatest difficulty in finding what are his rights and obligations and what are the consequences of disobedience.

I have confined myself to this particular proposition, having a keen sense of the Rules of Order which we always so carefully observe in this House. No doubt some of my friends will have something to say about some of the other regulations, but I shall rest content in saying what I have said about these regulations. Although I do not suggest that we oppose these regulations to-day, I ask the Lord Chancellor to bear in mind that in a year's time he will have such violent opposition that his hair will turn as white as mine.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, may I raise one point with the Lord Chancellor? Before I do so, however, I must say that some of us on this side of the House have searched for comfort as regards the continuance of these powers in the Executive. The comfort we find is in the words of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, that the Government are endeavouring so far as possible to cut away these powers which the Executive hold, or, alternatively, to embody them in legislation. I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition. I can only remind him that Saul on the road to Damascus took seven years for his conversion. The noble and learned Earl has taken about ten years to be converted to the view which he has expressed to-day. I, too, remember his passionate defence of the holding of these powers by the Executive in years gone by.

The particular question that I should like to raise is under Regulation 51, which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack said was in respect of properties under requisition which are being released. He told us that there had been a reduction of some 67 per cent. There are something like 1,200 of these properties still under requisition. He said it was hoped that the majority of them might be released by the end of next year. That is a promise that not all but most would be released in some fifteen months' time. Many of us know examples where Service Departments in particular are holding accommodation, industrial space and factory space, for various purposes, such as storage. Those of us who have been in a Government know the natural reluctance of a Minister, acting upon the advice of his civil servants, to surrender something of which he is in possession and which he feels, on grounds of safety, he had better keep for just a little while longer. It is a very natural Departmental executive outlook.

I wonder, however, whether there could not be devised some administrative machinery within the Government which might help to speed up this release of requisitioned property, so that the final word is not really given by the Minister of the Department who is holding that particular accommodation. If someone is urgently asking for his accommodation to be returned, he should know that the matter was being dealt with within Government circles. Alternatively, he himself should have the approach—and which of these two methods should be adopted is not a matter I would advocate to-day—to one of the non-Departmental Ministers in the Cabinet, who would review that particular case and see whether there was or was not full justification for the Service Department to continue in occupation on the grounds of declared necessity. If, either within the Government administrative machinery or, alternatively, by direct approach of the outside owner of the property who wanted his property back, there were knowledge that there was something beyond just a Departmental Minister's decision, I believe it might bring reassurance to those who felt that their properties were being unjustly retained.


My Lords, it might be for the convenience of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack if I now raised the point I intend to raise on the regulation carrying forward the state of emergency in regard to patents. If, however, it would suit the convenience of the Lord Chancellor to reply to my noble and learned friend now, I will raise this matter when the other Motion is moved.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for postponing his remarks, because it may be for the convenience of your Lordships if we deal first with this compartment of the matter. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye likened the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition to one Saul on the road to Damascus. I must say that when I heard the noble and learned Earl's speech I felt he had a greater resemblance to the Saul of the Old Testament who was looking for his father's asses, because I could not help but feel that he was searching in a most destructive manner for a number of things, for the initiation and continuance of which he had himself, far more resolutely, been responsible. The general answer is perfectly simple. The Government which the noble and learned Earl adorned took as its method and principle for ruling the State the preservation and indeed the increase in power of that barbed-wire entanglement which has drawn his wrath to-day. It is because, when we came to office, we were faced with the fact that the whole machinery of government was being based not on Statutes passed, argued and examined by the Houses of Parliament, but on back-room legislation of this kind, that during the last three years we have had the difficulty, which I frankly admitted in my speech and I admit now, in clearing away this entanglement and producing a better and freer economy in the State. Many people may criticise me—my back is broad to take all the criticism that comes—but it lies very doubtfully in the mouth of the noble and learned Earl, who continued to increase these powers, year after year, from 1945 to 1951.


Would the Lord Chancellor forgive me? I did not increase these powers. In every single year from 1945 onwards I reduced these powers. I was at great pains to reduce them because I said at the time how much I disliked them. There was no question of trying to extend these powers, or of any extension at all.


The noble and learned Earl should, I think, pause a moment to consider what my language was before he denies that. If he will look again at what I said—I am not going to make cheap debating points in the matter—I said "powers." The powers are circumscribed by the prerequisites of the legislation, and if the noble and learned Earl will look at the prerequisites of the legislation which his Government passed in 1947 and again in 1950, I do not think he would question my statement that he had increased the powers.


I most certainly should.


Then there is a real matter of dispute between us. But I do remember this: that in the summer of 1947, the House of which I was then a Member sat up all night objecting most strenuously to what we considered an increase of the powers. Some of my noble friends who were there will also remember that time very well. The noble and learned Earl may take one view, I take another; but I think that the majority of reasonable men would side with me.


I do not want there to be a difference of opinion between myself and the noble and learned Viscount. Of course, these are powers which reached their maximum in the war. No one has ever gone beyond the powers as they stood at the end of the war. Ever since then we have gradually reduced them. I do not understand what the noble and learned Viscount means by an "increase"—an increase of what?


The noble and learned Earl really must sharpen his memory. In 1945 his Government took certain powers for the transitional period. In 1947 the Government of which he was a member came to both Houses and made representations in the light of the conditions existing at that time. May I remind the noble and learned Earl what the conditions in 1947 were? It was the summer after what is colloquially called the "Shinwell winter"; the summer of 1947 was the summer of the first of the three biennial dollar crises which his Government enjoyed; it was the time when the financial policies of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer had produced the first of our two yearly crises. At that time the Government of which the noble and learned Earl was a member came to both Houses and asked for an increase of the powers that they had in 1945. They came again in 1950. I do not complain of that—I want to be quite fair to the noble and learned Earl—because that was at the time of the Korean War. Again increased powers had to be taken in order to deal with the measures for that war. But my proposition is not only perfectly clear; it is a proposition which was advanced by the colleagues of the noble and learned Earl in order to pass the Acts of 1947 and 1950, and I must say that I am slightly surprised that he resiles from it to-day.

My Lords, that is the background. As I say (I do not think I am exaggerating), that is the barbed-wire entanglement around our economy which the noble and learned Earl added to. Then may I point out how it was worked? The noble and learned Earl is no innocent in these matters. He knows that regulations are only the children of the Act. Under the regulations which his Government utilised there were grandchildren in the form of orders and great-grandchildren in the form of licences and other instruments. Let me just give to the noble and learned Earl the position of economic controls when he ceased to be a member of the Government. Under Regulation 55 alone, which the noble and learned Earl continued in its full force—


And which you are continuing now.


The noble and learned Earl interrupts me with another inaccuracy. We are continuing it in a form modified so that it deals, in exactly the words of the noble and learned Earl, with the only matters that remain and require attention to-day. The noble and learned Earl continued that regulation in its full form and in an unlimited way. But let me point out that when the noble and learned Earl left office there were 277 economic controls under Regulation 55 alone. After three years we have reduced this number to under 30. The noble and learned Earl can sneer at a reduction of nearly 90 per cent. If he sneers at it, I can only say that when the noble and learned Earl had power he did not try any reduction himself.

Now let me take the two points which really form the burden of the noble and learned Earl's song. The first concerns Regulation 55, continued, as I have pointed out to the House, but reduced to deal with about six commodities—I will not go through the list—and limited to that purpose. The noble and learned Earl asks, "Why do you ask for this continuance?" I wonder whether he has addressed his mind to the three main purposes. The first is the very difficult, important and delicate question to-day of the control of strategic goods. With the regulation on which the noble and learned Earl poured scorn, Regulation 46, there is given sanction to Her Majesty's Government, to deal with the question of strategic goods. That is one of the matters that still remains. The noble and learned Earl can expand his eloquence, but he cannot decrease the problem of the movement of strategic goods. That would confront any Government, whoever was in power, and is one of the most delicate and difficult matters in international affairs.

Let me take another. As noble Lords will remember, I mentioned the question of milk and welfare foods. There, two great social questions interlock. There is the question as to how far there should be subsidies to-day and how far it is right and proper that there should be special feeding arrangements for children, expectant mothers and those in a special position. I will not fall back on cheap rhetoric by asking the noble Earl what he would do on those points. I could prognosticate quite clearly what he would say on the question of withdrawing a subsidy or withdrawing welfare foods. He would, I am sure, be the last person to contemplate such a course.


If the noble and learned Viscount would put them in the form of legislation I should offer support on both those topics.


After all, we were colleagues in the Government together for nearly four years and the noble and learned Earl had experience of government for many years before, and he has had experience since. I have had a little experience myself, and if the noble and learned Earl really thinks that the subjects which I have mentioned and which I am going to mention could reasonably—I will not put it any further—have been superimposed on the ordinary legislative programme of any Government, then I will admit the obvious—that he is a far abler man than I am; that his ability compares with mine as does the sun with the moon or heaven with the terrestrial sphere. He knows as well as I do that these are most difficult, controversial and complicated things, that cannot easily be introduced into a legislative programme; it would need practically all the legislative time that a Government can spare to deal with these topics. I am putting it straight to the noble and learned Earl.

I have taken only two examples. Another that depends on the provisions we have left—the very small amount—is deficiency payments for agriculture, on which is based the whole system of the transition of what is not only an industry but a way of life in the country; its whole transition from the controlled economy of the noble Earl to a free economy in which there is consumer choice. These are the reasons (the noble and learned Earl has said there are no reasons) for maintaining Regulation 55 in this reduced, attenuated and slim form. I really do not think he can get a great deal of histrionics out of that.

Let me take the next point, Regulation 51. The noble Earl apparently suggests that the time for all requisitioning has passed. I should again be a severe trespasser on the kindness of your Lordships if I went in detail into the changes in defence policy which have been necessitated in the past years, and the difficult question of where our Forces are going to be situated and the position of a strategic reserve in this country. All that would be outside the scope of this debate. But of course the Service Departments have to provide for possibilities, for changes in the Air Force, and their position in their land policy to cover such points. Again, the noble Earl may ask, Why not legislate? Again, I say, imagine legislating on these points alone!

In addition, I should like to cross-examine the noble Earl on his views on opencast coal and to inquire whether the economic position of the country, in his opinion, requires the extra millions of tons of coal which we get from opencast mining. Or would he like to see that stopped? I should like to take a card vote of all noble Lords and see the difference of opinion. The noble and learned Earl says that a matter like that, depending on Regulation 51, is something which could easily be put into legislation. Let him come down to earth. Dealing with other matters, he knows there are other considerations of security, into which I cannot go but which I will group generally under questions of communications in regard to defence matters. Does the noble and learned Earl consider that defence and defence regulations are matters which could easily be covered by legislation? I respect his oratorical powers, but I have great difficulty in respecting the content of his speech. The noble and learned Earl said that it is a mere bagatelle for me to say I have reduced their number. After all, from 215 to 25–90 per cent.—is getting on the way.

He mentioned a number of the ancillary regulations and quoted one, making some play of the fact that it dealt with corporations. I do not hold it against the noble and learned Earl that it came into effect from either immediately before or just after a time when he was a Law Officer of the Crown. We worked one of the proposals during the war, that of strategic control. In dealing with controls which must still be imposed, unless one has the same controls as the noble Earl was content to have from 1940 to 1951, they will be largely ineffective. I am taking the noble Earl's points. It is sometimes a comfort when you are attacked from both sides at once, because it gives some measure of strength. The noble and learned Earl poured scorn on the paucity on my reductions from 215 to 25. When I moved this Motion in another place in the last Session a colleague of his, who spoke in the same position in the debate as the noble Earl, rebuked me for having gone too far. Which voice? "Under which King Bezonian, speak or die." To which voice have I to give attention? To that of the noble and learned Earl or to the leading member of his Party who spoke in another place? I leave that problem. It is one of those things which make a Minister's life so happy.

I have dealt with regulations which group round No. 51, and the answer to the noble and learned Earl is that on the various matters of defence (which I have been able only to sketch) they are necessary unless Parliament is to be faced by legislation of a complexity which would not only overload its programme but also prevent other measures of far greater popular need being passed. I have dealt with Regulation 55. With regard to the labour regulations I would point out to the noble Earl that Order No. 1305—compulsory arbitration—under which he and I acted during the War, is an Order which has not got compulsion in that regard, and the other matter is the Control of Employment Order, which my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour has preserved, with the full assent of the noble and learned Earl's colleagues in another place, in order to make it easier for men to be brought into the work that would be most valuable for the community without compulsion upon them.

The noble and learned Earl quoted some ancillary regulations. I have dealt with, and tried to explain, Regulation No. 46. That is required for strategic control. I hope your Lordships will think that I have dealt fairly and fully with the noble and learned Earl's point. Let me come back to this. As I say, I do not think it lies in the noble and learned Earl's mouth to reprove myself or my colleagues for what we have done and what still remains. He and his friends created the circumstances with which we had to deal. And let me add this, after all our sound and fury, when "the tumult and the shouting dies": I am at one with the noble and learned Earl in trying to get rid of these powers. Some of my noble friends know that it has been one of the main concerns of my own political and Ministerial life for three years. Whatever may be said, we shall go on with that work and try to get rid of them.

May I say one word in answer to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inehrye? The figures I have quoted—3,800 to 1,200—related to properties that had been requisitioned by the Ministry of Works, and I dealt with the Service Departments separately. I want to say this to the noble Lord. He has been a Minister and he knows that no one could guarantee that every one of the remaining 1,200 can go—but we hope that most of them will go in that period. As I say, there has been a great reduction in the acreage of land held. I quoted the War Office as saying that the reduction has been from a peak figure of 700,000 acres, at least, to 69,000 acres. I want to assure the noble Lord that, apart from Departmental interests and considerations, apart from the general feeling which debates in your Lordships' House and elsewhere have inspired in that regard, it is a part of the machinery of government—and I hope that it will be a part of the machinery of every Government—that an objective view is taken of these matters which I think will bring, about the result which the noble Lord has in mind.

I apologise for taking up so much of your Lordships' time. I am happy in the knowledge that the noble and learned Earl did intend and know that what he said to-day would get a reply from me. I am sure that he takes my reply in the same happy spirit as that in which I have taken his words.

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