HC Deb 16 October 1912 vol 42 cc1367-78

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this Bill be now read a second time."

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Runciman)

I think the House might wish to know why we regard this as a matter of urgency. The bee industry all over the country has suffered severely from the scourge not only of foul food, but of Isle of Wight disease, that has now spread right up to the South of Scotland. The loss to the bee-keepers in England and Scotland during the last four or five years from Isle of Wight disease cannot be accurately estimated, but as far as we can tell at the Board of Agriculture the value of the hives in England and Scotland run up to very nearly £1,000,000, and I am told in many parts of the country the whole hive has been destroyed owing to the spread of this disease. There has been no regulation of it, nor has any regulation of it been possible up to the present time; but as the result of a conference of the principal bee-keeping association in England' and the officers of the Board in May last, this Bill was drafted, and, as I understand, meets with their approval. The work which has been done by the bee-keeping association has, of course, been impeded by lack of power on the part of local authorities to destroy infected hives or to prevent the importation from infected areas of queen bees. The Bill provides that the importation of bees shall be under regulation, and, if necessary, prohibited, and that where the disease has spread into any area the local authorities shall have power of regulation, and in hopeless cases of ordering the destruction of the bees. The Orders may be enforced in the same way as Orders under the Diseases of Animals Acts, and there is power given to the Board or to local authorities to inspect in order to ascertain how far the infection has gone. I hope the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill to-night, for the disease spreads with great rapidity, particularly in the early months of the year. The experience of the last few years has shown that most damage is done in January, February, and March, and unless this Bill can be got through in the near future it may be impossible to make the necessary arrangements for regulation and extermination. It must be remembered that the benefit of bees is not confined to the production of money; they are the best fertilisers in this country.


I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

I am sorry to be obliged to take this course, but we had no adequate notice that this Bill was coming on; we were only told so at Question Time to-day. The fact that it has been on the Order Paper for some days is not sufficient, for it is understood that such Bills will not be taken unless adequate notice is given. I have had very voluminous objections to this Bill sent me by constituents, and I have not yet had an opportunity of examining them, so that I am not in a position to properly state their case. I do not think any harm can be done if the Bill is postponed, as the Standing Committee are already fully occupied, and no other Bill is likely to get in front of this. The Clauses with regard to compensation and inspection certainly require careful scrutiny, and in the face of the genuine objections to the Bill I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not insist on proceeding with it, especially in view of the fact that in the interval some adjustment may be possible. It is also a bad precedent for a Bill to be taken at half-past ten, if notice of the intention to take it is only given at a quarter to four the same day.


I beg to second the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate.


I hope the House will not agree to the Motion of my hon. Friend. This matter has been before it for some time past, and a great many questions have been put to the right hon. Gentleman, while the Bill itself has been on the Order Paper throughout the greater part of the Session. This matter is one of urgency, and, having a large number of bee-keepers in my Constituency who have suffered very seriously from this disease, I should like to ask the House to adopt the Second Reading of this Bill, while reserving absolute right in Standing Committee—I hope the Bill will be sent to a Standing Committee—to alter it in details, if necessary. Perhaps I may be allowed to add to what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that this disease is not confined to the South of England and parts of Scotland. It has been very prevalent in Wales, and has been particularly bad in Norfolk and Suffolk. There is one great objection to this Bill, and I hope it will be possible in Committee to deal with it; that is the possible lack of uniformity in administration as between England and Scotland. I think it is most unfortunate that in passing the Small Landholders (Scotland) Bill last Session, we did not foresee such a Bill as this, and retain for the British Board of Agriculture absolute power for dealing with the contagious diseases of bees, just as we did with regard to the contagious diseases of animals, because it is all very well to impose restrictions on the borderland between England and Scotland—


The hon. Member is not entitled to discuss the subject-matter of the Bill on the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate: he can only give reasons against adjourning the Debate, and must wait until we resume the discussion on the Second Reading to bring forward his observations on the Bill itself.


As this is a matter of considerable importance, I reserve my right to bring forward my observations when the Motion has been disposed of.


I desire to support the hon. Member for the Wilton Division (Mr. C. Bathurst). We have been asking for this Bill for a considerable time in this House. I am a beekeeper myself. [An HON. MEMBER: "In your bonnet."] I keep bees in my hives, not in my bonnet. I can assure hon. Members that I speak from personal experience in this matter, for in my part of the country where they go in for bee-keeping as one way of eking out a rather miserable existence, nearly every man has lost his hive. It would be a great pity to stop the passing of this Bill without going into its merits, and I hope hon. Members will do what they can to pass a Bill which ought to have been brought in some years ago.


I hope the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. James Hope) will see his way to withdraw this Motion. There is a very strong demand that people who keep bees in hives should have some protection against diseases which are almost destroying the industry of bee-keeping in some parts of the country. There is a very great demand for this Bill in Devonshire, where people are troubled with the disease which is brought from the South of England, and it will be a great hardship and disappointment if the time given for the Second Reading is not utilised by getting the Second Reading.


I have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend who moved this Motion, because I think it would have been very much better if we could have had some notice of the Bill being brought on. This shows the difficulty the House is under when they do not know from one day to another what measures the Government are going to take. It is quite true that they announced at a quarter to four this afternoon that they were going to take this particular Bill, but if my hon. Friend in that assiduity which distinguishes him, had not been here, how could he have known when he went away from the House yesterday that this particular Bill was going to be taken? [An HON. MEMBER: "He gets £400 a year, and should be here."] He takes an interest in the proceedings of this House. Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway do not care. It does not matter what is going on. They are here to support the Government. My hon. Friend is not here with that object. He desires honestly and sincerely to criticise the measures which are brought before us, and he is not able to do it if certain notice has not been given. Having said so much in support of his action, I would ask him on this particular occasion not to press his Motion but to let the Bill proceed. It is quite true the Government ought to have brought it forward before, but they ought to have done a great many things which they have not done. Having already seen the errors of their way, and having at last agreed to bring forward something, I think we might allow them to have the credit of that and proceed with the discussion of the Bill.


This, I believe, is a good Bill, and I shall support it, and I cannot vote in consequence for the Adjournment of the Debate, but I think my hon. Friend has a just cause of complaint, and I ask the Government to give us some assurance that we shall have in future fair notice of what Bills the Government intend to take after eleven o'clock. It really is not fair. This particular Bill is one which there is very general consent about, but my hon. Friend has constituents who have an objection to it and have a right, of course, to be heard on their objection. But it might be a Bill on which a great many objections were felt. We have been badly treated in the matter. I trust we shall hear from the Government that it was by an oversight that it occurred on this occasion, and that in future we shall be given reasonable notice of the business that is to be taken every night.


I do not agree with either of the two last speakers. The Bill seeks to empower the Minister for Agriculture to do practically what he thinks fit. The Clauses are so framed that he can make any order that he has a mind to. The experience that we have had of the right hon. Gentleman as Minister for Education does not commend to me the idea that in dealing with bees or any other intelligent animals what he will do will be the right, or, at all events, the necessary thing. I object to any Bill which empowers a Minister to do any act which practically he thinks fit.


The hon. Member is now discussing the Bill. He cannot do that upon this Motion.


I join in the appeal of the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord Robert Cecil). He made a reasonable request to the Government and I think the Parliamentary Secretary should say a word in answer. Otherwise, although I agree with the Bill before the House, I shall be compelled, as a matter of protest, to vote in favour of the Motion.


We certainly regarded this particular Bill as non-controversial. As there is a desire in all quarters of the House that I should reply to the question put to me, I have to say that I will take every step in my power to give the longest notice possible of any Bills we intend to take after half-past ten.


I am sorry to find myself deserted by my best Friends. I cannot find that I should get any great support, and therefore I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for adjournment of the Debate, by leave, withdrawn.


I think we are entitled to know before we read the Bill a second time whether it will go to a Standing Committee or not. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] If the hon. Member is correct, it will be much better to state any objections to the Bill in Committee. I will content myself by drawing attention to a matter which is now becoming too common in legislation, namely, the putting of the onus of proof on a party who may be innocent. I appeal to hon. Members whether they consider it justifiable that every piece of legislation we get now contains in one form or another the vicious principle that a man is to be deemed guilty until he has proved his innocence. That principle is contained in Clause 5, Sub-section (2), of the Bill. I mention that in order that the House may consider the rights of people to a fair trial, and that they should know the evidence on which the charge is based before they are called upon to defend themselves.

11.0 P.M.


There are one or two matters which I think are important to mention in connection with the Bill. One is the risk of serious lack of uniformity between Scotland and England, because the powers of making Orders are vested in the two Departments, respectively. While it is possible to restrict the passage of animals along roads or railways, it is not possible to prevent bees from flying across the border from the one country to the other. Another point is that the powers given to the Departments are very wide indeed. The right hon. Gentleman must confess that there is very little knowledge as to this-Isle of Wight disease. Under the Bill you may seriously interfere with the liberty of the subject, and particularly with poor people's property without having sufficient scientific knowledge to justify such a course. I think these are powers that ought to be hedged in with safeguards if injustice is not to be done. Those two considerations I would certainly bring before the Grand Committee if I had the honour of sitting upon it.


The hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) seems to think that if this Bill goes to a Grand Committee every Member of the House would have the opportunity of expressing his views. The mere fact of the Bill going before such a Committee would limit the discussion to some fifty or sixty Members. The sting of this Bill is in Sub-section (2) of Clause 4— Every local authority shall appoint so many inspectors and other officers as the local authority think necessary for the execution and enforcement of Orders under this Act, and shall assign to those inspectors and officers such duties and salaries or allowances, and may delegate to any of them such authorities and discretion as to the local authority may seem fit, and may at any time revoke any appointment so made. It is extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman in such a Bill has fallen into the error which has distinguished all his colleagues on that bench and made this Bill an opportunity for further appointments and extra expenditure by the local authorities. Why could not the right hon. Gentleman have said that the police shall carry out these duties? They could have done so without any further expenditure. It has been brought to my notice this afternoon that a certain Government Department which in 1905, the last year the Conservative Government were in power, had an expenditure of £156,000, has, although no new duties have been placed upon it, increased its expenditure to £616,000. It is extraordinary the love of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite for appointing new inspectors, with the result that there are further inroads on the pockets of the taxpayers. As I have always been a supporter of economy in this House, economy which is very necessary at this moment, I certainly object very strongly to this particular Clause. The hon. Member for Pontefract will probably be appointed a member of the Grand Committee, and I trust that he will see that some limitation is put to the power of creating these inspectors. Anothing thing to which I object is Sub-section (3) of Clause 3:— In any proceedings under this Act, no proof shall be required of the appointment or handwriting of an inspector or other officer of the Board or of the clerk or an inspector or other officer of a local authority. Why should we invest all these people with these powers; why should we create other Star Chambers? Why should one of these persons be allowed to come into my garden, without being under the slighest necessity to show that he has authority to do so, to see my bees? How do I know that such a person might not be an enterprising burglar, who would say that he was an inspector appointed by the local authority, and wanted to look at my bees. If I put any impediment in his way, though he might be an absolute fraud, I should render myself liable, if in error, to a penalty of £10. One has to be careful what one does. To my mind these are serious questions. They do not touch upon the actual merits of the Bill, but they do touch upon the details of it, and I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not going to allow the House to express an opinion on those details instead of sending them to the Standing Committee. I hope that my remarks will impress themselves upon hon. Members who will be members of the Standing Committee, and that they will see, first of all, that the inspector must produce some authority. We know very well that it is the man who comes to look after the electric light who takes the coats and umbrellas from the hall, and we do not want to offer further facilities which would be found in the pretext that it was desired to inspect the bees. I hope the Committee will do something to improve the Bill in regard to this particular Clause. Otherwise, I have no objection to it, and I believe it has been recommended in very high quarters by those to whose opinion I attach great weight.


My objection to this Bill is one of principle. A certain disease has broken out among bees, and there has been an inquiry into its origin. I believe that those who have been studying the subject have promulgated a series of measures which are likely to put an end to the disease, and I do not know why the Board of Agriculture could not bring in a Bill to apply the remedies which science has discovered. In the very first Clause of the Bill I find that the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries may make such orders as they think expedient for the purpose of preventing the introduction of disease. That is a very wide discretion to give to any department of the public service. I submit that it is without parallel in the whole of legislation, and they have not been able to find any precedent for any power given to any Minister of any department of the public service which enables them to make such orders as they may think expedient. That is without any restriction as to the extent of those orders. By the second Clause I find that the Board may make such orders as they think expedient for preventing the spread of the disease.

Why not embody certain things that ought to be done to secure that in a Departmental Bill? A further provision states, "An order under this Bill may impose fines recoverable on summary conviction." I have made some investigation into Acts passed for the purpose of carrying out regulations with regard to public health, and I do not find power given to any Department to make an order outside the authority of this House which imposes a fine for doing something which is not defined in the Act itself. The second Sub-section of Clause 3 gives the Board power to interfere with the local authority, and no proof is to be required of the appointment of an inspector, nor is any information necessary. The local authority can appoint as many inspectors as they think fit. The multiplication of inspectors is becoming a very serious scandal. Those inspectors may have such duties and authorities as the local authority may think fit. I have never seen in any Act of Parliament any attempt approximating to the extraordinary powers which are proposed to be given by this Bill to carry out things which are not indicated in the Bill itself.

Under Clause 5 of this Bill an inspector may enter any building or place where he has reasonable ground for supposing that there are any bees kept, and he can practically order anything to be done that he thinks fit. When agricultural districts in this country are face to face with any outbreak of disease amongst bees or anything else we are justified in promoting any reasonable measures for the suppression of that disease, but I do think if the Department has got any connected policy whatever any principles upon which it proposes to act in reference to the disease, the Bill which is brought forward ought to be one which gives an indication as to what those powers are going to be; how many inspectors are to be appointed? What their salaries are to be and their duties should be reasonably defined. We are asked in this Bill to give general powers to the Board of Agriculture to do what it pleases. Our experience of the right hon. Gentleman as Minister for Education does not give us any particular confidence that even in dealing with bees he will be more successful. I object to this Bill because of its form and the wide powers it confers, and because those powers are to be given to a department at the head of which is a right hon. Gentleman who we have no reason to suppose will exercise any reasonable or proper discretion.


I wish to refer to one feature which is common to many Bills and is very objectionable. Clause 1 states that the Board of Agriculture may make orders for England and Wales, and it is only when you come to Clause 6 that you find the Bill applies to Scotland. That is not the form in which Bills should be drafted. When a Bill applies to Great Britain as a whole it should be made clear at the beginning, and then subsequently stated how it is to be carried out in England and Wales, and how in Scotland.


I wish to appeal to hon. Members to assist in passing this Bill, which affects especially the small cottager, who is now beginning to appreciate the profit to be made from bees. I am sorry to differ from the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London. I acknowledge him to be an authority on the forms of the House, but when it is a question of dealing with queen bees his knowledge is not to be trusted to the same extent. He objects to the authorities that are to be created for the purpose of examining and discovering diseased hives. It is absolutely necessary to have skilled men to look into the question of bee disease. No remedy at all is at present known. In most cases the absolute destruction of the hives is the only cure. The Bill is of such importance—and I honestly think it is a good Bill—that, with some few Amendments to meet reasonable objections, I hope hon. Members will support it.


I wish to ask the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture (Ireland) whether this disease has found its way into Ireland, and whether, having examined this Bill, he has any views as to its application to Ireland.

Mr. T. W. RUSSELL (Vice President of the Board of Agriculture, Ireland)

I am sorry to say that about a month ago a case was reported at Kingston. As it stands the Bill does not apply to Ireland, but my right hon. Friend is quite willing to allow a Clause to be added to the Bill which will make it applicable.


I desire to thank the right hon. Gentleman for introducing this Bill, and I hope that it will be allowed speedily to pass the House. Members, irrespective of party, who have agriculturists in their constituency, have received strong reports of the necessity of a Bill of this character. The whole criticism has been one of detail, which in Standing Committee can be thrashed out.