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Lords Chamber

Volume 116: debated on Wednesday 22 May 1940

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House Of Lords

Wednesday, 22nd May, 1940.

The House met at four of the clock, The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Mid-Wessex Water Bill Hl

Read 2a , and committed.

Farnham Gas And Electricitybill Hl

Read 3a , and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Government Of India (Adaptation Of Acts Of Parliament)(Amendment) Order, 1940

Message From The King

My Lords, I have to convey to the House the following Message from the King, signed with his own hand:

"I have received your Address praying that the Government of India (Adaptation of Acts of Parliament) (Amendment) Order, 1940, be made in the form of the draft laid before Parliament. I will comply with your request."

Business Of The House

My Lords, I have to inform your Lordships that it has been found necessary to ask your Lordships to pass through all its stages to-day an Emergency Powers (Defence) Bill which is now being considered in another place. To that end I would ask your Lordships now to adjourn during pleasure in order that we may await the Bill. I shall then ask your Lordships to consent to the suspension of the necessary Standing Orders in order that the Bill may be passed through all its stages and may receive the Royal Assent to-day.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.

Emergency Powers (Defence)Bill

Brought from the Commons, and read 1a .

5.33 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that Standing Order No. LIV be now read.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Standing Order—"That no Motion for making or dispensing with a Standing Order be made without notice"—read accordingly.

My Lords, I beg to move that Standing Order No. XXXIX be now read.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Standing Order—"That no two stages of a Bill be taken on one day"—read accordingly.

My Lords, I beg to move, That it is the opinion of this House that it is essentially necessary for the public security that the Bill this day brought from the House of Commons intituled a Bill to extend the powers which may be exercised by His Majesty under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, should forthwith be proceeded in with all possible dispatch; and that notwithstanding Standing Orders Nos. LIV and XXXIX the Lord Chancellor ought forthwith to put the Question upon every stage of the said Bill in which this House shall think it necessary for the public security to proceed therein.

Moved to resolve, That it is the opinion of this House that it is essentially necessary for the public security that the Bill this day brought from the House of Commons intituled a Bill to extend the powers which may be exercised by His Majesty under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, should forthwith be proceeded in with all possible dispatch; and that notwithstanding Standing Orders Nos. LIV and XXXIX the Lord Chancellor ought forthwith to put the Question upon every stage of the said Bill in which this House shall think it necessary for the public security to proceed therein.—( Viscount Caldecote.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.

5.35 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Your Lordships are already aware of the general nature of this Bill, which in the grave days through which we are passing it has been thought necessary by His Majesty's Government to submit to your Lordships. Many of your Lordships must have heard the Prime Minister's broadcast a few days ago, in which he made some observations which must have led many of your Lordships to anticipate some such measure as that which I am asking your Lordships to read a second time.

"After the battle in France abates its force"—
said the Prime Minister—
"there will come a battle for cur island—for all that Britain is and all that Britain means. That will be the struggle. In that supreme emergency we shall not hesitate to take every step, even the most drastic, to call from our people the last ounce of effort of which they are capable. The interests of property and the hours of labour are nothing compared with the struggle for life and honour and freedom to which we have vowed ourselves."
This Bill is simply the legislative expression of the pledge given by the Prime Minister.

Your Lordships will, of course, desire that I should say something, not only about the precise provisions of the Bill, but also about the way in which the powers that the Bill is intended to give will be exercised. The Bill expands the existing law so as to permit Regulations to be made by the Government giving them complete control over persons and property—control over persons, so as to enable the competent authority to require and direct that the services or the labour of every individual shall be used as directed; power over property, with a view to obtaining complete control of all means of production and defence. That is the Bill, together with two additional clauses or subsections, one of which extends the life of the principal Act—the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939—for another year.

The way in which the powers conferred by this Bill are intended to be used is a matter upon which I must make a few observations to your Lordships. Everybody will recognise that personnel must be provided for any work which is necessary to be done in the national interest, including, of course, the work in munition factories. Therefore the Minister of Labour will be given power, by the Regulations which will be made under the powers of this Bill, to direct any person to perform any services required by the Minister of Labour. In the directions which he will be empowered to give, he will prescribe the remuneration to be paid as well as the conditions of service and the hours of labour. The remuneration will be based upon what I may call "the rate for the job," which will be fixed by the Minister of Labour.

Your Lordships may ask how that rate will be arrived at. It will, in general, be the statutory rate, or in another case the rate already fixed by industrial agreement; or, if there are no such rates, it will be the rate paid by good employers for work of the type required to be done. So far as professional men are concerned, if they are required to perform professional services they will be paid the appropriate rate for those duties; if, on the other hand, they are directed to perform work of a manual nature, they will be paid a rate of salary or wage or remuneration appropriate to the work that they are directed to do. It has not been overlooked, of course, that it may be necessary—indeed, it will be necessary—to make special provision for certain cases, as for instance when a man is required to transfer his labour from one place to another in circumstances which will involve him in additional expense, being separated from his family. The Minister of Labour cannot be expected to make personal directions, and therefore it is intended that he shall have power to delegate his authority to National Service officers who will be drawn from the Ministry of Labour, from appropriate trade unions and from professional and other bodies.

There are some further steps that will be taken in pursuance of the powers given by this Bill. There are already powers under the existing Defence of the Realm Regulations to control essential industries, but the powers have not been widely used; in future it will be made plain that these powers exist, and they will be used to the full. But it is, of course, no use taking control of an establishment, industrial or otherwise, unless an appropriate management is available; and therefore it is intended to give power to compel an unwilling management to operate their establishment, and to operate it, if need be, in conformity with either particular or general directions which may be given to them. I hope I need not say that there will be no distinction between persons; this will apply to big businesses as well as to small ones, and the only principle which will be followed is the national necessity.

The orders of the Minister under these powers will override, as is necessary if they are to be made effective, all existing commitments and obligations. There are some establishments concerned in the production of essential articles which it may be necessary to take over. They will be treated as specially controlled establishments. Such establishments are those which, for instance, are producing the aircraft which this country urgently needs in larger and larger numbers. It is intended that in the case of a specially controlled establishment of this kind Excess Profits Duty should be imposed at the rate of one hundred per cent. Powers will be needed in some cases to give directions to local authorities to take action in spite of statutory limitations upon their powers.

Finally, it is of course obvious that Parliament will be given the opportunity which exists in connection with Defence of the Realm Regulations made under existing powers of considering the draft Regulations, which will be laid before Parliament so that they may be annulled in the ordinary way by Resolution of Parliament if Parliament so decides. These, my Lords, are very wide and drastic powers. There must be no exceptions or privileges in the exercise of them. They are powers which His Majesty's Government think it right to ask for in a grave hour. I hope that I may have your Lordships' authority for saying that they will be the offering of a free people, freely made to preserve the priceless inheritance of this nation. I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( Viscount Caldecote.)

5.46 p.m.

My Lords, this Bill is probably as important as any ever introduced into your Lordships' House and my noble friend (Lord Snell) has asked me to say a few words upon it. First let me congratulate my noble friend the Leader of the House on the way in which he has explained this Bill. I should like to be allowed very humbly to echo the closing sentiments which he expressed. My friends in another place have supported this Bill. We certainly intend to support it and any other measures necessary for the prosecution of the war brought in by His Majesty's Government. My noble friend expressed that decision when we reassembled and we intend to carry it out to the full. This Bill is overdue; we should have had something of this sort a long time ago. I agree that it is necessary to have general consent for a measure of this drastic nature. Undoubtedly the consent will be forthcoming now, and I believe that it would have been forthcoming before if the people of this country had been faced with the truth, given a lead, and invited to surrender their rights and vested interest as this Bill demands.

I want, if I may, to draw attention to three things with which this Bill will deal, and they are very important things. All these matters have come to my attention in connection with the effort which I have been trying to put forward, like everyone else in your Lordships' House, to assist the nation. First of all there is this scandal in the Midlands and elsewhere of the poaching of skilled labour. There are cases where most urgent Government contracts have been held up because men employed in highly skilled operations who are practically irreplaceable have been enticed away by mushroom firms offering twice the recognised wage in the industry. You cannot blame the workmen. They have their families to think of, and if a man earning £10 a week—I quote an actual case—who has been with a firm for twenty years without any grievance is offered £20 a week, you cannot blame him if he goes. Urgent Government work, however, is held up in this way, and there have been pro-tests about this from Coventry, Birmingham and other Midland towns from the Chambers of Commerce and other bodies. The Ministry of Labour have been helpless, apparently, but now they will be able to prevent this.

In this connnection and from the point of view of the workmen, I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will not mind my putting one suggestion for- ward. We may have the case, for example, of a collier working in a pit who does not get on, for some reason or other, with the manager; they do not fit each other, and the man wants to change. It is not a case of enticement. In such a case I suggest that there ought to be freedom; the man ought to be allowed to go to another pit, in the same coalfield if you like, for personal reasons of that sort. I think that there will have to be safeguards of that kind.

The second case where this Bill is needed is concerned with property. I may surprise some of your Lordships by what I am going to say now, but at the present moment the Government have power to enter into and take possession of land and buildings but they have not any powers to cause a building which may be obstructing the field of fire of antiaircraft guns, for example, to be removed. This was an oversight in the original Regulations. One thing more. This is a matter which your Lordships will remember when earlier in the year we passed an Act in connection with air-raid precautions. There is no power at present, without the consent of the landlord, to enter into premises to strengthen and prop up the basements or cellars as shelters in the case of air raids. Your Lordships will remember the fight we had about that earlier in the year. That, thank goodness, will now be put right.

One other thing I must say, and I know that I shall carry wide assent here. All your Lordships who have anything to do with the production of goods for the prosecution of the war will know that one of the difficulties has been a jungle of vested interests which have stood in the way of production. I have taken leave to quote in your Lordships' House earlier examples of this, where a whole effort has been hampered by vested interests—I do not say selfish vested interests; you cannot always blame the people; they are thinking of their shareholders and so on. Let us hope now that with these powers these vested interests will be swept away. And if there are vested interests standing in the way on the side of labour, well then, of course they should be swept away, too. My general information is that the trade unions have been very good indeed, and obviously these powers would not have been asked for without the general consent of the responsible leaders of the trade unions in the country. From what I know of the trade unions and their leaders in this country—and I have been meeting a number of them quite recently—they are only too anxious to help in every kind of way, and they will allow no vested interests on their side to stand in the way of the successful prosecution of the war. I am not speaking now as a member of an Opposition which does not exist, I am speaking as a member of the Labour Party. We have been hoping and praying for something of this kind for a long time, and I congratulate the Government on bringing in this measure. As far as my noble friends and I are concerned, we will do all we can to smooth the future passage of the Bill and the working of the Regulations.

On Question, Bill read 2a .

Moved, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—( Viscount Caldecote.)

On Question, Motion negatived.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a .—( Viscount Caldecote.)

On Question, Bill read 3a .

Moved, That the Bill do pass.—( Viscount Caldecote.)

On Question, Motion agreed to: Bill passed accordingly, and a Message sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.

Gosport Water Bill Hl

informed the House that the opposition to the Bill was withdrawn. The Order made on the 28th of February last discharged, and Bill committed for Tuesday next.

Royal Commission

The following Bills received the Royal Assent:

  • Emergency Powers (Defence),
  • Torquay Cemetery,
  • Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal,
  • Wessex Electricity,
  • Commercial Gas,
  • Brighton Marine Palace and Pier,
  • London County Council (General Powers),
  • Northallerton Urban District Council.

House adjourned at twelve minutes past six o'clock.