HL Deb 06 December 1960 vol 227 cc18-25

3.16 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I have made certain inquiries, and I understand that it would be most convenient to your Lordships if I were to move this Bill formally. Of course, I shall be more than ready to deal in my reply with any points that are raised. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, I had informed the noble and learned Viscount that I should be saying a few words on this Bill. This is an annual Bill which provides for the continuance of certain measures from year to year. There are now a limited number of them, and I presume that in the case of each of the Acts referred to in the Explanatory Memorandum there is some special justification for continuing it in the form in which we are proposing to do it under this Bill. In another place there was some discussion about several of the Acts, particularly the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919. Admittedly, that Act has been amended from time to time, but it has now had a life of over 40 years, and the question has arisen of why it is necessary to go on renewing it from year to year; whether it could not now be taken for granted that it was proposed to restrict in certain measure the entry of aliens into this country, and why there could not be laid down by Regulation, which could be varied from time to time, the conditions under which they would be admitted. I myself do not think that the reply given was altogether satisfactory; and the same applies to a number of the other measures referred to in the Explanatory Memorandum to this Bill.

My purpose in rising on this Bill this afternoon is not to object to it, but to ask the noble and learned Viscount, now that we are at the beginning of a new Session, whether he can tell the House what are the intentions of the Government about reducing the number of these measures. I recognise that some of them may be of a temporary character, and that it may be possible, in due course, to repeal them, on the ground that they are no longer necessary. But some of them have now established themselves, by process of time, and we can be quite certain that, so far as we can see ahead, these measures are of a permanent nature and, therefore, it seems to me, ought to be incorporated into the permanent legislation of this country. For these reasons I hope that the noble and learned Viscount can give us some explanation of the Government's intentions as regards these six measures that have been set out in the Explanatory Memorandum.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to reinforce the suggestion which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and which I myself had intended to raise, before I heard the noble Lord's speech. In the first place, the Aliens Restriction Act originally came into force, I believe, in 1914, and this Act of 1919 is an amending Act. I think it ought to be made an honest Act, so to speak, and be put on a permanent basis. It seems rather ridiculous that every year we in Parliament solemnly extend it for yet another year. We all know perfectly well that aliens have to be restricted in this country in some way or other, and it seems rather nonsensical every year to pass an Act which continues the life of this Act.

As to the other Acts which are being extended, one refers to the enablement of children to gather the potato crop in Scotland if they are under a certain age. Presumably they will be growing potatoes in Scotland for a good many years—and I imagine the noble Earl, Lord Dundee will agree with that. If that is so, again I should have thought that it was a matter of policy which is likely to last for a number of years, and was not a matter which would come up from year to year. Three of the other Acts refer to tenancies of shops, furnished and unfurnished houses, apartments, and so on, I suggest that either those Acts should be repealed, or the Lord Chancellor should consolidate them with certain other measures of a more permanent nature which are already on the Statute Book. It is very irritating to have on the Statute Book a large number of these Acts dealing with various bits and pieces of a subject like rent control or furnished lettings, or matters of that nature. It would be much better if the Lord Chancellor, who is, as we know, going constantly through the various Statutes with a view to consolidation, could see his way clear to consolidate these three with other Acts already on the Statute Book.

Finally, there is the Licensing Act. This Act makes provision for coordinating the functions of licensing justices and local planning authorities in the redistribution of licensed premises in areas affected by serious war damage. It would seem as if this Act may be of a more temporary nature than any of the others, and it may be that in a short time we shall be able to get rid of this one altogether. There cannot be many more areas affected by serious war damage which have not already had plans prepared and ready for the licensing justices to approve. As a matter of fact, the provisions of this Act might, I should have thought, be embodied in more permanent legislation. I consider it is always a good thing for the licensing justices and the town planning authorities to get together when licensed premises are being erected; in fact, I should have thought that that already was the position. I can hardly imagine that justices would ever grant a licence to a public house which had not been approved by the local planning authority. This Act is a little more doubtful, and probably the Lord Chancellor will say that it will soon be coming off the Statute Book altogether and we need not worry much about it. With that sole exception, I suggest to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that he might be able to do away with the necessity of this Bill in future years by incorporating the various Acts in the ordinary Statute Book.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for the manner in which they have raised an important point. I am not going to dispute the desirability of their general thesis, but I think it would be as well if I explained the circumstances which have kept these Acts in this Bill, and I will do so very briefly. With regard to aliens, as your Lordships know, the method by which this question is dealt with is that an order is made under the Act. A year or two ago the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and I had an interesting debate on the merits of the administration and on improvements. I am not going to repeat to your Lordships the full account which my honourable and learned friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to the Home Office gave on the improvement which had been made—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has studied it—but I would just draw his attention to some points.

The first point is the extraordinarily small proportion of the 1,698,160 foreigners who came here in the year ended September 30 last who were refused entry. If I have it aright, only one out of every 650 was refused entry, and my honourable and learned friend gave a full breakdown of the reasons. The second point is the very small number who were deported. In 1958, 131 were deported; in 1959, 86 were deported; and in the first ten months of 1960, 93 were deported. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will remember that he suggested to me that there ought to be an advisory procedure. He will see that the question of representation to the Chief Magistrate was dealt with by Mr. Renton, and it is an interesting point that, out of 67 people eligible to make representations, only 34 availed themselves of the opportunity. Thirty-one cases were heard, and in 26 of them the Chief Magistrate confirmed the proposal to deport; in 5 cases the reference prevented deportation. If I may quote my honourable and learned friend, he said that the reference to the Chief Magistrate has been regarded by us as a form of appeal against deportation, and respected as such.

The other point, which I am sure the noble Lord noted with both interest and appreciation, was on the question of registration. Remember that of the 400,000 foreigners in this country who are registered, there are two groups. The first group is those who wish to stay here longer than three months but whose stay is, nevertheless, on a temporary basis. Many of these are people on Ministry of Labour permits. The second and larger group concerns those whom we have accepted as residents here permanently or indefinitely. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has decided that the public interest does not now require this large group of people to be subject to the degree of supervision which police registration involves, and he has therefore decided that they should be exempt altogether from registration. I have put these points very shortly, and if any noble Lords are interested they will find all these matters dealt with at length in the speech of Mr. Renton in the Commons Hansard of November 16, 1960.

The point which I wanted to make to-day was that this procedure does allow flexibility and improvement. Nevertheless, I appreciate the points which both noble Lords had in mind: that this is a very important subject and is something whose ultimate form we ought to be considering. I shall, of course, convey that view to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, and I can assure the noble Lords that he will consider it.

With regard to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, on the Education (Exemptions) (Scotland) Act with regard to the use of children under fourteen for picking the potato crop, I may say that that has been examined. It is the Secretary of State's intention to bring the exemption scheme to an end as soon as practicable. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, saw that on the Committee stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, in November, 1959, it was announced that the Government intended to discontinue the exemption scheme altogether after the 1962 Act. That announcement was generally welcomed. Actually the number who are required to be exempted from school attendance under the Act of 1960 will be 3,000 less than in 1959, and it is hoped to make similar reductions in the number of exemptions in 1961 and 1962, though the actual number must depend upon the weather. I think it is of some assistance to the noble Lord to know that that statement of present intention had been made.

With regard to the Tenancies of Shops (Scotland) Act, in January, 1958, a Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Ian Shearer, Q.C., was appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland to consider whether there was need to continue the provisions of the Act after December 31, 1958. The Committee found that there had been no significant decrease in the number of applications made under the Act since 1952 and that the Act continued to serve a useful purpose. They did not favour making the Act permanent, but they recommended that it should be continued after December 31. 1958, for a period not exceeding fiveyears. The returns for 1959 show that the Act is being extensively used. This, again, shows that we are not sitting down on this matter. We have had the matter examined and I am sure that the name of Mr. Ian Shearer conveys to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, the capacity of the instruments we are using to have it examined.

The Accommodation Agencies Act was introduced as a Private Member's Bill against fraudulent housing agencies which charged a fee for registering people's requirements and then supplied lists of vacant accommodation. We feel that at the moment the resettlement of tenants is given extra protection under the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Act. 1958, and it should be continued. While the falling in of a substantial number of three-year tenan- cies, which the noble Lord will remember, will mean that some tenants will seek new homes, it is thought that this protective Act should be continued during that difficult period. The Rent of Furnished Houses (Scotland) Act and the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, really depend on the particular circumstances of the housing position to which I have just referred. Of course, we shall keep the position of the tribunals under regular review, but we feel that, in the circumstances, they ought to be continued for a further year.

Part II of the Licensing Planning Act has also been raised. I have an interest in this. I could have hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, would be here, because during the Coalition Government he had an unfortunate attack of influenza and deputed me to move the Second Reading of the Licensing Planning Bill, which I did. The Act makes special provisions for blitzed areas and also for those areas to which the population of blitzed areas has moved, and promotes the co-operation of the licensing justices and the local authorities. A number of operations under the Act are still going on. Following the debate last year in another place, in which Mr. Chuter Ede suggested that a report on the progress of licensing planning in the 28 areas should be obtained, the 28 licensing planning committees were asked to report progress in their areas. These reports show that though in most areas considerable progress has been made, there is a need for licensing planning to be continued in 24 areas. In at least four areas there is the probability that the orders designating the licensing planning areas could be revoked in the next four months. On the other point of the statutory framework, which the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, raised, the Act was amended by the Licensing Planning (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1946, and the Licensing Act, 1949, and these, with other Acts, were consolidated in Part II of the Licensing Act, 1958, so that we have done as much as we can to put the whole matter in convenient form. It is a question of working out administrative arrangements which are still usefully in being.

I am sorry to have taken so long, but I am entirely in sympathy with noble Lords in keeping watch on this form of legislation, and I have tried, very shortly but I hope with sufficient outline, to give the reasons why these Acts are being continued. If there are any other points, I shall be pleased to write to noble Lords about them. Meantime, I hope that your Lordships' House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.