HL Deb 03 August 1972 vol 334 cc463-6

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to deliver to your Lordships a Message respecting the declaration of a State of Emergency. The Message is as follows:

"The Emergency Powers Act 1920, as amended by the Emergency Powers Act 1964, having enacted that if it appears to Her Majesty that there have occurred, or are about to occur, events of such a nature as to be calculated by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel or light or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of the essentials of life, Her Majesty may by Proclamation declare that a State of Emergency exists. And the present stoppage of work among persons employed in the ports, having in Her Majesty's opinion constituted a State of Emergency within the meaning of the said Act of 1920, as so amended, Her Majesty has deemed it proper, by Proclamation dated August 3, 1972, and made in pursuance of the said Act of 1920, as so amended, to declare that a State of Emergency exists."

My Lords, I should now like, if I may, to repeat a Statement which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is making in another place. It is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a Statement.

"The Government consider that the present industrial situation in the ports constitutes a threat to the essentials of life of the community which is sufficiently serious to justify taking immediate emergency powers to maintain essential services. They have therefore thought it right to advise the Proclamation of a State of Emergency under Section 1 of the Emergency Powers Act 1920, as amended, followed by the making of emergency regulations under Section 2.

"The regulations will come into force at midnight to-night. Copies will be available this afternoon."—

I understand, at 4.30 p.m., my Lords—that was an interjection into the Home Secretary's Statement.

"I shall shortly make an announcement about the arrangements for debating the usual Motions on the Address and the regulations. The regulations are almost identical with those made last February; the only significant change is a new regulation to facilitate the supply of medicines.

"The use of the powers will be limited, as always, to what the essential public interest requires and it is premature to say what orders may have to be made under the regulations."

My Lords, that concludes the Home Secretary's Statement. Before I resume my seat I should perhaps mention to your Lordships that I understand it has been agreed through the usual channels that the House may be asked to consider Her Majesty's Message and a Motion to approve the regulations on Wednesday, August 9, at about 7 p.m.


My Lords, it is customary to thank a noble Lord for making a Statement, however unwelcome it may be. So I do thank the noble Earl, though perhaps I may register one small complaint. It is one of the courtesies of the House to enlighten the Front Bench opposite that a Statement is about to be made. That might have saved the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between my noble friend Lord Beswick and the noble Earl. I realise that there is probably not a Government Whip—oh yes; there is a Government Whip present. This is usually done, but I realise that the Government Front Bench are in such chaos at the moment that they cannot remember these courtesies.

It is, of course, a very serious Statement. This is not the time to debate it. I have not seen the Orders. I take it that they are those with which, one way and another, we have been familiar—with perhaps one exception—for a number of years. We shall have an opportunity to debate the matter on Wednesday. Indeed, it was partly in anticipation of this situation that we were having our debate that was so tragically interrupted the other night. Of course time is very short. I hope the Government will continue—and this, I take it, is the reason for this Proclamation now—their more cautious posture. Also, I again beg the Government not to go on making provocative remarks that may exacerbate the situation, which has developed largely from the Industrial Relations Act.


My Lords, I can only say on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches that we believe the Government are entirely right to declare a State of Emergency at the present time, and we can only hope that before we come to debate it next Wednesday the dockers' strike will have been ended and the powers will no longer be needed.


My Lords, I am grateful for the reception which both the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, have given to the Statement which I have repeated. All I can do is to echo the hope which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has expressed and which I think was also implied in the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton: that the present dispute in the docks, with all its very serious implications, will be terminated in the, near future. That is certainly the ardent wish of Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House one question? Is it not the case that the Emergency Regulations are necessary, not because the situation has become really critical but because it is necessary that these regulations should be taken in the other place within a stipulated period, and that that would involve recalling the Members of the other House? Is that such a serious matter? Would it not be far better for the other place to remain in session a little longer rather than to present regulations now which seem to imply that the situation has become critical and could possibly lead to panic hoarding of foods and other supplies?


My Lords, it is not for me to comment on the timetable or the programme in another place, and I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, that these powers have not been taken as a result of considerations regarding the Parliamentary programme but rather as a necessary precaution. I think that at this stage no one can predict to what extent any of these powers might have to be used and in what precise timing. If the strike were to continue any longer, as we all hope it will not, the threat to the essentials of the life of the community would become graver.

A practical point is that under the regulations port emergency committees can be set up, and this, in the view of the Government, is a necessary precaution. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, will have noted, there are emerging certain areas of shortage—such as animal feedingstuffs—which are becoming really quite serious.