HL Deb 19 November 1957 vol 206 cc383-92

2.55 p.m.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR 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-seven, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-eight. 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. As your Lordships are aware, each of them requires 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 with 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. The statutory framework is somewhat complicated, and for the last two years the House has forgiven me—perhaps it has even been grateful to me—for forbearing to explain the legal relationship between the various Statutes which affect these five Motions. Unless your Lordships particularly wish me to, I shall not explain it this time. The details are contained in the White Paper, especially in paragraphs 1 and 4 to 7, and I shall be pleased to assist any noble Lord in unravelling its mysteries. These Motions are now annuals, but I would not say that all the powers we seek to renew are "hardy annuals". Your Lordships will see that some of last year's crop have failed to survive the rigours of the 1957 climate, and I hope that some of this year's will go to swell the 1958 rubbish heap.

May I deal first with the Defence Regulations? This time last year I had to ask the House to renew 58, and I feared I should to-day be asking for not many fewer to be given another year of life. I am glad to say I was pessimistic—16 have perished and only 42 need be renewed. Of these 42, 17 only are substantive and the remainder merely ancillary: so we really have made some progress. Your Lordships may be interested to know that in England and Wales prosecutions under the Regulations fell from 251 to 1955 to 167 in 1956; the figures for requisitioned buildings in September this year were 248 compared with 376 the year before. It has been our policy to supersede these Regulations by Acts of Parliament, as your Lordships in all quarters of the House have requested us. Legislation which has come into force this year has accounted for Defence Regulation 60A, and the Agriculture Act, 1957, has done the same service for many of the Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) Regulations: what is more, we are not proposing to renew the survivors.

My Lords, there is a respectable list of Regulations and Emergency Laws which will not, I hope, survive next year, though we must renew them for the present. Regulation 62 will go: it deals with the cultivation of requisitioned land and is now required only to enable the Minister to wind up operations. This function should be completed before long. Regulations 49, 50, 51, 51A, 52 and 85 are used mainly for defence purposes and to enable open-cast mining to be carried on. From the gracious Speech noble Lords will already have learned of the Government's intention to replace these powers by legislation fully debated in Parliament. What is more, requisitioning of land will come to an end—it will either have to be relinquished or retained by agreement. This will be a great step forward. I might mention here that the emergency legislation (Section 2 of the Supplies and Services (Defence Purposes) Act, 1951) will also be superseded.

If your Lordships will look at the second Motion, it will be seen that the Defence (Patents, Trade Marks, etc.) Regulations of 1941 are to be renewed. Closely allied are the fourth and fifth Motions which continue certain provisions of the Patents Act and Registered Designs Act, 1949. As I have told your Lordships, there has been much discussion with industry on these points, and I hope that it will not be long before a Bill is before Parliament dealing with that subject. The third Motion will not, I hope, have to be moved next year: it keeps in operation for a year four Statutes which deal with Agriculture and Land. Once the Wheat Commission is wound up, the Agriculture Act of 1957 can take over and that should have occurred by this time next year. This should mean that agriculture will be completely outside the scope of emergency legislation. If my hopes are fulfilled, only the first and second Motions will reappear next Session. They are necessary because the hardest part of the hard core is built of these regulations and, as I prophesied, is proving exceedingly in tractable.

May I dispose at once of one aspect of the first Motion? It would continue powers—apart from the Defence and Defence (Finance) Regulations—under three Statutes: of these, two deal with emergency powers over land and should perish shortly. I have already mentioned that. The third may reappear: under the Ministry of Supply Act, 1939, the Board of Trade will be empowered to wind up current trading operations and to continue to trade in imported jute goods—which it must do to safeguard our jute industry.

The real hard core can be generally described as financial and economic. Defence Regulation 55 is needed to control the supply of strategic goods outside the United Kingdom, without which the United Kingdom could not comply with its international obligations. That Regulation, and Regulations 55AA and 55AB, are also required for other purposes. Regulation 46 reinforces this control by giving powers over shipping. Defence Regulations 50A and 56 enable the rapid taking of water in time of drought. We hope in time to replace this regulation with legislation, but the subject has proved exceptionally difficult, and I cannot at the moment give any estimate of time when definite proposals can be made. We still require Regulation 6 of the Defence (Armed Forces) Regulations, which authorises the use of members of the armed Forces temporarily for agricultural or other important work. Finally, there is a miscellaneous group, consisting of Regulations 58AA and 59, which respectively enable the Industrial Disputes Tribunal to be kept for another year and exemption to be given from the rather inflexible provisions of the Factories Act, 1937. Both should be replaced by legislation, but are meanwhile needed, and I cannot say how soon they may be superseded. Last of all, there are the Defence (Finance) Regulations, of which only one substantive provision remains. Its main purpose is to supplement exchange control over financial relations with other sterling countries.

My Lords, I feel no satisfaction in moving these Motions, save that each year I can report that fewer and fewer of the emergency powers remain. This last year progress has been made. Next year, with the legislation which we are going to introduce, it should be even better, and I hope that the time will come when I shall have not only a much simpler and shorter tale to tell the House but, to the immense satisfaction of the House, no tale at all.

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

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount has explained these Regulations with his usual care. We have come to be somewhat familiar with the statement he has made and with that of his learned predecessor. Every year the story is that there has been a reduction in the number of Regulations and that it is hoped that the following year there will be a still further reduction. The process of "setting the people free" is becoming a somewhat difficult one and a somewhat prolonged one; and, at this rate, if we continue to reduce the number of Regulations by the proportion which the noble and learned Viscount has told us we have done this year, it may be somewhere about 1975 before the noble and learned Viscount has the opportunity of making the statement which he tells us he is looking forward to make.

But is the noble and learned Viscount really "setting the people free," even when he does away with some of these Regulations? All he is doing is to convert these temporary Regulations into permanent ones; instead of imposing a sentence from year to year, he is giving the people a life sentence. That is not what it was believed was going to happen. We understood that these Regulations were a burden on the people, and that although they were necessary during war time, when they were imposed, in peace time they were not at all necessary. I have read from time to time the fiery speeches that used to be levelled in this Chamber and in another place when these Regulations were submitted. All the "heavy guns"—the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, the noble Earls, Lord Woolton and Lord Swinton, and the lesser guns—were all fired at the poor Lord Chancellor of the day and he was asked when he was going to "set the people free" and relieve them of these Regulations. That was four or five years after the end of the war. The present time is twelve years after the end of the war, and still the people are not free; and, apparently, they are never going to be free because, instead of an end being put to these Regulations, many of them are to be made permanent.

Furthermore, the justification for some of the Regulations is not entirely what I understood it to be. For instance, Regulation 55 seems to me to go very much further than the requirements mentioned by the noble and learned Viscount just now. He told us that Regulation 55 was necessary to protect overseas interests, shipping and so on; but if noble Lords will look at Regulation 55 they will see that it goes very much further. I do not know whether this is one that is to be translated into permanent legislation, but I ask noble Lords just to look at the beginning of it. The Regulation says: A competent authority, so far as appears to that authority to be necessary … may by order provide— (a) for regulating or prohibiting the production, treatment, keeping, storage, movement, transport, distribution, disposal, acquisition, use or consumption of articles of any description … That is a fairly wide power and it is not confined to conditions abroad; so far as I can see, it applies to this country as well. Then the Regulation provides, in paragraph (e), for any incidental and supplementary matters for which the competent authority thinks it expedient for the purposes of the order to provide … I do not know whether this Regulation was invoked in order to ration petrol—perhaps the noble and learned Viscount could tell us that. But this is a very wide power which the Government are now asking this House to approve for another year. I do not know whether, afterwards, it is to be put into permanent legislation. I do not want to oppose these Regulations. I accept that some of them are necessary. Indeed, I am prepared to accept that they are all necessary, and that the noble and learned Viscount and the Government have gone through them all and are satisfied that for the purposes of good government they are still required. Nevertheless, I feel it right that we should put on record that at the time—six, seven or eight years ago—when we were criticised for retaining Regulations we had the same point of view; and we were much closer then to the end of the war. At that time we were not in a position—or certainly much less so than the Government are to-day—to decide which of the Regulations would still be required.

May I say, in conclusion, that these Regulations have been investigated by the Special Orders Committee of this House, and there is a Report from that Committee. This is what they say: That in the opinion of the Committee the Orders cannot be passed by the House without special attention … I hope the House will give them special attention. Later the Committee say: Whilst in no way suggesting that these Orders are not proper to be approved, the Committee wish to point out that their effect is to continue for a year powers granted originally by the Patents and Designs Act, 1942, for the war period. These powers were continued by two Acts of Parliament until December, 1950, and have since been continued seven times by Order in Council for twelve months each time. Surely the Government have had ample opportunity to make up their minds. The Committee, I would point out, made similar Reports in 1954, in 1955 and in 1956. With this Report, that makes four altogether. I wonder how many more they will be making. I hope that when the time comes—as I am sure it will—when we may be coming to this House and making a plea that certain legislation, certain regulations, are required, the noble and learned Viscount will be as charitable to us as we are to him and will give us such legislation in a more understanding way than it was given to us in the days of the former Labour Government.

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to make two very short points. The first is this. I think that none of your Lordships, on either side of the House, would dispute the proposition that these Emergency Regulations (though I fully agree with the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor that they are necessary at this moment) are in disaccord with the principles of British democratic Parliamentary government in time of peace. Certainly, those of us who are old, like myself, and who were Members either of your Lordships' House or of another place before the 1914 war, would have been astonished to learn that any Government could govern the country through Regulations of this kind twelve years after war is over. The answer is, I admit, a simple one. We are, unfortunately, living in a time of emergency, when for various reasons. into which I need not go, we may at any time be plunged into a position of appalling danger. It is therefore necessary for the Government to have some of these Regulations. One of the most pleasant features of your Lordships' House, if I, as a comparatively new Member, may say so, is a sense of fairness. Being, I hope, imbued with that sense of fairness myself. I must say tint I have some sympathy with the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, in what he has just been saying, because it is true that when the Government of the Labour Party were in power we constantly attacked them, both in another place and in this; House, for not removing these Regulations.

The only other point I wish to make is one of which the Lord Chancellor, no doubt, is fully aware. What I am about to say is not intended to be a reflection on noble Lords opposite. I think that those noble Lords who sit on this side of the House, and probably those who sit on the Cross Benches as well, would agree that there would be a considerable danger in leaving a number of these Regulations at the end of this Parliament, because if Her Majesty's Government were composed of people of a more extreme hue than either the last Labour Government or Her Majesty's present Government, either on the Right or the Left, these Regulations could be used with very great detriment to the interests of the country. That is really the danger of these Regulations. I very much hope that the Lord Chancellor will be able to announce next year that he has cut down the list to a very considerable extent.

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful for the speeches of the two noble Lords who have just spoken. I would not for a moment deny the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, his annual tu quoque on this subject: it is a very legitimate and fair debating point. But I think it would be even fairer if he were to remember two things. The first is that when I started on the reduction of these Regulations there were 215 primary Regulations or, deducting the twenty-five which are ancillary, 190 substantive Regulations. The number has now been reduced to 17. That is not all. For every Regulation there are a great many orders—the order is the child of the Regulation; the grandchild of the Statute. Literally hundreds of these have been wiped away in the last six years. That is the first point. The second point is that it is fair to recall that when the Labour Government had built in these Regulations and orders so as to become part of the machinery of government which they favoured, and when they built them in not only for the war period but for six years afterwards, it is difficult to carry on without dealing gradually with some of these matters—


May I interrupt the noble and learned Viscount, in the interest of accuracy? Is it not correct to say that the Labour Government were constantly reducing the number of Regulations?


The Labour Government were reducing the number, but without some research I should not like to commit myself to the adverb "constantly". Reductions had been brought about, but there were still left, as I say, 215 Regulations, and hundreds, if not thousands, of orders which we have since cleared off the Book.

But there is another point, which was implicit, if he will allow an old friend to say so, in the very fair and wise remarks of my noble friend Lord Winterton. That is, that during every war and the succeeding period great changes take place in the country, in the Services, and in the scientific progress of the land; and some matters that were dealt with by this procedure during the war have got to be maintained because of the changes in the national scene. But, if your Lordships will allow me to say so, it is wrong for the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to suggest that the permanent legislation replaces the war-time powers. In every case the permanent legislation reduces the war-time powers to the absolute minimum required by the new model Navy, Army and Air Force which we have to operate to-day, and I hope the noble Lord will find that that minimising process has been continued when he sees the legislation of which I have spoken. May I give him two examples? He has quoted Regulation No. 55 in the narrower process it has to-day, but he did not refer your Lordships to Regulation 55 in the wide form in which it existed when his Party were in office. Then it had an infinitely wider purview. It reminds me of the old jingle in my own country with regard to the first roads: If you had seen these roads before they were made, You would hold up your hands and bless General Wade. If he would recall Regulation 55 before we began to cut it down, I think that even the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, might turn a brief blessing in my direction.

I should also like to assure the noble Lord that when one comes to Regulation No. 51, which at the moment allows various Departments to walk on to land, and take it without a "by your leave", or anything else, that is not the sort of thing we have in mind for permanent legislation. With regard to patents and designs, I have told the noble Lord that I hope that a Bill will be introduced shortly which again I hope your Lordships will think provides the minimum essential. I began by saying that I would not for a moment deprive the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, of this annual elongation of one of my nether limbs—a perfectly proper piece of Parliamentary procedure. and no one could do it in a more kindly way than the noble Lord—but I want to say that I value immensely the support I have had from every quarter of the House and the reassurance which I have received again to-day with such firmness that we want to get rid of these Regulations.

I promised last year that I would do my utmost to be able to say on this occasion that I would deal with the land Regulations. I have sought to do that, and your Lordships will see the result shortly. I can only assure your Lordships that I will make every effort to get rid of these Regulations and to satisfy the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, from both the Constitutional and the political points of view. I hope that, with these words, your Lordships will allow the Motion to go through for this year.

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