HL Deb 20 November 1956 vol 200 cc374-88

2.43 p.m.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT 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-six, be continued it force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-seven. The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, I rise to move the first of the five Motions which stand in my name on the Order Paper. Each of them has to be approved separately by your Lordships, but if the: House will allow me it would be convenient, I think, for me to deal with the five in a single speech. They are all closely related, being concerned will the continuance for another year of various emergency provisions. Every year Her Majesty's Government have to ask Parliament for these provisions to be extended, since otherwise they would lapse. Last year, when I made a similar request, the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, was kind enough to thank me for not having precisely explained the relationship between the various Statutes which affect the Motions before the House. I shall again endeavour to earn the thanks of your Lordships by a similar reticence this year, but it is, I think, right that Her Majesty's Government should tell Parliament precisely which powers they are seeking to retain, and why.

Apart from the Defence Regulations, with which I shall deal later, there are three Statutes conferring powers which the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act extends for a year. Your Lordships will see those in paragraph 5 of the White Paper: they are the subject of the first Motion. The first is the Ministry of Supply Act, 1939, the powers under which are needed because, without them, the Board of Trade could neither wind up its current trading operations in raw materials nor continue to deal in imported jute goods, a function that it must continue to fulfil until there is suitable statutory protection for the home jute industry. The second Statute is the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945, which contains powers that are supplementary to the Defence Regulations dealing with the requisitioning of land. As I hope to show, the use of these powers has been greatly reduced, but they cannot be dispensed with until they are replaced by permanent legislation, which noble Lords who have departmental experience will understand is exceptionally complicated and difficult. The third Statute is the Supplies and Services (Defence Purposes) Act, 1951, which gives power to close or divert a highway temporarily for defence purposes. The procedure for doing this permanently is too protracted where defence requirements are concerned.

There are two further Statutes conferring powers which are extended for a year by the Emergency Laws Acts of 1946 and 1947—your Lordships will see these in paragraph 7 of the White Paper. The first is the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Act, 1940, which confers various powers on drainage boards. These powers are quite obsolete and we should be delighted to dispense with them. Unfortunately they cannot be repealed unless, at the same time, other provisions which deal with the Wheat Acts are also repealed; and these latter provisions must stay until the necessary repeal legislation is enacted. This will be done as soon as the opportunity occurs. The next relevant Statute is the Sugar Industry Act, 1942, which will also be extended, but this Act will, in fact, be superseded by the Sugar Act, 1956. This Act will be completely in force by March 20 next year, and at that date the last surviving provision of the 1942 Act will have been repealed.

I now turn to the Defence Regulations. As I told the House last year, we are up against the hard core which may have to become a permanent part of the law of the land. Our policy has been to incorporate these provisions in Acts of Parliament. By this process we have reduced the number of Defence Regulations, although the process has not been as rapid as we should have wished. When we came back to office in 1951 there were 215 Regulations. Last December, there were thirty-four substantive Regulations and, in addition, thirty-five which are ancillary and formal. To-day, there are thirty-two, with the same additions, and we propose that only twenty-three of the substantive Regulations, again with the additional ancillary and formal ones, should be re-enacted. I will explain to the House how this comes about. First, there are two casualties which I am glad to say are gone. Legislation in the form of the Aliens Employment Act. 1955, has devoured Regulation 60D, and Regulation 58A, which dealt with the engagement of labour, has been revoked. Secondly, there are nine Regulations whose days are numbered. They are the surviving Sale of Food Regulations, which are replaced by the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, and the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Act. 1956. We are, accordingly, not asking Parliament to renew them, and they will lapse on December 10 this year. We shall also be able to dispense with paragraph 2 of Regulation 59, because on January I next the Mines and Quarries Act. 1954, comes into force, and the regulation which it replaces will be revoked. So much for the Defence Regulations, which will trouble us no more.

I now turn to those we are proposing to keep for the time being, though, as your Lordships will see, another two should go with reasonable speed. Most of the contents of these will, we hope, be embodied in permanent legislation. Such legislation, however, is difficult to prepare, and it demands Parliamentary time which is not at present available. For example, there is the group of Regulations, 50, 51, 51A 52, and 62 relating to the acquisition and use of land. It is under these Regulations that the Ministry of Fuel and Power operate open-cast mining and the Service Departments can, in the case of urgent necessity, acquire speedy possession of land required for defence. I hope that, in due course, legislation will make these Regulations unnecessary. Meanwhile, they arc not used if it can be helped. I will just illustrate that by giving your Lordships certain details with regard to requisitioning. The requisitioning of buildings by Government Departments is covered by Regulation 51, in conjunction with certain statutory powers. In 1951, 3.858 buildings were so requisitioned. On September 30, this year, the figure was 376. And that was nearly 300 less than the figure for a year before. Putting it in forms of percentage, there has been a reduction of 90 per cent. on the number of the premises requisitioned in 1951, and of 40 per cent. on last year's figure. Since 1945, 99.6 per cent. of the premises then under requisition have been released. So your Lordships will see that, though the powers still remain, their use has been drastically reduced.

LORD SILKIN

My Lords, could the noble and learned Viscount say how many were under requisition in 1945?

THE LORD CHANCELLOR

I am sorry that I have not the figure at the moment, but I will endeavour to find it. I have been given only the percentage that I have just quoted, 99.6. I do not think that I could work out the calculation on my feet, but if one takes my final figure of 376, which is the .4 per cent., and then works it out, I think it might be possible to get the figure which the noble Lord is asking for. However I think I can get the figure if the noble Lord will leave it until I make my speech in reply. I will use the utmost of my arithmetical powers. I think I have shown the noble Lord how it can be done. I do not see the noble Lord, Lord Adrian or any other eminent mathematician here, but I have no doubt that there are other noble Lords who can do it.

LORD SILKIN

I think I am equal to doing the arithmetic, but I wanted the noble and learned Viscount to appreciate the point that a great deal of de-requisitioning took place between 1945 and 1951.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will not misunderstand me when I say that I hope so. The period he mentions was six years, and the Government of the Party to which the noble Lord belongs had plenty of time to derequisition during that period. However, it is a fair point, and the noble Lord is perfectly right to make it. But I am, I think, justified in saying that my figure is quite striking, showing, as it does, a reduction from 3,858 to the extent of 90 per cent. since the present Government took office. And there was a 40 per cent. reduction last year.

Then there are Regulations 50A and 56, which are required for the maintenance of water supplies by various undertakings. Her Majesty's Government had hoped that a Water Bill to replace theme Regulations would by now have been before Parliament. Unfortunately, Parliamentary time has not been found, and the Regulations must therefore remain. The outlook for the Defence (Patents, Trade Marks, etc.) Regulations is rather more hopeful than it was. The Report of the Howitt Committee was published on June 20 this year. My right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade proposes to discuss its recommendations with parties interested and to introduce legislation as soon as practicable. The Regulations will then be no longer needed. Similarly, Regulation 26 of the Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) Regulations, which deals with the marketing of milk, will be kept only until the proposed schemes f Dr Scotland are in force. It is already obsolete in England and Wales, and its final demise should not be long delayed. The other provisions (only a few of which are substantive) of these Regulations will be required for a somewhat longer period—that is, until further marketing schemes have been worked out and put into effect.

I do not think that any noble Lord will quarrel with the continuance of Defence Regulation 46, which confers power to control trade by sea. This power is used to prevent the delivery by sea of strategic materials t) countries where they might be put to a use of which we should not approve. Nor do I think that anyone will quarrel with the last remaining provision of the Defence (Finance) Regulations, which enables assets owned by people outside the sterling area to be controlled and also supplements exchange control in Hongkong.

Strategic goods can also be controlled under Regulation 55, which., together with Regulation 55AA and 55AB, gives power to control the supply and sale of named commodities. At present only a few are so controlled—coal, oil, iron and steel scrap and some foodstuffs. These powers would be used, for example, for the introduction of petrol and oil rationing, a subject on which, I understand, my noble friend the Earl of Munster will shortly have something to say. As I have said, at present, there are very few commodities controlled under these powers, and we shall in fact, he able to give up the control of tinplate. I am authorised by my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade to say that the supplies in 1957 are expected to increase so much that control will no longer be necessary. These same Regulations are also used to impose restrictions, which we consider very necessary, on hire purchase and hiring agreements. However, as was stated in the gracious Speech, these particular controls will be replaced by legislation.

Regulations 58AA and 59 of the Defence (General) Regulations are both retained. Regulation 58AA is needed to keep the Industrial Disputes Tribunal in being, and Regulation 59 permits exemption from some insufficiently flexible provisions of the Factories Act, 1937. Neither Regulation can be dispensed with until there is complete agreement on what should take their place. Lastly, there is the sole substantive provision of the Defence (Armed Forces) Regulation, which makes it clear that serving members of the Forces can be used temporarily for agricultural or other urgent work of national importance.

I hope that I have said sufficient to show that Her Majesty's Government are anxious to get rid of such of these Regulations as can be replaced by Acts of Parliament. In fact, in the last five years we have got rid of a great many. May I remind your Lordships that in 1951 there were 215 Regulations in force—of which 180 were substantive Regulations—I am sure that noble Lords will agree that one of the defects of having too many Regulations is that many people are prosecuted for offences which are neither created by, nor defined in, any Statute. Our policy has reduced enormously the number of these convictions. In 1951, 6,049 persons were found guilty of offences against Regulations. Last year, the number was 251; and in the first half of this year, only 57. I think we can fairly claim that these figures show that we have had considerable success in grappling with this problem. However, I do not wish to conceal from the House that the hard core will present a more difficult task. I can assure your Lordships that it is a task which Her Majesty's Government will make every effort to carry out. I beg to move the first of the Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

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-six, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-seven.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

3.3 p.m.

LORD SILKIN

My Lords, I agree with the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor that any discussion we may have—and so far as I am concerned it will be very little—can conveniently take place on the first of these three Motions. I should like to thank the noble and learned Viscount for the restrained way in which he has explained the Regulations which still remain. It was necessary that they should be explained to the House because, in spite of the fact that they have been reduced to some extent in the past twelve months, eleven years after the war, there are still in existence far too many regulations by which the subject is governed by war-time legislation. I make no quarrel with particular Regulations which it is desired to renew for another year. I do not think that the House will wish to deal with these Regulations individually, but I think that the House will be interested to know when they really are going to come to an end.

I remember that, year after year from 1945 to 1951, we used to have a full dress debate in your Lordships' House in which the Government were rebuked for not putting an end to the Emergency Regulations. That debate was usually headed by the late Lord Simon and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who seems to be less interested in this matter than of yore, and the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and others used all to come forward and attack my noble and learned friend Lord Jowitt, who was then Lord Chancellor, for not getting rid of the Regulations within a short period after the war. in 1951, the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, was particularly violent, so far as he can be. He 'said that he was responsible for making a great many of these Regulations, arid that if he had realised that eight years afterwards they would still be in force he would have been horrified. Some of these Regulations have now been in force, not for eight years, but for eleven years after the war. Instead of the process being accelerated, it seems to me that it has been decelerated.

I should like to ask the noble and learned Viscount whether he can give the House an assurance that, if the Government are in office this time next year, all Regulations will have come to an end or will have been incorporated in permanent legislation. I know that the noble and learned Viscount is always pointing out to us the difficulties of finding Parliamentary time and of formulating legislation, and I agree that both those are difficulties which every Government has to face; but in view of the persistent attacks which we used to receive, surely, in the name of decency, these Regulations should now come to an end. I ant not greatly impressed by the argument about lack of Parliamentary time. I should have thought that the Government might make a much wiser use of the Parliamentary time which is available to them than they have done. For instance, we have spent weeks and weeks in passing perfectly futile legislation. I am not referring to legislation with which we happen to disagree, although there was quite a lot of that, but to legislation which has had no effect whatever on the life of the country, not even the effect which was intended by the Government themselves—I refer particularly to the Housing Repairs and Rents Act. If anyone can tell me that that Act has had the slightest effect in improving the condition of houses, or even of one single house. I should be astonished. Yet we spent weeks and weeks on: hat Bill, both in this House and in another place. And I could mention others.

If the Government had been wiser in their use of Parliamentary time, all these Regulations would have been swept away. There were Bills that were introduced and withdrawn, either because of pressure from friends of noble Lords opposite or because the Government had second thoughts. Some of them had gone a long way, even past Committee stage, before being withdrawn. The noble and learned Viscount mentioned one Bill, which is also referred to in the Report of the Standing Orders Committee--namely, the Inventions and Designs (Crown Use) Bill. There are a number of Regulations which could have been ended if this measure, which was introduced in the Session of 1953-54, or some such measure, had been passed. I notice that the Bill was introduced, considered and then dropped. So year after year we are getting these Regulations.

I do not want to labour the point in the way that it was laboured in the years between 1945 and 1951. All I say is that there is far less excuse to-day than there was in 1951. While I recognise that the number of Regulations has diminished, and is diminishing, I would point out that only last year the Government found it necessary to publish a pamphlet setting out a list of the Regulations then in force, and if they were to publish one to-day it would be almost as long. I hope the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will be able to give us an assurance that this matter will be treated seriously, and that Parliamentary time will be found to get rid of these war-time Regulations.

3.11 p.m.

LORD REA

My Lords, in order that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack may not feel neglected, I rise once more to the attack on this point, which has come up for the last, not five years. but eleven years. I have had the unusual privilege of seeing one Side, attack the other and the other side attack the one. The noble and learned 'Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, has pointed out that the Labour Government had s x years in which to make progress in this matter; but that applies equally to a e five years of the Conservative Government. It is my privilege to accuse both sides of between them utilising eleven years without doing enough. I do not altogether support the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, about deceleration. As the Lord Chancellor explained, we come down to a hard core, and it must get more and more difficult as time goes on. However, I beg him to see that the rate of deceleration will be decelerated.

3.12 p.m.

LORD MERTHYR

My Lords, after listening to the noble and learned Viscount: on the Woolsack, I was almost, but not quite, tempted to apologise for intervening in this debate. I do so in order to draw attention to two comparatively small, though not unimportant, Regulations. These are Regulations 51 (2) (b) and 52 (1) (b) and (c), which both deal with the restriction or prohibition of rights of way over land. I cannot help joining in the chorus and asking that these Regulations should either be repealed or converted into permanent legislation. I would make two suggestions. With regard to Regulation 51 (2) (b), would it not be possible to rely in that regard upon the Supplies and Services (Defence Purposes) Act, 1951?—an end which I believe could be achieved with a small amendment of that Act, and we should consequently be able to leave out altogether this paragraph.

With regard to Regulation 52 (1) (b) and (c), again could we not rely upon the old Defence Acts and Military Lands Acts? I know that some of them are antiquated, but could we not rely upon them, instead of having these Regulations? Once more I would suggest that this Regulation should be repealed or converted into a permanency. What we all want is some permanent legislation on these matters. Finally, I would plead for a complete overhaul of the law relating to closure and diversion of highways. I am aware that in Part IV of the National Parks Act we have recent legislation, but that deals only with footpaths and not with highways generally. I submit that there is an urgent need for a complete investigation and a consequent Act of Parliament upon the whole law of closure and diversion of highways. If that should come out of this matter of the Defence Regulations, much good would be done.

3.15 p.m.

LORD CHORLEY

My Lords, I should like to support warmly what has just fallen from the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr. This particular Defence Regulation, Regulation 51 (2) (b), which comes under the Motion just moved by the Lord Chancellor, and Regulation 52 (1) (b), which I think technically comes under the next Motion, are both concerned with the interference of rights of way across the countryside. For over a hundred years the interference with the rights of way across the countryside has in many cases given rise to great feeling among a certain group of people in the community, who are represented in strong organisations and who form an important section of the community. These Defence Regulations confer powers on competent authorities to interfere with rights of way. That is proper interference at a time when the country is struggling in a great war situation, but ten years afterwards it is quite indefensible. We went on for hundreds of years without powers of this kind, and I suggest that they are quite unnecessary now.

The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, pointed out that in effect Regulation 52 (2) (b) is practically covered by the recent Supplies and Services (Defence Purposes) Act —and why that Act was not drafted so as to cover this point completely it is difficult to see. However, I think that with a small Amendment it could be done. For well over a hundred years the competent military authorities obtained all that they were entitled to, and possibly more, under the Defence Acts and the Military Lands Acts. Naturally, during the war crisis additional powers were required and taken; but I suggest, again, that in peace time, more than ten years after the end of the war, they ought not to have these powers. I hope that the Lord Chancellor will look at these two particular Regulations and make sure that he gets them on to the list next year of those that are not going to be renewed.

3.18 p.m.

EARL JOWITT

My Lords, I should like to add a word or two. I well remember for six years, from 1945 onwards, having to defend these Regulations. I can assure the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that he is lucky when comparing his task with mine, because even in 1945 the most bitter attacks were made on the Government of the day for having any of these Regulations at all. I have not troubled to look up the debates; it is a topic which to me is so unpleasant that I do not want to refer to it at all. I dislike intensely the business of these Regulations. However, you do not deal with this question adequately by just taking numbers of Regulations; you have to look at the gravity of a particular Regulation.

The Regulation which always gave me more worry than any other, and upon which I was more bitterly attacked than any other, is Regulation 55. If the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, tells me that Regulation 55 has gone into limbo, or is going, I shall be delighted to hear it. However, if I am right—and I invite correction—it is being continued. If that is so, I should like your Lordships to know exactly what Regulation 55 does. This Regulation is still in force after all these years and, as I say, I had difficulty in regard to it in the very early days. After all, were not the present Government elected on the cry that they were going to set the people free" from this monstrous tyranny which was being imposed upon them? Let me remind your Lordships of what Regulation 55 does. It says: A competent authority, so tar as it appears to that authority to be necessary for the purposes specified in subsection (1) of section one of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act. 1945, may by order provide"— and then you get these sweeping words▀× for regulating or prohibiting the production, treatment, keeping. storage, movement, transport, distribution, disposal, acquisition, use or consumption of articles of any description. Now that is a Regulation which is surviving eleven years after the war, and I ask your Lordships to say whether you can imagine any Regulation more drastic and more stringent in its powers than that. There ought to be an association for the protection of Lord Chancellors who have to defend these Regulations. It is not easy for any of them. I sincerely hope that the present occupant of the Woolsack will not next year have to defend the continuation of Regulation 55— which he does, of course, with that charm and grace with which he does everything, but which he cannot like at all. The society for the protection of Lord Chancellors must see to it that no Lord Chancellor ever has to defend in time of peace any Regulation couched in the wide language of Regulation 55.

I sincerely hope, therefore, that if this Regulation does come up next year your Lordships will support this side of the House (if we are still "this side") in saying that Regulation 55 must go. On that basis, I ask your Lordships not to dissent from the Lord Chancellor's Motion. but to tell him that he can have his Motion this year, but that if he moves it next year we shall all have something to say to him.

3.22 p.m.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR

My Lords, I am grateful to those of your Lordships who have joined in the debate for, I must say at once, the most reasonable attitude which your Lordships have adopted towards this Motion. I have no more liking than any of your Lordships for the continuance of war-time powers. In fact, for three years I had to deal with this matter in another place, and such are the bullets of fate that it was only on my last occasion in dealing with them in another place that I was sternly rebuked by the Front Bench representative of the Party sitting on those Benches for the extreme speed which I was using in getting rid of the regulations. It only adds to the spice of variety of poi tics that the voice of Mr. Chuter Ede and the voices of noble Lords who have spoken have that: pleasant variation in substance which so adds to our delight in our daily round and common task.

I should like to deal with the minor, if very important, point which was raised first by my noble friend Lord Merthyr and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. I agree with them that that is a very important aspect of the matter. The Common Law, and, indeed, our early Statute Law, has always been careful in protecting footpaths and the like, and I promise to give the matter attention. This merges into one of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in asking me for an undertaking. Having struggled with these Regulations for a period of five years, I should be chary of giving an undertaking as t.) the completion of the work. As I think Addison observed: Tis not in mortals to command success, But we'll do more, Sempronius; we'll deserve it. I give noble Lords this undertaking: that I shall myself give my personal attention to the Regulations dealing with requisitioning of land and cognate matters, and do my utmost to produce something for the next Session. That is the most I can do, and I will do my best, having given that undertaking.

With regard to the other Train Regulation—those dealing with economic controls, which the noble arid learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, has mentioned-I should like to remind him of this. Your Lordships notice that I have put on my spectacles, and it is a matter of spectacles. If the noble and learned Earl will look at the bottom of the page from which he read his Regulation 55, he will see: By virtue of the Defence Regulation No. 9 Order 54 (printed in the Appendix), the powers conferred by paragraph I of the Regulation are now exercisable only to the extent mentioned in Article I of that Order, and further provisions of the Regulation have been revoked. That was the method we chose of narrowing the Regulation, so that it deals only with the goods that I mentioned in my earlier speech. I agree with the noble and learned Earl that it is not nearly so good as getting rid of it altogether, but I thought it would be consoling to some extent that we have narrowed down the width of application that he mentioned in his speech. These are the two main groups of Regulations which have to be dealt with—Regulations concerning the land and Regulations concerning economic controls.

I wish to say only one word on economic controls before I leave them. When I started on this work in 1951, speaking from memory—but a fairly exact memory on this subject matter—there were 278 orders under Regulation 55 alone. In the first three years, with my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade we reduced these by nearly 200, and they have now, as I have indicated, been reduced to a mere handful. So we have tried to deal not only with the main Regulations but with their statutory grandchildren, the orders made under them, and even their statutory great-grandchildren, the licences and so on which are made under the orders. I mention that, not to excuse Her Majesty's Government or myself. I think this is a task with which we must proceed as quickly as possible, and that is my intention.

There was only one other matter which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, mentioned specifically, and that was the Defence (Patent and Design) Regulations. He will remember that when the original Bill was introduced into your Lordships' House, your Lordships felt, irrespective of Party, that there had not been sufficient consultation with those interested in the subject matter. Since then, as I said in my speech, there has been a Howitt Inquiry under that distinguished accountant known to many of us. They reported in the summer of this year, and my right honourable friend is now having discussions, not on the original subject matter, but on the Howitt Report, and I hope that the legislation will come. As I say, I welcome immensely that your Lordships should desire that this work should continue. We, as legislators, all want to see legislation brought into effect by the regular methods of discussion in the two Houses of Parliament during the various stages of the legislation. I can say only that it is an example of the difficulty that arises when one goes outside the ordinary methods of legislation, because everyone concerned in the machinery of Government has at his hand this easier method of carrying it out. I promise your Lordships to bear the lesson in our hearts, how facile is the slope to Avernus and how much we should avoid it in the future. Again, I am grateful to your Lordships.

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