HC Deb 03 June 1921 vol 142 cc1448-61

In this Act the expression "corn" shall include wheat, barley, oats, rye, maize and the flour, meal and bran derived therefrom, and any mixture thereof, and this Act shall apply to dried peas, dried beans, linseed and potatoes, and to the seed of grass, clover, vetches, swedes, field turnips, rape, field cabbages, field kale, field kohl-rabi, mangels, beet and sugar-beet, flax, and sainfoin in like manner as it applies to corn.

Amendment made: After the word "shall" ["the expression 'corn' shall include "] insert the words "where the context permits."—[Mr. Lane-Fox.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Mr. Lane-Fox.]


I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."

The Bill has a considerable effect upon the corn trade, and I am not at all satisfied that the Amendments which have been introduced make the matter really satisfactory. I appreciate, as I have already said, the reason for introducing the Bill. I can understand that the farming interest desire that their sales shall be at a constant rate and quantity which would enable them to calculate their prices satisfactorily. If this Bill had been framed to deal with English corn I should have supported it whole-heartedly. If it had been framed to deal with "ascertained goods" I should have supported it whole-heartedly, but it is framed in a form which I think leaves it in a very obscure condition.

I should like to ask hon. Members supporting the Bill whether their Bill will affect such transactions as those to which I have referred. The Bill makes null and void any agreement dealing with corn which from the commencement of this Act is made otherwise than by cwt. It is also provided that the Act shall not apply to any contract, bargain, sale or dealing. (ii) for or relating to corn imported into the United Kingdom so long as the same shall remain in the warehouse, or store, or shed where the same shall have been first stored on importation. Quite apart from any question of dealing in futures, suppose a series of contracts are made, by a merchant who agrees to sell to another merchant, who possibly may pass on the corn to an association of millers. Here there are three or four bargains relating to corn. There may be a chain of contracts. They need not be connected, and need not specifically pass on the quantity, but may make, up the quantity distributable to each of the persons. The person who makes the contract has not the least idea as to how the corn is to be provided to fulfil the contract. It may be foreign corn or it may not be foreign corn. It may be really in the warehouse at the time, or on the high seas, or in trucks, or in craft, but whether in truck or craft, in store or not, nobody knows where the grain is coming from that is to implement the contract. My hon. Friend has allowed that contract to be made null and void, and gives the opportunity to any person, a small person, or any person coming into the chain of contracts to repudiate his bargain if the market falls, by some pretended plea that the contract did not refer to grain which, at the date of the contract, was not within the United Kingdom. Nobody knows what is going to be provided. It is known to be foreign grain. It may be in the second store, on the high seas, or in the first store.

My contention is that this House is not in the position to say what is the meaning of this provision. Will it be an answer, when somebody says the contract is null and void, for the vendor to say that the corn was not within the United Kingdom at the time. Supposing the corn has been mixed in a transit shed with wheat or maize which has been in the country some time. Then it becomes an indistinguishable mixture, and nobody can unmix it. At a time when the country is in a parlous condition the supporters of this measure, in order to achieve what is no doubt an admirable object, are dislocating an important industry by passing a Bill the effect of which is exceedingly obscure. This measure will leave the corn trade in great doubt as to what it really does permit and what it does not permit. I say nothing about the inconvenience which will follow, in spite of the Amendments which have been introduced. One hon. Member opposite said he had been listening for some information as to the inconvenience which will result from this measure, but the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott) has already pointed out that surely it ought to be sufficient to say that the corn industry is against the measure.

I think that the industry might have been more active in opposing this Bill, but I would like to point out that the Bill only came out of Committee about three days ago, and until it was circulated yesterday nobody was aware of the Amendments which have been moved to-day. I have been at some trouble communicating not only by letter, but by other means with the persons interested in this subject, and possibly there has been some misunderstanding on some points. Possibly this may be due to some mistake on my part or on the part of my correspondents. We had just 24 hours to ask the opinion of the corn industry as to important Amendments introduced into this Bill which at all times was obscure, and now is still more obscure. Having regard to the fact that it is intended to deal with English corn as well as foreign corn, we are going to dislocate an industry without any guidance from legal or commercial authorities as to the effect of these Amendments. I am sorry that neither of the Law Officers of the Crown are present. I do not complain of that, but I think it would have been better if they had been here in order that we might address questions to them. I Jo not know whether there is any other so-called lawyer here except myself, but I suggest to the House that if this Bill is passed we shall have put upon the Statute Book a measure which is really incomprehensible, and will not achieve the object in view. It will dislocate an important industry and it will not be to the credit of the House to pass a Bill like this without consultation with industry as to the form in which this Bill now stands. Although I have taken this course without consultation with my hon. Friends I hope I shall receive their support in favour of my Amendment.

Lieut.-Colonel WILLOUGHBY

I beg to second the Amendment, although I am not yet convinced that I shall support my hon. Friend in the Lobby. I think this Bill requires further consideration. This Bill was sent to a Committee upstairs, but from what I have heard in the Debate it seems to be taken for granted that the farmers of this country are in favour of this measure. I am not sure about that, and I doubt whether it is going to be an advantage to the individual farmer. I do not know that we are going to have things any cheaper through altering our weights and measures. It may be right to standardise the quarter of corn, whether it is barley or whatever it may be, but I do not think it is a very practical suggestion to make that restriction.

Most of us who deal in these things when we go to market, know what weight we are selling or what weight we are buying. Many of us find that it is necessary to put an entirely different weight into our sacks. I want to know if should be permitted to put 240 lbs. into my sack if it will hold it? If this measure simply provided that you must state the weight of the corn you are selling without any limitation, I think there would be a good deal to be said for it, but to lay down that the only measure is to be one cwt. is rather odd. If you are going to buy foreign stocks in cwts. that will only be made an excuse for making farmers pay a little more. I think we ought to get some clear definition as to the real object for making it only a one cwt. measure, and I want to know whether it is illegal to put in more than one cwt. when you are selling corn? I do think that it is a point upon which we ought to have a clear definition before the House lets the Bill go further. Legislation should not be passed through this House without every Member understanding it and knowing fully what it is about.


This Bill seems to me to be one effecting very considerable changes in the measures and the usages of traders with regard to measures, after insufficient consideration. I suppose a good many other Members have received very urgent telegrams on the subject this morning. The country has been so little prepared for the Bill that people are now at the last moment obliged to send telegrams to their Members in order to call their attention to the very serious changes which are proposed in what seems to be a simple, innocent, and innocuous Bill related to one industry only. A good many years ago I had a good deal to do with all these proposals for changes in our weights and measures, and, owing to the enormous penetration of habit and custom among the English people, we found the difficulty is almost insuperable. I suppose that we shall one day have the decimal coinage introduced by a private Member's Bill relating to one particular industry. After passing a Bill after very little discussion upstairs and an absolutely cursory consideration downstairs, we shall wake up one morning to find that some unimportant Bill has introduced the decimal coinage. Alterations in measures and the usages of traders in regard to the measures of the country should not be effected by a private Member's Bill after the slight consideration that it is possible to give it on a Friday afternoon. We know how much consideration it was likely to get upstairs. With great difficulty the promoters get some of their friends to assist in forming a quorum, and these friends, having obliged by forming a quorum, are not likely to oppose the Bill.


That was not the case with this Bill.


I am only giving it as an instance of what may be done by a Bill of this sort. I contend that we ought to give a further opportunity to those constituents who have already communicated with us in very urgent terms by telegram this morning, when for the first time they became aware of the serious provisions of the Bill, and who have urged a very solemn protest against it.


Had I any special desire to defeat a Bill, I should have sent a telegram to every Member on the day on which the Bill was to be considered. The object of the Amendment is not to investigate the Bill, but to defeat it. I should be perfectly prepared to concede any investigation, but this Bill has been before the country for many months. We received innumerable communications from various sources, and we thought that in Committee we had placated any opposition by conceding certain alterations that were suggested by a Member of the Committee who himself is connected with the corn trade. I must confess that I am absolutely astounded at the attitude of the hon. and gallant Member for the Stamford and Rutland Division (Lieut.-Colonel Willoughby). He is a member of the Committee, and we heard none of these protests upstairs.

Lieut.-Colonel WILLOUGHBY

I was not a member of the Committee.


I beg the hon. and gallant Member's pardon. If that be the case, I withdraw, and I am very sorry, but I was under the impression that the hon. and gallant Member was a member of the Standing Committee. My astonishment, however, is not lessened by the fact that he represents an agricultural constituency, and that every agricultural organisation throughout the country is in favour of the Bill. He says that as a farmer he is opposed to it. Of course, on personal grounds there is no reason why he should not be opposed to it, but the ground which he has expressed here seems to me to be a fear that at some future time the cost will be increased owing to the necessity of changing bags or something of that kind. Bags do not last for ever. My idea is that the Bill would bring uniformity where there is no uniformity in the method of sale. The Bill does not come into operation immediately, and there will be an opportunity to amend the weights now used in the corn trade. The Bill will be to the advantage of everybody concerned. I am not especially interested in it except in one particular. I am interested to bring down the weights to something like a uniform weight that a man can carry. It has been already said this morning that much illness and many accidents have resulted where young and growing men in the agricultural industry have been called upon to lift, say, sacks of beans. It is well to put an end to that sort of thing. Under the Bill, we shall get the weight made up in something like a reasonable manner, and we shall not hear so much of rupture among the agricultural community as we do at the present time. It is on those grounds, more than any other, that I am in favour of the Bill. My feeling is that it will bring about a much needed reform in the weights that men are called upon to lift, and upon those grounds I hope that the House will not be misled by the Amendment, the object of which is not to consider whether the Bill be a good or a bad Bill, but to defeat the Bill altogether.

Colonel GREIG

May I say a few words as an ordinary Member interested in the Bill from the ordinary point of view, and also as one representing a constituency in Scotland which grows a good deal of corn and oats. The Bill was thoroughly discussed in April last. It was introduced as long ago as last year, and it had been before the country for a considerable period before then. Its principles have been a good deal discussed throughout the country for years, and the Agricultural Policy Committee of the Reconstruction Sub-Committee investigated the subject. Indeed, one of the objections urged on the Second Reading of the Bill was that the matter ought to go before a Committee to be investigated, and the answer thereupon given was that that had already been done, and that the Agricultural Reconstruction Committee had declared that the need for uniformity had long been recognised by the leaders of agricultural thought. Then, on the Second Reading, we had a long discussion. I do not know at what hour it took place, but it was certainly not after 11 o'clock. The discussion went on for a considerable time. We had before us all the evidence for and against the Bill as put forward by different bodies throughout the United Kingdom, and I am convinced that those who voted for the measure did so with a full knowledge of all the facts. For people now to complain that Parliament is rushing legislation through on the matter in a hurry is not justifiable. If they were not aware of what has been going on they are themselves to blame. They cannot be alive to their own interests, and I do not think we ought to bother about the representations they are making at this very late hour. I represent a Scottish constituency. The National Union of Farmers of Scotland are, I believe, in favour of the Bill, and I hope, seeing that it has been thoroughly discussed, the Bill will no longer be held up.


The opposition to this Bill at the present stage is based on the ground that the corn merchants have not had an opportunity to properly discuss it. I happen to be Vice-Chairman of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, which unanimously supported the Bill when it had it before it. The measure is also supported by the Farmers' Union and by many other agricultural bodies, and if they have had an opportunity of discussing it, surely the corn factors have had an equal opportunity. I anticipate that an interesting picture pamphlet referring to this Bill has been received by most Members of this House—although many of the copies were seen unopened in the waste paper basket. I cannot understand why the promoters of the Bill have been unable to get the opinion of the corn factors upon it. Personally, I have had considerable correspondence upon it with a corn factor in a very large way of business. It has occupied a good deal of our time, and a few days ago he wrote me regretting that he had been unable to make me see his line of argument, but he added that he quite appreciated the fact that I had taken the matter into full consideration. How can it be said that there has not been sufficient opportunity for discussing this Bill. Yet that appears to be the only reason on which the Third Reading is being opposed. We were told by the hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill in a speech crammed full of argument that people under present conditions do not know exactly what they are buying when they purchase feeding stuffs. I know the difficulty in regard to weight. I myself find great difficulty in finding out the weight of a sack of barley meal. That is one of the things which the merchants who sell try to conceal. This Act will sweep all that on one side. It may cause a certain amount of temporary inconvenience to corn factors, as indeed all changes are bound to do to someone, but I maintain that the trade has had ample opportunity of putting its case before the House and has no right now to send a scare telegram to hon. Members. It must have cost a great deal of money, but that will no doubt be welcome to the Postmaster-General.

3.0 P.M.


I should like to say that the tenour of the telegram is quite incorrect. The matter has had full discussion. This Bill will work for uniformity in the agricultural interest of this country. I cannot see that there is any practical disadvantage attaching to it, and, therefore, I cannot understand why a telegram should have been sent in this way in order to wreck a most useful Bill.


I beg to join in the appeal which has been made to postpone this Bill. I am connected with the corn trade myself and have been inundated with correspondence asking me to do my utmost to prevent this Bill passing into law without further consideration. The corn trade had no idea that directly after the Bill had passed through Committee it would come before this House. I gather that the telegram which I have received has also been sent to other hon. Members, and I need not therefore read it. Undoubtedly there is a very strong feeling against the Bill on the part of the corn trade. We should bear in mind it is one of the most important trades in this country and its views are therefore deserving of consideration before a Measure like this is passed into law. Men who have spent their lives in the corn trade are strongly opposed to the Bill, and I hope that this House will allow the matter to be postponed in order that those who wish to bring their views before it, and who were not on the Committee upstairs, may have an opportunity of doing so. I may point out that it is not proposed that the Bill should come into force until the 1st January, 1923. There is therefore a period of nearly two years in front of us for further consideration, and there is no reason why this Bill should be forced into law. I hope the Third Reading will be postponed.


As one of the promoters of the Bill, I am naturally anxious it should find its way on to the Statute Book. I very much regret that the Minister of Agriculture in Committee upstairs refused to accept an Amendment to Clause 4 which, to my mind, as it stands, is not intelligible, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's representative to-day will allow me to call his attention to that point, and to suggest that when the Bill goes to another place this matter should be carefully looked into, as otherwise I fear the Clause will not be properly construed. What ought to be done is to treat the sale as having been made at the market town where the corn was in fact sold.

This Bill has been thoroughly discussed in the country. It was introduced in the last Session of this Parliament by the hon. Member for Montgomery (Mr. David Davies), and was circulated by him to every authority which was connected with farming or with the corn trade or had anything to do with land. It was before everyone for over a year, until, owing to the luck of the ballot, it was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Lane-Fox). It received the unanimous approval of the National Farmers' Union and their various branches pretty well all over the country, and the approval equally of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, the Central Landowners' Association, the Surveyors' Institution, the Land Agents' Society, and the Agricultural and Seed Trades Association of the United Kingdom, as well as of the Agricultural Policy Sub-Committee. The corn trade have had it before them for more than a year. It has been discussed by them, and the corn trade of Liverpool, particularly, have been in communication with every member of the Agricultural Committee, although they thought so little of the Amendments proposed that, when two or three of that Committee got into communication with them, they did not reply for more than six weeks, while when the Bill came before the Committee not one Member—not even the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division (Mr. L. Scott)—appeared to represent them.

The Bill, really, is extremely necessary. The quarter of wheat to-day may be either 480 lbs., 496 lbs., 500 lbs., 504 lbs., or even 588 lbs. The case of oats is worse. A quarter of oats in different parts of the country may be 304, 312, 320, 330, 336, 378, 380, 384, 488, or 528 lbs. That is perfectly intolerable, and this Bill will put an end to it. Another point which was made by an hon. Member opposite is that we are anxious to see lesser weights put on to our men. A sack of beans to-day weighs 19 stone, and it is too heavy a weight for men to carry on their backs. Injury has been sustained by men having these heavy weights to carry. We feel sure that the tendency of this Bill will be to limit the weight at any rate to 16 stone. That is still too heavy in my opinion, but there is a big gain. Of course, the merchant can put into his bags any weight that he likes, but there is an enormous advantage in the sale of the grain by a recognised standard measure; and there will be the further advantage that we shall have comparable prices in the various markets of the country, and people will know what they are buying.

Captain W. BENN

I only want to say a word or two to explain why I feel it to be my duty to oppose this Bill. It has been represented to me in my constituency that there are other interests besides those of the agriculturists. I do not profess to speak with detailed knowledge, but it seems to me that any interference of this kind would have a seriously detrimental effect upon the import trade. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen may not agree with that, but, after consideration of the Bill and of the proceedings in the Committee, that is the considered view of the traders concerned in that business.


I realise that the opposition to this Bill comes from the ports. First of all we had our slumbers broken this morning by a telegram from Liverpool. Then I come down here and find my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bristol (Mr. Inskip) doing everything he can, not to facilitate the progress of the Bill, but to obstruct it; and then, lastly, we hear an appeal from Leith. I have been profoundly impressed during this week by the subtlety of the Scottish mind in relation to railways among other things, and I am sure that they think there is something behind this Bill which possibly is not going to allow them to go on so smoothly as before. My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Cautley) has just told us of the number of different weights by which oats or wheat is sold. Speaking, not as one profoundly acquainted with the mysteries of agriculture, but as a purchaser of those materials, I am sure that the larger quantity has always been charged against ma, whether or not the measure delivered has quite corresponded thereto. This Bill has had ample opportunities of being considered and understood by the country, but although it is a Friday, and we have had a very heavy week, and the Government Bench, probably in consequence of that, is depleted, we ought to be told what the considered view of the Government is. We are not favoured with the presence of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, but we have on the Government Bench the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for War, who, although the militant representative of the militant section of the Government, knows, I believe, a great deal about agriculture, and I venture to think that he could enlighten us as to the views of the Government on this matter. Whatever the measure may be, we, at any rate, ought to have the opportunity of knowing what those in authority think about proposals that are put before the House, and before the Third Reading is carried the Government ought to tell us what in their judgment is the proper way of selling wheat and other agricultural produce.


I would not have intervened if it had not been for some observations of the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley). He described in detail the great variations in the weight of quarters of oats and wheat all over the country, and pleaded for uniformity. Uniformity is a very fine word, and there is no doubt that we want to be uniform in many ways, but it occurs to me that we should have uniformity, not only in agriculture, but in law. I do not see at all why the charges in law should not be uniform. The question has been raised of the heavy weights that are put on the shoulders of men. Some of us come from Scotland, where the common agricultural produce of the country, oats, is generally turned into oatmeal. The Standard weight of a bag of oatmeal is 2½ cwts. and our men have no difficulty at all in carrying this weight. If the Bill had made it imperative that the weight should be reduced per bag, and no 280 lb. bag should be placed on the back of any man, I should have supported it more wholeheartedly, but it does not make it necessary to limit the weight per bag. As the agriculturists of Scotland are unanimously in favour of the Bill, and my friends the corn merchants at the Port of Leith have not made an effective protest up till now, although they have had time to do so, I must support the Bill.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divide: Ayes, 113; Noes, 18.

Division No. 148.] AYES. [3.18 p.m.
Adair, Rear-Admiral Thomas B. S. Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities) Hunter, General Sir A. (Lancaster)
Adamson, Rt. Hon. William Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln) Jesson, C.
Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Davison, J. E. (Smethwick) Jodrell, Neville Paul
Allen, Lieut.-Colonel William James Dawes, James Arthur John, William (Rhondda, West)
Baird, Sir John Lawrence Dockrell, Sir Maurice Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Edgar, Clifford B. Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)
Barlow, Sir Montague Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon) Kennedy, Thomas
Barnston, Major Harry Evans, Ernest Larmor, Sir Joseph
Barrand, A. R. Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M. Lawson, John James
Beauchamp, Sir Edward Fell, Sir Arthur Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales)
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Forestier-Walker, L. Lindsay, William Arthur
Bennett, Sir Thomas Jewell Forrest, Walter Lyle-Samuel, Alexander
Betterton, Henry B. Gardiner, James M'Donald, Dr. Bouverie F. P.
Blake, Sir Francis Douglas Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John M'Lean, Lieut.-Col. Charles W. W.
Bowyer, Captain G. W. E. Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.) McMicking, Major Gilbert
Boyd-Carpenter, Major A. Greene, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Hack'y, N.) McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)
Breese, Major Charles E. Greig, Colonel James William Magnus, Sir Philip
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Molson, Major John Elsdale
Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A. Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Morris, Richard
Burdon, Colonel Rowland Hall, Captain Sir Douglas Bernard Morrison, Hugh
Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay) Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Widnes) Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.
Butcher, Sir John George Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.) Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)
Campbell, J. D. G. Hinds, John Neal, Arthur
Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K. Hoare, Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. J. G. Newman, Colonel J. R. P. (Finchley)
Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)
Cope, Major William Hopkins, John W. W. Nield, Sir Herbert
Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G. Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert Arthur Waterson, A. E.
Perkins, Walter Frank Seddon, J. A. Wedgwood, Colonel Josiah C.
Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles Smith, Sir Malcolm (Orkney) White, Col. G. D. (Southport)
Polson, Sir Thomas A. Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough) Wignall, James
Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G. Smithers, Sir Alfred W. Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)
Raper, A. Baldwin Stanton, Charles Butt Winterton, Earl
Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel Steel, Major S. Strang Wise, Frederick
Richardson, Alexander (Gravesend) Sutherland, Sir William Young, Sir Frederick W. (Swindon)
Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich) Swan, J. E. Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall) Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)
Robertson, John Townley, Maximilian G. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Rose, Frank H. Turton, Edmund Russborough Mr. Lane-Fox and Mr. Cautley.
Royce, William Stapleton Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.
Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith) Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B. Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Bruton, Sir James Kelley, Major Fred (Rotherham) Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)
Croft, Lieut.-Colonel Henry Page Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M. Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)
Curzon, Captain Viscount Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale) Wilson, Colonel Leslie O. (Reading)
Falle, Sir B. G. Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)
Gaibraith, Samuel Mosley, Oswald TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Hall, Captain Sir Douglas Bernard Pearce, Sir William Mr. Inskip and Sir Henry Craik.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

Bill the read Third time, and Passed.