HC Deb 07 May 1926 vol 195 cc617-20

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN

While I am in favour of the Bill, there are one or two points about which we ought to be informed. Clause 1, subsection (1), says: Subject to the provisions of this Act an auctioneer shall not offer for sale in any market, fair, or mart, in or near which a weighing machine is provided for the purpose of complying with the provisions of the principal Acts, any cattle… I am very doubtful about the words "in or near." It is definitely laid down that no market without a weighing machine may be held if "in or near" another market which has a weighing machine. Those who live in country districts far away from markets where there are weighing machines will find it a. great hardship both to buyers and sellers if certain markets are to be done away with because of the distance from another market which has a weighing machine.

The second point to which I would direct the attention of the Minister is the fact that the Bill provides that the Minister may by order declare that these provisions shall not apply to any market, fair or mart. The present Act—that of 1887—applies to markets in which tolls are at present authorised to be taken in respect of the weighing of cattle, by any corporation or market authority, and apparently this Measure will give the Minister a power which the local authorities have at present. The result might be that while the Minister makes an order the local authority will have to pay, which would be most unsatisfactory for all concerned. My third point relates to Clause 3 of the Bill and the Schedule. This Clause repeals the Act of 1887, as regards the amount of the tolls prescribed. The tolls under that Act were fixed at 2d. and 1d., and under this Bill they are increased to 6d. and 3d. I suggest that this will add to the burdens on agriculture, and seems to impose an unnecessary hardship if the increase is to fall on the producer. I should like to hear an explanation from the Minister on those points.


I apologise to the House for the fact that I was detained elsewhere and that it was not possible for me to be here at the outset of this discussion. The object of this little Bill is to carry out a recommendation of the Linlithgow Committee that an Act should be passed rendering it compulsory to weigh all fat stock before sale, the weights to be exhibited automatically or otherwise in the saleroom, or, where the market is dependent on a weighing machine in another part of the town, announced by the auctioneer from a certificate furnished by the weighbridge operator. That statement really disposes of many of the doubts which my hon. and gallant Friend has expressed.

Brigadier-General BROWN

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman quite appreciates my point. I am not referring to markets in towns, but to little local markets and fairs, which may be a considerable distance from any place where there is a, weighbridge. Will such markets or fairs be allowed to go on, as they have been going on for 100 years, or will they have to be supplied with weighbridges?

12 N.


The law at present is that weighbridges and weighing opportunities are to be furnished except under special exemption by the Minister. That power of exemption is extended under this Bill, and clearly it would not be reasonable to insist upon the provision of expensive facilities in the case of any but regular markets. As to the point about the distance from a market of an existing weighbridge, we must leave that to commonsense administration. In the Act of 1887 it was laid down that the market authority should provide and maintain sufficient places for weighing cattle and should keep therein, or near thereto, weighing machines and weights for the purpose of weighing cattle. I do not think that any practical difficulty will arise from the lack of any definition as to the distance from the market of a weighing machine.

The object of the Bill is to see that there is a fair deal between the two parties to the bargain. At the present time the farmer can only get a proper price on the assumption that all the bidders are equally good and accurate judges of the weight of stock. Therefore, the present system is in the nature of a gamble where the odds are very much against the farmer. I do not think any complaint can be made about the tolls. They are based on our information, and we have sought to bring them into conformity with the general expenses of the markets, and as this Bill has been asked for by the farmers and has been supported not only by the National Farmers' Union but by the Council of Agriculture for England, I have no reason to think that they will object to paying their share of the cost which will be thrown upon the market authorities.


I should like to raise the question of whether this is a suitable time at which to debate this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Clifton Brown) has indicated that there are debatable points in connection with it, and I find that a number of my hon. Friends who are interested in this matter are not here to-day. In the circumstances it is not a fitting moment to deal with this Measure. This proposal is based largely on the views of the Linlithgow Committee but that Committee expressed doubt as to when the time would arise for proceeding with legislation of this kind.


That, I think, was only because it was felt that the farmers' organisations should express their views on the matter and those views have now been expressed.


The Linlithgow Committee said they felt that there were several bodies which ought to express their views before the time would have come for legislation. Having regard to the condition in which we on this side find ourselves, I would suggest, as has been suggested already in regard to Bills, in general, that we might have assurances of latitude at a later stage in regard to reasoned Amendments.


I think it was made clear by the Prime Minister yesterday that we do not propose to press any of these non-contentious Bills through the Standing Committees upstairs until it is possible for all parties to attend and be represented there.


I do not want to make a long speech on this Bill, but it seems to me to be especially a Bill which might be considered by a Committee upstairs. There are a number of points which obviously suggest themselves for consideration and adjustment, but they are Committee points and matters of detail. On the general principle of the Bill I would only say that it is easy to expect too much from a Measure of this kind. Cattle and other stock are not, in fact, sold entirely by weight. Weight is only one of the factors that enter into the question of value when a beast is bid for at auction. There are other considerations, such as the quality of the hide, the proportion of bone and waste, and the quality of the meat which may be expected to result from the slaughter of the animal. Those factors will always come into consideration, and no one practically acquainted with the conditions would expect that animals will be sold in consequence of this Bill by their weight and nothing else. But undoubtedly it is useful to a number of farmers, who have not great experience in judging the weight of animals, which is nominally the factor with which bidding starts, to have the assistance of the weighing machine. So far as that is concerned, it will be a useful Measure, and it is one that might well be sent upstairs to be examined by a Committee when such can be assembled.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.