HC Deb 10 July 1928 vol 219 cc2161-77

I beg to move, to leave out the Clause.

My object is to secure that these charges, if made, shall be made openly. If it be right—and, as the Bill now stands, it is—that a man should give charges on his stock-in-trade and other farm assets, it should be open to anyone who is going to deal with him to know that he has given such charges, so that he may not, by representing that he is in possession of assets that are free when in fact they are not, obtain further credit, leaving the creditors to whistle for their money when they find all the assets charged to one person. Perhaps I may state shortly what this part of the Bill does. It enables a farmer to give either a fixed or a floating charge—and these are the same in principle, because a floating charge ultimately becomes a fixed charge—on, firstly, his stock-in-trade, which includes his livestock, his implements, and all moveable chattels about the farm; and, secondly, on his tenant right, that is to say, any claim that he may have for compensation on any growing crops that he may have, to secure any debt, whether past or future. But the only person to whom the charge can be given is the bank. An earlier Clause provides that these agricultural charges shall not be deemed to be bills of sale, though they are in fact bills of sale, and that the registration shall take place at a most unsuitable place, at the Land Charges Office somewhere in London, of which no one in the country except solicitors ever heard.

The Clause to which I take exception provides that the list of charges and the names of the persons who have given them shall not be published. The Minister says, though I think it may possibly be open to argument, that this will not prevent the trade societies getting a list of the names of persons who have given these charges and passing them on to their customers. I go so far as to say that the Minister by this Bill is putting the farmers in the position of trading dishonestly and into a position against which every trader in the country rose in revolt at the beginning of 1880.

It is important that the House should know what exactly is the position in all commercial transactions of every sort or kind. Until 1878, the mortgage, or transfer, of chattels by deed was perfectly valid even though it was secret, but the trading community very soon ascertained that, as soon as a man became bankrupt, or made a composition of his debts, or had a judgment against him and an execution put in, he was met by a document which transferred his assets, either absolutely or by way of mortgage, to one, or possibly two, preferred creditors. The whole of the creditors who have given credit to the trader, who was apparently carrying on a large business, with his premises full of stock and apparently prosperous and getting credit by the representation that he was carrying on business with these assets, found one creditor sweeping the lot, and they were all left outside. The whole trading community rose in revolt against this and demanded protection. The Act of 1878, which only dealt with absolute bills of sale, made the conveyance of an absolute bill of sale void as against an accepted creditor unless it was registered, so far as the goods remained in possession of the grantor of the bill of sale. That was followed in 1882 by the Bills of Sale Act, which dealt with conditional bills of sale, and produced exactly the same result, that transfer by way of mortgage was void if made secretly and if it was not registered so that everyone should know about it. To carry this principle out, the bankruptcy law is assimilated to it, and the law to-day is that all chattels found in the possession of a bankrupt, or which have been in his possession within three months of the date of the bankruptcy, are held to be divisible among the property of the bankrupt so long as they remain in his possession, carrying out this one principle, which is essential to all fair dealing, that a man shall not carry on a trade and represent that assets are his when he has in fact charged them to someone else by a secret document.

This Bill provides that a farmer henceforth shall be in this position, at any time to charge to a bank all the chattels, all the stock-in-trade and other assets on the premises, although he has not paid for any of them and although he has creditors—corn dealers, cattle dealers, merchants and private debtors who have lent him money. When they come to enforce their debts, they find a preferred creditor who is going to sweep the lot. If the House was full of commercial people, there is no one who would not rise up against this provision that our Conservative Minister is forcing through the House. I use strong language about this. I speak as a tenant farmer of 40 years experience who is fully acquainted with the way the business of farming is carried on, and I state here to the House, in the presence of any Farmers' Union representative who may be here, that the effect of passing this Bill will be to do irreparable damage to the industry, because it will lessen the credit the farmer gets in all directions. I beg of the House to say that if this experiment is to be tried the thing shall be above board, and, if the farmer is to have this power of charging his assets in this way, it shall be done openly and as the Bills of Sale Act requires.

Why do I say it is going to do this serious damage? Who will give credit to the farmer after the Bill passes? Who can? Every farmer, whether he gives this bill of sale—because they are bills of sale—whether he gives this agricultural charge or not, will be treated as though he had, because, although it is true that the registration of the charges may enable some traders who belong to trade protection societies to ascertain whether a charge has been given up to that time, there is nothing to prevent the farmer within a day or two afterwards giving such a charge to the bank, including the very goods he is getting on credit. But what about the people with whom the business of farming is done? Not one of them has ever heard of the Lands Charges Registry in London, and, if he has how can he act on it? I go into the market and want to buy 20 head of cattle. There is a dealer there to sell them to me. Transactions take place on the spur of the moment. A man has given credit for £200 for 20 cattle many times before. Is he going to do it now? How can he do it with any regard for himself? The cattle dealer knows the cattle have to be grazed and will not be saleable for six months.

The corn dealer and the seed merchant are in the same position. I am not suggesting that they will stop credit, because farmers are very honest people. In this country traders give credit under all conditions. The hopeless spendthrift can get credit, but he has to pay 50, 60 and 80 per cent. interest. Even a Russian can get credit from this country to-day. In Russia you have no means of enforcing your debt at all, and it is less than even money that you will not get paid. The invariable result must be, if you maintain the secret charge that this Bill provides, that the terms of credit, with all the risks the merchants and traders have to undergo, will be increased and made much more costly. The dealers and the merchants will be running this very serious extra risk, and they will have to increase their prices in order to compensate them for losses which they must sometimes make. Any- body who has been in this industry will know that nearly all the young people who start are financed and enabled to take up their holdings through money loaned to them either by their parents or relations for the most part. If a man is taking a larger farm and has not quite sufficient capital with which to make a start, some friend, possibly some commercial friend with whom he has dealt, will finance him, because he knows that he is of good character. He also knows that if misfortune comes upon the farmer, causing him to become bankrupt or to compound his creditors, he will share with the rest of the creditors on even terms. How can a man lend £1,000 to a man who is stocking his farm, whether a parent or anybody else, when at any moment he may find himself up against a secret charge by the bank upon every penny the farmer possesses?

There is another case of great injury which I can see to be possible. It is the constant practice in the farming business for a farmer to sell a haystack. He receives payment first, but the haystack is left on his property by the person who has bought it. What about that? Who is going to entrust any farmer under those conditions with the care of a haystack when there is a floating charge for everything the farmer possesses? There is another constant contract that is made in order to enable farmers to grow sugar beet. The sugar factories will advance money for the crop which is to be grown. How can they do that now? The crop remains the property of the farmer, the floating charge covers it, and the bank steps in and sweeps away the lot. Another practice quite common in the farming industry is that in which the seed merchants, particularly the pedigree seed merchants, will send seed to a farmer to grow on terms that provide for the crop to be sold to the seed merchant. Can that transaction take place after this Bill has passed? The crop, while it is growing, remains the property of the farmer. It is covered by the floating charge, the secret charge which is given to the bank. I think I have said sufficient to show to the House that the damage that will be done to the credit of the farmer will be enormous.

There is another point that appeals to me, though perhaps it may not appeal to some hon. Members opposite. This Bill enables the farmer to charge his tenant right and his growing crop. As a lawyer, I tell the Minister that the charge on the growing crops will raise all sorts of complications with mortgagees. The charge of the tenant right is going to be another way of damaging the credit of the farmer. Tenant right only accrues at the expiration of a tenancy. If you are bankrupt in the middle of your tenancy, you lose your tenant right for all practical purposes, unless trustees carry on the farm. At the end of the tenancy all the adjustments between landlord and tenant take place. The arrears of rent that are owing are set off against the tenant right, because the landlord is directly responsible for the tenant right to the farmer. The tenant right, therefore, is an extra security to the landlord. Many and many a rent is loft over in order to suit the state of the tenant's farm. The tenant may have had a bad year or a bad harvest. The landlord knows that the tenant is solvent, or, at any rate, he knows that when the adjustment of accounts comes to be made at the expiration of the tenancy, there is the tenant right to be considered. The landlord, along with other creditors the farmer may have, will have to put on the screw after this Bill has passed. He will not be in a position to give these advantages. Does this House really believe that the banks will ever advance anything to a farmer on a bill-of-sale? This matter will be left in the main to bank managers in small villages and country towns who have no authority, and who have to satisfy their directors in London. Do you think that any substantial credit is ever going to be given to any farmer under these conditions? Is there anything that is likely to compensate the farmer for the withdrawal of credit by all these creditors? To my mind there will be nothing of which to speak.

Has the House any idea of the extent of the credit which farmers have at the present time? It is very difficult to ascertain. What I do know is, that there are about 31,000,000 acres of land in cultivation, that is, arable and good grazing. You may take £10 an acre for stocking the land—that is £310,000,000 of capital. There are 14,000,000 or 15,000,000 acres of what is called rough grazing, but I leave those out of account. I know that there are 400,000 farmers in this country, and within a considerable distance of my home I do not know one farmer who has not got credit on a very extensive scale. I know many farmers—not within reach of my home, because they are small farms where I live—who have been financed in order to start business with sums up to £2,000 or £3,000. I know many of them who owe very large amounts. There are merchants who have large sums, ranging from £20,000 to £100,000, out on credit to finance farmers. It has always been said that the farmer turns over his capital once a year. I do not think that is accurate. I do not think he does it as often as that. I should say the produce of British farms is about £250,000,000 to £300,000,000. I have heard the credit of farmers put at £100,000,000. I do not know, but I am certain from my own knowledge that it is a very large amount of credit which the farmers now get from all their friends, relations, dealers and traders all over the country. Are we going to stop all this for what is to be financed by the banks?

I have proved that we are going to do irreparable damage, and the Minister is going into this with a levity which I regret. He will say that some of the traders' associations have agreed to it. Since first I heard that statement, I have tried hard to find any trader who has agreed to it. I cannot imagine any trader agreeing to it. I cannot understand why he should agree to it, because it must prejudice the position of traders and put them in a worse position. The only way this can be remedied in a very great measure is by withdrawing this prohibition against publication from the Bill, so that, if this experiment is tried, it shall be tried openly and above board, and so that the farmer shall not be put in a position to get secret credit by giving this secret charge. Lastly, I would ask the Minister if he can give any real reason why he is enabling the farmer to pretend that he has not given a secret charge. It is perfectly absurd to suggest that anybody in our country districts and villages can go to London and investigate these charges. If they could, why should not the ordinary publication, which has hitherto taken place operate?


I beg to second the Amendment.

I represent in this Debate the Law Society who have considered this matter at very great length and have come to the conclusion that this particular Clause would be a very great mistake. One does not want to go as far as to say that the whole scheme of the agricultural charge was wrong. That is not my purpose. My purpose is to say that the idea of making this charge practically a secret one is wrong for two reasons. First of all, it goes back on the whole system of the Bills of Sale Acts, which the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) has so lucidly explained and which got rid of so many cases of fraudulent bankruptcy. Secondly, it is wrong because it will not only not increase facilities for credit but will undoubtedly restrict it. As the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead pointed out, a farmer goes into a market and wants to buy £200 worth of stock. The man he is dealing with does not know whether he has not given a charge on every asset that he has got and, though he appears a perfectly prosperous person, has in reality got nothing whatever. What is he to do under this Bill? He cannot refer to a publication in the ordinary way like a bill of sale, but he has got to send somebody up to London or make an inquiry direct himself, and so he must say to the wretched farmer, "No, my dear man, I am very sorry I cannot let you have this. I am going to London next week and will inquire or I will write to a friend in London and get a report." The position is ridiculous.

The Minister said the register was open to everyone's inspection and the only limitation on the publication of what is in the register was that contained in Clause 10 which in no way affected the right of trade organisations, by means of their trade circulars to notify their members of charges made by farmers with whom they might be in trade relations. But see what the Clause says: It shall not be lawful to print for publication or publish any list of agricultural charges or of the names of farmers who have created agricultural charges. Then it goes on to say that persons will be punished for so doing and concludes with the words: For the purpose of tins Section, 'publication' means the issue of copies to the public, and 'publish' has a corresponding meaning. He would be a very rash lawyer who would tell a trade society that they could print a list of people who had given these charges and circulate them to their members. It would be a very nice point of law, but I do not see why anybody who takes ordinary precautions in trade should be put in such great danger of being prosecuted for doing so. "Publication" has a very curious meaning. It has been held that, if you write a manuscript libel on a Member of this House and put it in a manuscript book in the Library so that some Member may take it down and read it, that is publication. I do not know what authority the Minister has for making his statement. I treated it with great respect but, with great deference, I think there may be a great deal of doubt about it. In those circumstances I unhesitatingly support the Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend.


The hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Withers) directed his criticism strictly to the merits of Clause 10, but the Mover of the Amendment went much further and made it clear that his real object was to destroy the machinery of Part II altogether, and, as he had been deprived of his opportunity on Clause 5, he thought the widening of publication under Clause 10 might, to a great extent, achieve his object. I agree. I think that if Clause 10 were not included in the Bill and if there were the widest publication and pillorying in the local Press of those who adopt this new method of credit by means of an agricultural charge, the operation of this system would be brought to nothing. The hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) suggests that these agricultural charges are, in fact, bills of sale, and that by enabling the farmer to enjoy these facilities we shall be putting him into the position of a fraudulent debtor. I suggest that the position under these proposals will be entirely different from that which existed prior to the passing of the Bills of Sales Act. It is really a mis-statement of the case to argue that we are going back to that position.

First of all, these charges can only be given to banks. It is not a question of charges being given to many different people, which I understand was the practice prior to the passing of the Bills of Sales Act. These charges can be given to one or at most two banks. If a charge is given to a second bank we are assured that the first bank will stop down any further advances under the prior charge. The second distinction between the proposed agricultural charge and a bill of sale is that in our proposed scheme the ownership of the property charged will remain with the farmer. The Bill provides the machinery whereby, when the sale of property charged takes place, the proceeds shall be paid into the bank unless there is an agreement to the contrary. That is different from the procedure under the Bills of Sales Act. Perhaps I am not putting the matter in proper legal phraseology, but the ownership, I understand, is in that case transferred to the person who accepts the bill of sale. There is a third very considerable distinction, though this is only a temporary distinction, and that is the provision of Clause 12, that until 1931 none of these charges will be enforceable as against other liabilities except as far as cash has actually been advanced.

The hon. and learned Baronet the Member for East Grinstead has fears lest these provisions will restrict the credit of the farmer. He is also of opinion that it will be unfair to the trader. My hon. and learned Friend thinks that the proposals will be so unsatisfactory to the trader that the trader will be driven to restrict the credit of the farmer. We quite appreciate that there is going to be a certain difficulty during the period of transition, but we hope that the Clause will mitigate that very largely. The fears of the hon. and learned Baronet are not shared either by farmers or merchants, according to the evidence at my disposal. The hon. and learned Baronet is, of course, entitled to speak with authority for agriculture from a certain point of view, but I have to consider those who speak for the organisations that represent both agriculture and the merchant, and I am bound to attach more importance to these organisations than to expressions of opinion from any individuals, however well eqiupped they may be to speak from their own experience. Therefore, I am bound to draw the attention of the House to this conflict of authority, but in no way in depreciation of my hon. and learned Friend.

As to the danger of doing injury to the farmers, we have the opinion of the National Farmers' Union. My hon. and learned Friend wrote a letter to the "Times" criticising these details, and this was replied to on behalf of the National Farmers' Union by Mr. Bobbins. My object is not to deal with the criticisms in detail, but simply to say, on this conflict of authority, that we have the Farmers' Union on our side. As to the trading community, the hon. and learned Baronet said that prior to the Bills of Sales Act they rose in revolt against the then existing system, and he suggested that they will not acquiesce in the continuance of the accommodation now extended to farmers if the existing system is changed. The hon. and learned Baronet says he cannot find any merchant who is happy about these proposals. There, again, I am bound to consider the expression of opinion of the organised bodies representing these merchants. We consulted the more important of them. I have here a letter from Mr. Herbert Smith, who is a gentleman learned in the law and who represents the National Association of Corn and Agricultural Merchants, and the Association of Agricultural Engineers and Implement Dealers. He writes: On the assumption that hanks will use their powers under the Bill in the spirit outlined by Mr. McKenna at the Ministry of Agriculture, the merchants will welcome the Bill because (a) they as merchants will have no reason to refuse to continue granting credit to such of their customers as seek it from them; (b) the banks having more extensive yet simple and economical means of securing future advances, will undoubtedly provide additional facilities; (c) to the extent that farmers avail themselves of these facilities the merchants will be relieved of what is to-day and has been on other occasions a financial anxiety. Now I come to Clauses 9 and 10. In particular, the merchants say that Clauses 9 and 10 of the Bill dealing with the matter of the registration of charges and restriction on publication are just. They should be neither extended nor curtailed. If the merchants who are the most important creditors of the farmers take the view that the provisions of Clause 10 should neither be extended nor curtailed surely that should be enough for the House.


What is the date of that letter?


I am not sure of the date, but I can fix it in this way. It was the day on which we adjourned until the afternoon and failed to keep a quorum in Standing Committee. Mr. Herbert Smith brought that statement to me that afternoon. That is the opinion of the representative of the merchants, who is also a lawyer, and should go far to reassure the House.


Will the Minister kindly explain the object of secrecy. I should have thought the more information there was the better.


The whole object of these provisions, which was discussed at the tripartite conference, was to prevent the undue pillorying of the farmer in his locality. It was felt that that was very undesirable. The merchants prefer to simplify their business by not having to borrow money from the banks for the farmers but to let the farmers borrow the money from the banks for themselves. If anybody is able to publish a list of the farmers who have asked the banks for charges, it may prejudice the success of the scheme. All that the merchants ask for is that they should be in a position to measure the credit of their customers. They can do it in two ways. First, through their trade association. I do not like to express any opinion on a legal point as against that of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Withers), but I am advised that this restriction on publication will not in any way interfere with a trade association sending a circular to its members regarding these charges. I am advised that it only prevents publication to all and sundry. That would be one of the means open to the merchants to obtain information as to these charges, but I do not for a moment believe that it will be the normal method. The much more usual method will be to ask the banks for a reference.


If the interpretation of Clause 10 is that there will be no objection to a trade association circularising its members with a complete list of farmers who have given the banks a charge, what is to be gained by farmers under the Clause? The farmer will go on getting supplies from the merchants, and if the merchant is going to be duly informed by his association that the farmer has given a charge what is the use of having the Clause in the Bill at all?


There, again, I must be guided by the opinion of those who are affected. The farmers thought it was necessary, and the merchants did not think it interfered with their legitimate right to information. They discussed it in detail and the farmers saw a big distinction between this limited power of circularising the members of a trade association and broadcast publication in the "London Gazette." Frankly, I have based my decision on the advice which these two interested parties gave, and the fact that these charges can only be taken by the banks will enable the merchant to have recourse to the banks for information. They could not do that under conditions prior to the passage of the Bills of Sales Act, because there was no way of getting the information. Although I recognise the right of the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead to speak with authority as to the law in this matter, I must be guided by the agreement of the two parties primarily interested.


I really cannot agree with the Mover of this Amendment. He is a Jeremiah. At the present time, if a farmer gives a bill of sale on any of his effects it is known to his creditors. In the second place, is it not the fact that 95 per cent. of the farmers of this country are honest men? Thirdly, is it not the case that the floating charges amongst farmers in this country would probably not amount to 20 per cent.? I was asked to attend a meeting last Saturday in Canterbury, where I had to meet a number of auctioneers and valuers and farmers to discuss this very question, and I certainly agree that I had a very hot three hours but, in the end, the majority were in agreement with the Bill. The only people who differed were the auctioneers, not all of them, and their opinion was—it was also the opinion of the corn dealers—that as far as the big merchants were concerned they would not mind, but where the farmers might suffer would be at the hands of the seller of materials, seeds, cakes and machines in the small villages and towns. That was not the objection to the Bill amongst the farmers themselves so much as to the fact that the local bank manager would have the power to give or withhold a loan, either a fixed or floating loan.

I suggested to the meeting, and it met with general approval, that I should place before the Minister the suggestion that, in regard to loans, both floating and fixed, a consultative committee should be appointed, consisting of three auctioneers and valuers, one farmer, appointed by the National Farmers' Union, and a bank manager, who should act as chairman. Otherwise, the farmers stated, and I think they were quite right, that they would be in no better position as regards the granting of loans than they were before. No one knows better the financial position of the farmer than the auctioneer and valuer in the district. Everyone connected with farming knows that the auctioneer and valuer not only knows the outer life of the farmer but the inner life, what he is worth and his moral as well as his other character. I am confident that if the Minister would suggest to the corporation that a consultative committee should be set up consisting of three auctioneers and valuers, one farmer and one bank manager, as chairman, that a great many of the objections which the farmers have at the present time to this Bill would be removed.

I feel confident that, on the whole, the Bill will be well received by the farming community. The first part of it will be used very little, except where the farmer is compelled to purchase his farm, I was sorry that in the Committee the Minister could not accept an Amendment which was moved by an hon. Member on our side, to increase the 66⅔ per cent. to 75 per cent. If he had been able to do that. I think the object which we are all aiming at would have been achieved and we should have been able to place in the hands of the fanner a financial weapon which would have enabled him to surmount many of the difficulties when he is called upon to purchase his farm. With regard to bills of sale, they are published in a journal which very few people look at. Assuming that every transaction with the banks in regard to these charges, fixed or floating, were published as bills of sale, the creditors and the farmers in the neighbourhood would, perhaps, be no wiser, but at the same time it would arouse a considerable amount of feeling, because one farmer, naturally, does not like his neighbours to know whether he has a floating charge on his property any more than he would like his neighbours to know whether he had a bill of sale on his furniture or to know the amount that he owed to the bank. In the interests of the farmer, in the interests of the merchant who deals with the farmer, in the interests of the auctioneers and of all the parties concerned, it would be very much better to leave the Clause as it is, and I do not think anyone, finally, will be any the worse.


There is considerable doubt as to what will be the effect of Clause 10, Sub-section (4), which states that: For the purposes of this Section, 'publication' means issue of copies to the public, and 'publish' has a corresponding meaning. 10.0 p.m.

It depends on what you mean by the public in a given case. You may have a trading association limited to 50 or 100 members. I have no doubt that in such a case if the matter went to Court, learned counsel defending the association might prove that 50 or 100 members did not constitute the public, but you might have a trading association with a very large membership, and it would be very difficult for learned counsel to establish the argument that in fact the public were not informed by a private circular. It is absolutely essential in view of the statement which the Minister of Agriculture has made to-night, and especially in view of the opinion which has been quoted by him and given by Mr. Smith, with whom I have had considerable consultation, that the right hon. Gentleman ought to make his pledge absolutely categorical, and that between now and the final passage of the Bill through another place, words shall be inserted in the Clause which will make it absolutely certain that a trade association shall have the right to circularise their members with information.


I would point out the significance of Sub-section 3 of the Clause which provides that: No prosecution for an offence under this Section shall be commenced without the consent of the Attorney-General. That seems to me to be the safeguarding part of the Clause. Seeing that those who are litigants are entitled to have the information, there will be no difficulty about it, but to have a widespread publication in the countryside would be a most disastrous thing, and most obnoxious. Without this Clause there is very little value in Part II of the Bill. This is not a political question, and so-long as we have the safeguard which I have quoted I think we may trust the Attorney-General to exercise proper discretion and not give sanction to a prosecution unless it was shown that it was quite a gratuitous way of getting a little stunt in the local newspaper. Those who know the countryside know full well that when the local newspaper goes into the public house or elsewhere in the place, the readers look down the items which relate to other people's affairs. This Clause will stop that sort of thing going on in the countryside. As to the restriction of credit obtained in other ways, I do not think this Clause will operate in that way, but rather the reverse. Instead of going to the one source, the bank, whose business it is to provide credits, when the farmer has to get what credit he can from everybody from whom he buys or to whom he sells, the position is difficult. Very often it means that nobody knows the position. The shopkeeper and the dealer in the country town is quite at a loss to know, and as a result the little market town is becoming a whispering gallery, everybody wanting to know how So-and-so stands. I hope that as a result of this Bill that kind of thing will be stopped.

The hon. and learned Member for East Grin stead (Sir H. Cautley) said that the farmer might sell a stack of hay which was standing on his farm, but that it would still be in his possession and the purchaser would not know whether he would be able to get possession when he wanted it. I am not learned in the law, but I take it that if a man has purchased an article which remains in my possession, I only hold it on trust and no one but the purchaser who has paid for it has a legal claim to it.


I advise the hon. Member not to rely upon that opinion.


I will let it go at that. We ought to allow this Clause to stand, otherwise we might as well abandon Part II of the Bill.


The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Broad) has saved me the trouble of pointing out what was one of the most cogent answers to this difficulty, namely, that any prosecution must have the sanction of the Attorney-General. Nevertheless, the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) is perfectly reasonable. We all mean the same thing about this Clause. There appears to be some doubt about it. My own opinion is that the words as they stand are sufficient but words shall be added before the Bill comes back from another place to make it abundantly clear that circularisation by a trade society of its members shall not be publication within the meaning of the Act.

Amendment negatived.