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Clause 18—(Short Title, Extent And Repeal)

Volume 437: debated on Thursday 22 May 1947

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I beg to move, in page 10, line 7, to leave out "section seven." and to insert:

"sections seven and section (Information from persons entering or leaving the United Kingdom by air)"
This Amendment is consequential upon the insertion of the new Clause dealing with persons entering and leaving the United Kingdom by air. In the Amendment it is necessary to refer to the marginal note of the new Clause because it has not yet been given a number. If the Amendment is accepted that would, of course, be corrected in the final print.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 10, line 8, at the end; to insert:

"(3) It is hereby declared that the Census of Production Act, 1939, does not extend, and has never extended, to Northern Ireland."
This is in order to make quite clear what the position of Northern Ireland is under the Census of Production Act, 1939. There was some difficulty, because nothing is said in the Act of 1939 to show whether it does or does not extend to Northern Ireland. As the House is aware, all Acts —unless the contrary is expressed or appears by necessary implication—extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. Under Section 6 of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, an Act passed after the appointed day cannot be amended by the Parliament of Northern Ireland. In their Statistics of Trade Bill the Government of Northern Ireland propose to repeal the Census of Production Act. They can repeal the Acts of 1906 and 1917 but not that of 1939. Therefore, it is necessary to insert this Subsection in order that the Act of 1939 can be dealt with finally so far as Northern Ireland is concerned.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman really mean that under this Amendment the Bill will apply to Northern Ireland or not? If they get out of it, I say, "good luck to them."

It means to say that they have power to legislate themselves in this matter. This is in order to make clear that the Census of Production Act does not extend, and never did extend, to Northern Ireland

Then they are not forced to be under this Bill, which is rather lucky for them.

Amendment agreed to.

11.44 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I think it will be agreed that this Bill, in its Second Reading, had a good reception, on the whole, from the House. Hon. Members on both sides of the House expressed themselves as being in favour of the principle of the need for the kind of information which will be sought under the Bill when it becomes an Act. That reception was succeeded by constructive discussion in Committee, with constructive criticism coming from both sides of the Committee. That criticism and discussion was rendered all the more effective because of the able, firm and very pleasant guidance which the Committee received from my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mrs. Paton), who created history by being the first—

11.45 p.m.

; On a point of Order. Is it really in Order at this stage of a Bill to refer to the Chairman upstairs? It may be, for all I know, but it does seem to me to be stretching the point to refer to the conduct of the occupant of the Chair in a Committee upstairs, whether that conduct is good or bad. Whether it is good or bad does not matter, but I submit, with great respect, that to refer to the conduct of a Chairman upstairs means that we can on Third Reading refer to the conduct of the Chairman. I should have thought that that was very near to being out of Order for quite obvious reasons.

It may be very near to being out of Order, but I do not think it is actually out of Order.

Further to the point of Order. I will put the matter from another point of view. The Chairman upstairs undoubtedly cannot be in the Bill, and it is the custom that only what is in the Bill can be dealt with on Third Reading. From that point of view it is also the custom not to refer to the Chairman of a Committee. May I have your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as to whether the hon. Lady in question is in the Bill?

The hon. Member is quite in Order in that respect. I do not see the name of the aforesaid Member in the Bill. I thought that the hon. Gentleman who is moving the Third Reading was makng a passing reference to a unique event, and it should be no more than a passing reference.

If we are allowed to make passing references to the conduct of persons who have occupied the position of Chairman upstairs, whether they are making history or anything else, we are going to render the position intolerable. Have we any precedent for making this reference to a Chairman upstairs, because it may become quite a habit, and it is against that that I want to protest?

; Further to the point of Order that has been raised. How can it be said that an hon. Lady in the Chair is making history? She is merely sitting in the Chair.

Before there are any other points of Order I will deal with the two points which have been put to me. I was engaged in a conversation at the time the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the hon. Lady who presided upstairs, and so I did not hear the exact words.

Further to the point of Order. May I tell you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the Parliamentary Secretary was engaged in eulogising—and quite rightly in this case —the actions of the hon. Lady who occupied the Chair in the Standing Committee upstairs. If he can be allowed to eulogise, in this case deservedly, the actions of the hon. Lady upstairs, occasions may arise when it might be necessary to criticise, and would that, too, be in Order? I venture to suggest it is a very undesirable and unsafe precedent to establish in this matter, for if it is by any chance your Ruling that the Parliamentary Secretary was in Order in referring to the action of the hon. Lady who sat in the Chair upstairs, I think it is going to lead to danger.

Apparently the Parliamentary Secretary was referring to the precedent of an hon. Lady occupying the Chair in a Committee upstairs, and with that reference let us now pass on to the Bill.

Further to the point of Order. I wish to know definitely whether we are allowed to make a reference to the Chairman of a Committee upstairs whether that Chairman does the job well or badly. I think we should be clear on that.

Again, I am still in this difficulty, that I did not hear the reference to the hon. Lady. I gather that it was not a reflection on the Chairman in the Committee upstairs, and, that being so, I think we may proceed.

On a point of Order. It does seem to me that if we can refer to the conduct of a Chairman upstairs in any way, whether it be praise or otherwise, we are getting on very dangerous ground. As far as I am concerned, I hope it will not be allowed to be used as a precedent. Even if it is praise, I do not think it should be permitted, because the occasion might arise when it would be necessary to criticise, and that would be a reflection on the Chair. I want to know if we can comment on this matter.

The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. Williams) is in danger of making a speech, and, of course, that would be out of Order. The point is this. Reference has already been made to the hon. Lady and objection has been taken to that reference. It is undesirable to refer to those who preside over Committees upstairs. I hope that we can now proceed with the Debate on the Third Reading.

Thank you for your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I hope this sort of thing will not occur again.

11.50 p.m.

I will not make any further reference to the subject, except to say that I made a mistake in believing the hon. Member opposite would recognise the courtesy of my commenting upon a precedent.

On a further point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I referred to one of the ordinary Rules of the House and, surely, the hon. Gentleman is rather transgressing by inferring that there is any lack of courtesy. I had no knowledge until a minute or two ago as to who was the occupant of the Chair. I only knew who it was when the hon. Gentleman mentioned the hon. Lady. It was simply on a point of Order that I rose, and I ask for your protection as to whether such an attack is just.

If the Parliamentary Secretary wishes to be helpful to the Chair he will not make any further reference to this matter.

We have been glad of the constructive criticism which we received in the Committee, not all of it from one side of the Committee. We have shown our recognition of the nature of that criticism by embodying some of it in Amendments which we have put forward at various stages of the Bill. I hope that this Bill, which in essence is non-controversial, although in detail it may be controversial, will be supported in the country as it has been in the House. and that manufacturers and distributors, and all those people to whom it applies, will do their best to make it work effectively. It has been said on several occasions in the House that it is essential to have the good will of the manufacturers and of the distributors if this Bill is to work effectively. I hope, and believe, that we shall have that good will. The provision of a prompt and efficient statistical service is not a one-sided affair. It is not only the Government who can benefit from the acquisition and publication of these statistics. Industry can benefit as well. But neither side—neither the Government nor industry—can benefit unless both sides are prepared to play their part.

Owing to the temporary difficulties which we experienced in the early part of this year, it proved necessary to postpone the first annual census of production and of distribution. I have observed that journals such as the "Economist," and many others, have regretted that it was necessary to postpone collection of this vital information. But we recognised that industry during this year had to face many difficulties, and that the burden which would have been placed on industry by the censuses, if they had taken place, would have been a very considerable one, and to that extent we are glad to have been of some assistance to industry. Therefore, because we have been able to that extent to ease the amount of work falling on industry during this year, we look forward with all the more confidence to the fullest co-operation from industry when the censuses finally are taken. Meanwhile we are going ahead with the partial census in respect of production in 1946, and I hope that if there are any firms which have failed to send in information they will do so now. It has come to my knowledge that many firms have mistaken the statement I made about postponing the actual census to mean the postponement of the partial census which is being taken at present. I hope that my remarks now will clear any mistaken impression there may have been, and that firms who have been asked for information will let us have it without further delay.

11.55 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman, in moving the Third Reading of this Bill, has made considerable reference to what took place in Committee; but he has made no reference to what took place on the Report stage. I do not know whether it was really his intention to draw a distinction between the criticisms of the Bill received in Committee and the criticisms of the Bill received on Report—or on Second Reading.

Certainly not. I should have thought the fact that, during the Report stage, we answered some of the criticisms by accepting some of the Amendments is the answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's point.

I am glad to receive that assurance. In the course of the Committee stage it was remarkable that Amendments should be moved by the Solicitor-General, who was not a Member of the Committee. While that was as not a precedent, as I understand it, it was a remarkable circumstance in the course of those proceedings. The hon. Gentleman has said that the principles of this Bill met with universal agreement. I think that if he had used the word "objects" he would have been more accurate. From the objects of this Bill I do not think any—or very few—of the Members of the House have dissented. But there has been considerable constructive criticism—and I think the hon. Gentleman will agree with me—of the failure to centralise the collection of the information; of the provision of power for no less than 21 Government Departments to ask pretty well for any information they want at any time; of the provision to make it a criminal offence not to give that information; and without any corresponding obligation upon the Ministries receiving the information to communicate the greater part of it back to the industries which these statistics are supposed to serve.

I criticised that on Second Reading, and I am sorry that this Bill, in its present form, should still be subject to those major defects. With the objects of the Bill, as I say, we agree. We recognise the need for statistics; we recognise that they can be of great value, not only to the Government, but to industry. In saying that, I want to utter a few warnings. There is a grave danger that the census of production and of distribution may be published so late as to be dangerously misleading as to the situation at the time of publication. There is a danger that so much may be asked for in these censuses that we shall not get the information summarised and presented speedily enough to be of much value. I take the view that, really, the most important Clause in this Bill is Clause 1, because it is under that Clause that we shall get the information to enable the Government, if they desire, to compile the monthly return of statistics, and to put more information in that green book than it now contains. I should have liked to have seen Clause I expanded a little more, and a provision included somewhere in the Bill that the information given under that Clause should be made available to industry, because there is no obligation upon the Government, or any Ministry operating under Clause 1, to take that further step.

I am a little troubled—and this is my last point I shall make at this late hour— with regard to Clause because Clause II, although not discussed tonight, was the subject of considerable discussion last night The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, in the course of the Debate on the National Service Bill, subjected a Clause, which was a copy, in all material parts, of Clause 11 of this Bill, so far as it relates to the service of notices upon persons, to a most critical and hostile examination. He attacked the Clause root and branch. I must say that, as usual, I was impressed by the right hon. Gentleman's argument. would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to have a look at what the Minister of Labour said with regard to the service of notices by post in that Clause, which is similar to this; and if there should be any substance in what the Ministry of Labour said with regard to service by post—a subject in which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General has interested himself a lot on the Agriculture Bill and other Bills—I hope we shall get an assurance that the defects to which he drew attention will be remedied in another place.

In conclusion, I would like to say that it is unfortunate we should be having the Third Reading of this Measure at this late hour. There ought to have been more time given for discussion. I hope that the Government will be extremely careful in selecting what information they desire to obtain and will have at the back of their minds the immense burden they will put on industry if they ask for too many figures and facts to be supplied to them. They should keep in the forefront the necessity of asking only for what they want and of producing the results from these statistics at the earliest possible moment. If they do that I am sure they will have the assistance of all branches of industry. It depends on the Government. If they work this scheme properly, then the results should not only be beneficial to the Government, but to the people of the country as well.

I would be failing in my duty if I did not, even at this late hour, do something to express, not merely for myself, but for the business section of this country, the view that this Bill is unwanted and unnecessary. The Parliamentary Secretary said the "Economist" has been telling us the Bill is a wanted Bill. I defy him to tell me of any trade paper, apart from the academic journals which he and Members of the Government read, from the "Drapers' Record" to the "Footwear Journal," which has not condemned this Bill about which he is so complacent and pleased. He can say it is recommended and desired and it may serve a useful purpose in respect of those who support it. I speak as the president of a chamber of commerce which has been in existence for over 100 years and has 2,000 members. It will probably carry little weight with the Parliamentary Secretary, but might I draw his attention to the speech made by the President of the Society of Incorporated Accountants two days ago? He said:

"Many firms will really be alarmed if they have to prepare statistics owing to the increase in their staffs in gathering the composite figures for controls, in complicated wages systems and form filling generally."
That is not the Member for South Edinburgh speaking, but Mr. F. Willey. President of the Society of Incorporated Accountants. I entirely agree with his view, and he speaks with high authority. The Parliamentary Secretary will have 21 Departments which may come and demand information from me. Mr. Willey goes on:
"The present network of controls, with their elaborate administrative machinery, far outweighs the benefits it gives and is a strain on industry too great to sustain efficiency"
The Parliamentary Secretary is not impressed by the observations made on this side, but business men generally will not be unimpressed by what the President has said. Do not let him delude himself during his Margate holiday that he has brought great benefits to business. He has not; a little of this would have gone a long way, and there is far too much in this Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.