§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A.
§ [Mr. DUNNICO in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to enable schemes to be made for regulating the marketing of agricultural products, to confer powers upon boards and other bodies to be constituted in connection with, or acting for purposes connected with, such schemes, to establish agricultural marketing funds for the purpose of making loans thereout to the boards aforesaid, to encourage agricultural co-operation, research, and education, and to provide for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid, it is expedient to authorise the making of the following payments, out of moneys provided by Parliament, that is to say,—
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Dr. Addison): This Resolution covers the financial commitments of the Agricultural Marketing Bill, and I think it is fair to say that, seeing the magnitude of the complicated operations of the general scheme of the Bill, this is as modest a demand on the finances of the country as any Bill of its kind has ever made. As a matter of fact, apart from the loans referred to, for which £500,000 is available for England and Wales and £125,000—more than the traditional eleven-eightieths is made available for Scotland—this relatively, as for as loans go, is a small amount, and I think that many English Members will agree with me in recognising that in this respect we have much to envy our brethren across the B order.
The design of the Bill is to set up a number of self-supporting institutions. We contemplate that there shall be agricultural marketing boards which shall conduct their own operations in a sound way, and shall be able to support themselves, and the scheme of this finance is really little more than to help them to bring themselves into being and to cover their initial expenses. In the ordinary way, a marketing board would be able to obtain credit. on the commodities committed to their charge by the producers, but, in order to facilitate their operations, it is provided, in Clause 12, that long-term loans for specified purposes may be made to the boards; it will be noticed, however, that our commitments there are severely limited. It is there provided:
that the amount outstanding of the loans made under this Section shall not at any time exceed in the aggregate £100,000.
And then, in course of time, it will be the practice of boards to finance any capital undertakings out of their savings. As showing how the Clause will operate, take a commodity like milk—by a levy upon their producers the possible scope before these boards is indicated in the figures I am giving. If the National Milk Marketing Board which, I hope, will be created under this Bill, were to make a levy of 1 per cent. upon its members, that 1 per cent. would yield an annual revenue of
£500,000. It is evident, therefore, that a levy of a small amount covering such things as potatoes, which are widely distributed but of great value, will yield a very large revenue for the board. In the ordinary way, of course, the board will have difficulty in starting out. It is on that account that the provision in the Bill, which is covered by the Resolution, as to short-term loans is inserted, but it is there prescribed:
On the approval of any scheme under this Act, the Minister may make to the Board a loan of such amount as he thinks necessary for the purpose of providing for expenses incurred in connection with the initial working of the scheme.
It is quite evident that, having regard to the expense necessary to their operation, the boards will, in the first instance, properly expect that we may give them some help in starting out. These loans will have to be repaid within two years, although it is provided, in special cases, that for a short term they may be free of interest. If we got these boards started as an ordinary business undertaking, they would have no difficulty in raising the necessary finance to carry on their marketing operations, and, therefore, it is not contemplated that, except for the initial period, each business organisation will need any help from the State. As a matter of fact, what we are aiming at is to try to create self-supporting marketing organisations based upon the producers themselves.
I have not heard any material criticism on this part of the scheme, but there was one point which, I believe, the Noble Lord opposite indicates in his Amendment, and that is the liability which may rest upon members in the event of a board going into liquidation—a very proper matter to raise, and clearly we ought to safeguard the interests of the members against a rash or improvident board. I hope that we shall approach these things in this Bill entirely in that spirit, so as to make a businesslike organisation. There is, however—and it is material to the contingent liability of the board—explicit provision in the Bill which, I think, has been rather over-looked, limiting the liability of its members in the event of the liquidation of a board, and if hon. Members will turn to the Second Schedule they will see there that, under paragraphs 7 and 8 the liability of the members is limited accord-
ing to an amount prescribed in the scheme. As hon. Members will remember, the first thing that will happen on the creation of a board is that a scheme is prepared, and before it comes into operation it has to be approved. That, scheme must contain within it a statement of the liability that rests upon members in the event of the liquidation of the board, and that it is limited to a certain percentage of the sales of a particular product during the preceding year. It. cannot be an unlimited liability. That is to say, each member, of course, has his own account with the board, and in this, as in every other respect in the Bill, the rights, privileges, profits, etc., of members correspond precisely to the amount of their transactions with the board. The Schedule says:
In the event of the winding up of a board, every person who, at any time during the relevant period, was a registered producer shall be liable to contribute to the payment of the debts and liabilities of the board and to the payment of the costs and expenses of the winding up such proportion as may be provided in the scheme of the aggregate amount of the sums paid or payable to him in respect of the sale of the regulated product during that period.
If the Committee will look a little further, they will see that the period during which the liability might be incurred is:
(a) in a case where, before the commencement of the winding up, the scheme has been revoked, the year immediately before the revocation of the scheme.
(b) in any other case, the year immediately before the commencement of the winding up.
So that it is limited to one year. It is limited to the proportion of the members' products dealt with in that year, and it is limited as provided in the scheme as drawn up. I think that these limitations on the liabilities of the members have been rather overlooked in some of the criticisms.
We come, finally, to the administrative expenses which this Bill may involve, and there, again, I think I can say that notwithstanding misrepresentations of myself and my frugality, that the administrative scheme is extraordinarily economical. We anticipate that the maximum expenditure which may be involved in administrative expenses under the Bill will not be much more than £40,000. If we can bring in self-supporting marketing boards to enable 1099 the producers to make a better bargain at a trivial expense of that kind, it will be a very splendid national investment. Therefore, I make no apology for costs of that kind, and hon. Members will observe that these expenses are practically incurred in four directions. There is a standing committee which will investigate the applications for loans and so on—a marketing facilities committee. There will be a certain amount of staff required, and so on. There are the expenses of any inquiry which the Ministry may have to make, the expenses attaching to committees of investigation. I hope that hon. Members will recognise the importance of these committees, because a good many of the criticisms of the Bill lost sight of it altogether. They are to be called upon in the initiation of schemes, or in a preparatory period to investigate complaints made by any given body of producers who say they ought to be exempt from the operations of the scheme, and all that sort of thing. A committee is clearly necessary for that, and to deal fairly between different producers.
The same applies, I think, to the consumers' committee which, I hope, will never have to function, but we have to recognise that it may be required, and we propose in this Bill, in setting up a great national organisation, to see that we have some machinery, in the event of their unduly trying to oppress the consumers, for the consumers to be heard. There is one other class of expense, and one only, and in that this Bill differs from the first. The Agricultural Marketing Re-organisation Commission which is referred to in Clause 13—and I may have to defend that proposal in Committee—is, I think, a vast improvement on the original scheme of the Bill. Of course, it is quite evident that in the early days producers will be rather at a loss as to how to shape their schemes, how to get together, and so on. Therefore, it is necessary that we should be able to get together a body of experienced men and others who can frame schemes in order to help them in the early stages in promoting schemes. I regard this as a very great improvement on the first scheme of the Bill, and it will, I am sure, save us many months of time in the preparation of the schemes. It does not in any way 1100 affect the fact that the schemes must be approved by the producers and submitted by the producers themselves. I suggest that, in view of the vast project which this Bill envisages, a Bill making a smaller demand on national funds has never been presented to this House.
This afternoon we have heard the right hon. Gentleman in a new role, appealing for support for an agricultural Measure on the ground that the proposals are not going to cost very much money. We must be thankful for small mercies and must recognise that this is the first Bill which we have had from him in this great agricultural policy which deals in fractions of a million, and it is something to be grateful for that the total is, in his words, only to be £500,000, plus the £125,000 which is to be given to our fortunate neighbours beyond the border. I do not quite understand why they are going to get this favoured treatment, and receive more than the usual eleven-eightieths. No doubt we shall have some explanation of this new precedent when my noble Friend comes to move his Amendment.
There was nothing in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to dispose of the fundamental objections which we on this side took to the proposals on the Second Reading of the Bill. We do not believe that under present circumstances, with the international problem of dumped supplies causing a crash in prices and a disastrous glut, that it is possible to, stabilise prices at remunerative levels without some form of control of foreign supplies. The misgivings which we feel on the details of the proposals have been developed at an earlier stage, but, even if this Bill were entirely harmless in its details, we should not be justified in incurring this great expense unless we were satisfied that it was going to be effective in helping the farmer to get a better price for his products. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us within the last week that expenditure which would be easy and tolerable in prosperous times becomes intolerable in a time like this of grave industrial depression.
It is possible that a well-considered scheme of marketing reform might be productive. It might seem that an improvement in marketing would do much for agriculture in what would be a very 1101 fertile field, and I cannot think of any £30,000 or £40,000 a year which gives a better result than the grant which was given by the Empire Marketing Board to help the marketing of British products. Unfortunately, in this great field for better organisation, this Bill seems to be largely useless. It is based on the delusion that considerably better prices can be achieved by forcing producers into compulsory combinations. It loses sight of the fact that the real trouble has been the glut of dumped produce. The Minister has apparently changed his mind since he introduced the predecessor of this Bill last year. He has now appreciated that he cannot secure stabilisation of prices, which we think alone would justify this compulsion, merely by means of setting up boards with compulsory powers. The provision in the First Schedule making stabilisation of price a condition of the Minister's consent to the formation of a Board and which was in the Bill of last year has now been cut out, and we feel that without that inducement of stabilisation of price, it is not reasonable to compel the producer to sacrifice his liberty. Though this Resolution makes a very wide provision in the preamble for agricultural co-operation, research, and education, as far as I can understand the Bill and the channels through which the grants have to go, none of those objects can be achieved except through the agency of these boards which are only to be brought into being for the purpose of running these compulsory schemes where compulsion is the essence of the proposal, and though there are several conditions which are optional, Clause 4 (a) shows that no board can get any money or be in a position to use it for these subsidiary purposes, unless a compulsory scheme forcing all producers into its mesh is put into force.
I do not think that compulsion will satisfy producers at the present time. I know that it appeals to the Minister as a great step towards the national control of trade. The party opposite have told us on many former occasions that they wish to see all means of production and distribution in the control of the State, and just as the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill is a long step towards the nationalisation of land, this Bill is a step towards the national control of 1102 agricultural marketing, and that is why, no doubt, regardless of the opposition of the producers concerned, the right hon. Gentleman is so anxious to secure its passage. It is very strange how completely indifferent the Minister of Agriculture seems to be to the opinion of the industry which it is his duty to look after. I know too well that some of his predecessors have been criticised by the industry for not being able, on political grounds, to concede all the Measures which have been pressed upon them, and the Measures which have been passed have very often been adjudged by the industry not to go as far as they would wish. I do not think, however, that there has ever before been a Minister of Agriculture who has persisted in legislation which has been overwhelmingly condemned by the organised opinion of agricultural producers as represented by their trade organisations.
There is no doubt that the agricultural industry dreads the imposition of the control proposed in this Measure. I do not think that they would be reassured by what the right hon. Gentleman has told us to-day about the Second Schedule. The proposals for liquidation seem to be extremely disquieting. The Minister told us that there was a maximum, that the regulations would not go beyond the full amount received either from the Board or by marketing under the Board regulations for the period of a year. Surely this is a very drastic proposal. It is a very great departure from the general tendency of Parliament to try and limit liability. Generally, liability is limited by some definite capital subscription, and I think that it is a very serious matter for the agricultural community that their liability as members, against their will too often, of these new Boards, will be limited only by the total amount of their individual business whether actually handled by the Board or merely controlled by the Board regulations.
I feel very strongly about this danger, in view of what happened three years ago when we had to come to this House for a very large Supplementary Estimate, on account of the disaster which threatened the member societies of the Agricultural Wholesale Society. The late Government felt that it was im- 1103 perative in the interests of agricultural co-operation that these member Societies should be saved, and I hope for that reason the Minister will listen sympathetically to the case which my right hon. Friend will put forward for a provision in this Financial Resolution that we shall not put this largely unlimited and indefinite liability on to the members of these societies, but that the State shall make provision in the finance of this Bill for saving them from disaster if these Boards, into which they are to be brought as unwilling partners, should by misfortune, fail. Even if the right hon. Gentleman can meet us on this particular point it will only be an alleviation. It will not remove what seem to me to be fundamental objections to any such proposal for compulsory powers under present circumstances. I think the producers are right in their fears and that what this Bill will do will be to tie the hands of the British producers so that overseas competitors may pick their pockets.
No. They can deal with overseas competition by adjusting their prices. If their prices are to be made rigid, in accordance with doctrinaire theories from the other side of the House, it will throw open the door wide to far more disastrous competition than now exists. It is not merely or primarily on the details of the Bill that I base my opposition to this Financial Resolution, but it is because at this time of financial crisis, about which we had very grave warning only last week from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we are less than ever justified in facing this speculative and unwise expenditure.
§ Major - General Sir ROBERT HUTCHISON
I do not quite take the view just expressed by the right hon. Gentleman, although I agree with a certain amount of what he has said. As regards the winding-up of any boards, it is only fair that any loss should be borne by the State. In organising the boards it is proposed to compel the minority—I presume the system will not be introduced unless the majority wishes it—to come in, and it would be funds- 1104 mentally unjust that they should have to sell their produce through a board which the majority wishes to be set up and should also have the implied liability which might arise if and when the board is not successful. Therefore, there is a good deal to be said for the Amendment which has been put down by hon. Members above the Gangway, demanding that some safeguard should be inserted by the State if and when these experiments, because they are experiments, are not successful.
I listened with interest to what the Minister of Agriculture said in introducing the Financial Resolution, but he did not clear my mind on one or two points. The Financial Resolution takes power to devote the money to "any Act of the present Session." Does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate anything other than the present Bill? It is a widely drawn power which he seeks and may apply to other Acts of the Session. The money is to be employed to enable schemes to be made. I have not heard how the schemes are to be initiated. The Bill lays down that a scheme shall not be initiated unless the majority of the producers wish to have the scheme. Does the Minister of Agriculture contemplate going to the producers and asking them to initiate a scheme, or is he going to appoint a commission or a committee to draw up a scheme and then canvass the producers as to whether they are in favour of the scheme? How does he contemplate introducing the scheme? I can see the possibility of a waste of money in drawing up schemes for a great many commodities such as are recorded in the Schedule; schemes which cannot be successful.
The right hon. Gentleman is going to devote his energies, if such be his intention, to drafting embryo schemes, by means of a committee or a commission, a great many of which could not be successful. Therefore, I should like to know how he is going to initiate the schemes. If and when a scheme has been prepared is he going to spend money on agents who will go round to the various producers in the capacity of propaganda agents? If so, a great deal of money may be spent which will not have a remunerative return. I understand that commissions will be set up by the Minister. Are the producers to have any power in 1105 the election of those who are to sit on the commissions, or are they to be purely nominated persons in the first instance? It is very difficult to introduce a scheme such as is laid down in the Bill. If we are to have schemes of this sort to deal with agricultural produce, it seems to me that we must have compulsion in some form or other. I hate the idea of compelling anyone to come in and to sell their produce through a board—that is a direct violation of Free Trade—but our experience shows, especially in connection with the Hop Board, that schemes of this sort will break down unless there is some form of compulsion. The question arises how many are you going to compel? To what extent are you going to demand a majority in order to bring in a scheme?
It is certainly my view—I do not know how many of my hon. Friends on these benches share the view—that if you are to have schemes of this sort you must have some form of compulsion. That being so, it ought to be the business of the Minister to limit and concentrate his efforts on things that are possible rather than on things that are not possible. Thereby he might get success. I do not see why he should not get success in some directions. In dealing with such matters as wheat production, milk, potatoes, etc., it would be better if we had some form of board controlling the particular product, but if these schemes are to be successful there must be a tremendous amount of approval from the producers, otherwise you get dissatisfaction on the part of the producers, who might feel aggrieved that they are being driven into this thing, whereas they might think that if they had been left to sell their own produce it would have been very much better. The schemes ought to be concentrated on one, two, three or four things. To go forward with the long list of produce that is enumerated in Schedule 4, such as milk, potatoes, hops, wool, cereals, cheese, cattle, sheep, pigs, eggs, poultry and fruit and to produce a scheme for each, is asking for failure at the start.
Speaking with respect to the particular commodity of which I have knowledge, I can assure the Minister that he will find it extremely difficult to apply his scheme to any form of cereals. I am convinced that he can never apply it to barley. The 1106 only cereal to which he could possibly apply it would be wheat, and only then after developing a standard type of wheat, or one or two standard types, which might be stored in bulk and dealt with by the board. The Minister will find it extremely difficult to deal with cereals, store cattle, poultry, eggs and, perhaps, fruit. It is perfectly clear that in order to get any success there must be a large body of agreement. I do not want the money, which we can hardly spare, to be wasted in useless efforts on schemes that are not likely to be successful. I want the Minister to concentrate his attention and the attention of the Committee, when we reach the Committee stage, on feasible schemes, and to drop the others out of the Bill. If he continues with the wide range of produce scheduled in the Bill he will attract a very large degree of opposition in Committee. A declaration from the Minister on the Financial Resolution on this point might help the Committee in dealing with the Bill. He might state that he intends to concentrate on one or two things and to leave the others over at the present time. In that way he might concentrate the views of those in the industry and get some agreement which would lead to a constructive Measure.
It is obvious to anyone who studies this type of marketing that the main argument against touching anything that is imported, say, from Belgium, Holland, Denmark or elsewhere is that: "You must not touch it, because it would interfere with the principle of Free Trade," but immediately we start compulsion we touch Free Trade. When this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament it will inevitably produce a demand by those who are compelled to sell their articles through the boards—
I do not want unduly to restrict the Debate, but I think the hon. and gallant Member's speech is more suitable for the Second Reading of the Bill, or for the Committee stage. This is a Money Resolution, and we must confine ourselves within reasonable distance of the financial aspect of the Bill.
§ Sir R. HUTCHISON
I will not pursue that matter further. My desire is that any money that we allocate shall be properly spent and bring good value.
1107 When we have spent money in producing schemes for the marketing of goods, we immediately come up against the marketing moans which exist at the present time. There are the merchants and auction marts that deal with these commodities. I see nothing in the Bill that will deal with their hard cases. These people are paying their taxes and actually paying money that is to be devoted to this Bill. In my country there are auction marts, with large buildings and fine organisations. Are you going to absorb them? It seems to me a little hard, when you are spending money to produce means which will deprive them of their livelihood, that you should not do something for them. Some of the money which we are voting to-day should go in this direction, otherwise you will do a great injustice to people who have built up their business for generations and who have stood by the agricultural community. They should have some consideration.
The Money Resolution demands careful consideration. We want further information from the Minister of Agriculture as to what he proposes to do in regard to the initiation of schemes and the number of products which will be dealt with. So far as Scotland is concerned it is perfectly right that a larger sum than eleven-eightieths should be given, because we have been the pioneers in agriculture for generations. If there is one place which deserves help in this matter it is Scotland, where there are wide open areas, and I am glad to see that £125,000 is allocated, which is rather more than our share. I hope the Minister will apply himself to the two questions: the initiation of schemes and the number of products. If he does that he will remove the opposition of some of us to the more embracing character of the Bill and take away the feeling that it includes many things which really should not be found in a Bill of this kind. If and when we get into Committee it will be the duty of everyone to try and deal with what is undoubtedly a difficult problem in a really workable Measure.
§ Mr. PERRY
In supporting the Money Resolution, I should just like to join issue with the hon. and gallant Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison). I have not yet heard a case made out for this 1108 increased grant to Scotland, and I am hoping that during the Debate some effort will be made to stand up for the English side. I am getting increasingly suspicious of the coalition of hon. Members opposite and hon. Members from Clydeside on this side of the House. Whenever we have a Debate on Scottish affairs hon. Members from Clydeside and hon. Members opposite are closely locked together in an effort to get as much as possible out of the English Treasury. I cannot concede the point that Scotland should be regarded as the pioneer in agriculture, although I am perfectly willing to admit that they have captured the seat of English Government. Some of us regret that very much, but having surrendered in that direction I think we should be even more reluctant still to see them getting any more of our money.
I welcome the statement of the Minister that other points will be considered in regard to the composition of these marketing boards when the Bill comes before the Committee. I was interested by the observations of the right hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) in his objections to these marketing boards. When we discussed the establishment of marketing schemes under the Coal Mines Act the main objection of hon. Members opposite against them was that they would mean dearer coal for the consumer. This afternoon we have been told by the right hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds that any idea that these marketing boards will get a better price for the producer is quite a delusion. If that is so I hope we shall hear no more about dearer produce to the consumer. I say quite frankly to the Minister that one of the objections we have at the moment to the Bill, and which we hope to see removed in Committee, is that he might be placing great powers in the hands of these boards. We supported the Bill on Second Reading, and are also supporting the Financial Resolution, but there are many important points which will have to be dealt with in Committee by which we hope to be able to protect the interest of the consumers.
The point that should any of these boards prove a failure and have to be wound up the liabilities are to be met by the members of the board should be taken into consideration with another point, and that is that if these boards are to have these powers it is not un- 1109 reasonable to assume that they may also possibly make profits, and I suggest to the Minister that it is quite possible to devise some scheme whereby a sinking fund, or a charge upon profits made by a Board, would provide for the liabilities of a board which has to be dissolved. I assure the Minister of Agriculture that whilst supporting this Money Resolution there are still important points connected with the Bill which we hope will be thrashed out in Committee.
In speaking on the Money Resolution I desire to say that I am not an enemy to the general principles of the Bill, however gravely one misdoubts the results which may accrue in trying thus to market certain agricultural products in this country. In the debate on the Second Reading the hon. Member for Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) said that there was too much of the Minister in this Bill. There was great justification for his saying that. He made a further remark that the Minister wore elastic-side boots. When you look at the Money Resolution, and, in particular, at the words in paragraph (e):payments into each of the said funds of amounts equal to any sums from time to time written off the account of its assets in accordance with the provisions of the said Act;it would appear that the elastic-side boots are very elastic indeed. That may mean that if these boards incur bad debts, as they undoubtedly will in a time of falling commodity prices, this £500,000 may not be a fraction of a million pounds but may mount into millions of pounds. In Clause 5 of the Bill, Sub-section (2), it would appear that these boards may not only incur losses but are able to incur the maximum loss. The words are:Any scheme may empower the board—to lend to any registered producer sums not exceeding the amount which the board estimate that he will receive from the sale of any quantity of the regulated product produced or in course of production by him;Anyone who has tried to grow cereals knows that in some cases there may be a fall of nearly 30 to 40 per cent. in commodity prices in a year. Hence, if in the course of production the farmer estimates his crop and the 1110 board is going to lend money on his estimate there is a double danger of the produce not only not realising the amount at a time of falling prices, but also of the produce itself being overestimated. We have only to look overseas to realise the difficulties of some of the big pools in cereals owing to the fact that they have advanced too large an amount. There is another danger to face owing to the general tendency of agricultural world-production. Wherever you go there is a glut in cereal production which cannot be turned to human consumption. One obvious market waiting for this glut is the livestock market, and there is no country so capable of producing livestock as this country, and possibly there is no form of agriculture to which this Bill could be so well applied as the products of livestock. If the gluts of cereals are going to be brought to this country as livestock products without any protection it will mean a general cheapening of livestock products coming into this country, and if we are going to lend money to producers against their estimated sales of livestock there is a grave danger, if there is no means of regulating prices, of an immense fall in prices of these commodities.
One cannot possibly tell where the liabilities of this £500,000 are going to end. If it is so difficult and doubtful for the producer, who in many cases will be compelled, and perhaps rightly, to come into the system of marketing, there is also the danger of a marketing board or a co-operative company being wound up. The management on the board is therefore absolutely vital. Hence I support the first Amendment on the Paper. I am against the whole principle of limited liability companies, for I am always Tory enough to believe that property should not be divorced from responsibility. But the responsibility in this case is being taken out of the hands of the producers and put into the hands of the State, and the State should therefore bear some responsibility in the case of the board being wound up. As the hon. and gallant Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison) has said, this Bill, in applying itself to a specific evil, is attempting to gather up the whole area of agricultural production. Co-operation is grop- 1111 ing in this country and my chief objection to this Bill and its Money Resolution is that it envisages agriculture as if it were as a sort of Mercator's projection, distorted in some cases and unexplored in others. I cannot believe that, as it stands, we should allow it complete freedom unless we consider agriculture as a relief map and unless we take sections in detail together with the whole course of our agricultural study.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I certainly do not think that the amount which this Resolution will vote for Scotland for the purposes of granting loans to boards is too large. I question whether it will be sufficient for the needs of Scotland. I regard it as a reward of merit rather than anything else. I agree with what was said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Montrose Burghs (Sir R. Hutchison), that Scottish agriculturists are pioneers. We sent Scottish farmers to Essex to train English farmers. The reason that more money is being given proportionately to Scotland is that in Scotland, particularly in connection with co-operation, we have also been pioneers. We have many co-operative "pools" and societies in Scotland who can use and absorb this larger sum, and I think that will be the reason that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will give this increased amount for Scotland. With regard to what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness), I think it is right to point out that this Bill has nothing whatever to do with foreign imports. It does not purport to deal with that; it purports to deal with internal marketing, and, to be fair to the Government, we must accept it on that basis. I think the House would have rejected the Bill at once if it had contained provisions for control of imports, because we must regard the inflow of imports as a safety valve to prevent the consumer being exploited.
I assume that the Minister's purpose in regard to this Money Resolution is to make it elastic enough to meet the demands of the Bill in the form in which it may emerge from the Committee, more or less as an agreed Bill, or at least in the form in which the Committee allows the Bill to come again before the House.
1112 I should like to ask the Minister to explain whether he is satisfied, for example, that the Money Resolution will be sufficient to cover the provisions for transport. In Clause 3 (a) of the Bill reference is made to the powers of a board to transport the produce. This is very necessary for the small cultivator. Unless his vegetables and other produce can be collected at some convenient point, he will lose the benefit of the scheme. One could imagine that a system of transport might mean a very large outlay if it is done without proper skill and without bringing a sufficient number of producers within its orbit. I should like an assurance that the Resolution will be sufficient to cover all the transport charges that may emerge from any of the schemes. With regard to the compulsion of minorities, I should like the Minister to explain what he means by "a substantial majority," as that has an indirect but a pertinent bearing upon finance. The term which is used in Part I of the First Schedule of the Bill is, "A substantial representation of the producers," with regard to number and the quantity of produce. There are some of us on these benches who have a great aversion to the idea of compelling a minority. I do not think you will make this Bill a success unless you have the good will of the producers, and I question very much whether you are going about it in the right way by attempting to compel them.
I pass to the other question, which is of great importance, and which was dealt with by the Minister in his speech, namely, that of the liability of the producers. I have taken a considerable share in supporting co-operative effort in Scotland, and I have been disappointed, if I may say so, in the speeches which the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister of Agriculture, has delivered on this Marketing Bill by the absence of any commendation of co-operation or any undertaking that he intends to use the existing co-operative agencies for the purposes of the Bill. I do not want to put the matter too high. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Perry), in the last discussion on this Bill, in answer to questions which were put to him, said he was prepared to wipe out of existence all the co-operative agencies if they stood in the way of this Bill. I do not believe that the Minister of Agriculture would endorse that state- 1113 ment; I should rather hope that he would put it in this way, that he is prepared to utilise the co-operative agencies in so far as they exist as agents in promoting the schemes that he has in view in this Bill.
But I am not content with that. If he is to safeguard the liability of the producers, he must make it an inherent part of every scheme that it will be upon a co-operative basis. Imagine how a scheme of this sort with regard to any of the items in the Schedule would be regarded in Scotland, if the scheme is to be put to a Scotsman, of all people, as one of unlimited liability, or liability even to the extent shown in the Second Schedule of the Bill. What I think has been clearly proved by experience in Scotland is that producers may be willing enough to go into co-operative schemes where they know exactly beforehand what the extent of their liability would be in the event of loss or winding up, but they will be very chary of coming in where the liability is unlimited.
Apparently, according to the Schedule of the Bill, the greater the advantage they take of the scheme, the greater is the call that may be made upon them in the event of winding up. If each of these schemes were upon a co-operative basis, and each producer were asked to take so many shares in the society proportionate to the amount of business which he may do with the society, and then in the event of winding up his liability would be definitely limited to the uncalled capital of the shares which he holds, I suggest that that would be a very much better method than the method of the Bill. I part company at once with my hon. Friends above the Gangway who, in all innocence, would like to ask the State to relieve the producers of any losses on these undertakings. I think it would be impertinent that we should expect the State to relieve producers of any losses. I think, putting the proposition broadly, that every one of those schemes ought to be worked upon a sound commercial basis upon the same lines as any co-operative society of which we have experience; that, in the very first few years of the existence of one of those schemes, the directors should put so much to reserve against loss, so that, in the event of winding up, there will be a reserve fund upon which to draw.
1114 With regard to machinery, which of course has an immediate impact upon the question of expense, no doubt the Bill is overloaded. I would omit Clause 7 and Clause 10 without any qualms whatever. Clause 7 sets up a consumers' committee consisting of a chairman and six members, and a committee of investigation consisting of a chairman and four members, and Clause 10 proposes to set up an agricultural marketing facilities committee for England and another one for Scotland. I say those committees are unnecessary. What about the Food Council which already exists? Are its functions not sufficient to cover any of the operations of those boards and to safeguard the interest of the consumer? As to the marketing facilities committees, there are Departments of Agriculture for England and Scotland which are quite capable of performing the functions which are proposed to be allotted to those new bodies. If the Government intend to push this Marketing Bill through, they will only do it if they unload the ship of many of the committees and commissions with which it is overburdened. They will also reduce the expense. There is power taken in Clause 14 to remunerate each of the chairmen of those committees. There will be some nice fat sobs under the Bill. If that is one of the minor objects of the Bill, I think it ought to be discarded. In Clause 14, not only the chairman is remunerated, but each member, and there are salaries of officers and the agents and the servants, all these without number.
If the intention is to bring the producer nearer to the consumer and thus abolish unnecessary middlemen, the Bill, on the contrary, proposes to replace what may be a superfluity of middlemen by an avalanche of officials, and the profits at present being absorbed by middlemen will be eclipsed by the expenses of all those numerous boards of officials. If producers are to get a greater share of profits, then obviously under this Bill it is the taxpayers who have to foot the Bill and not the producers. I say that each of the industries representing products dealt with by the various schemes ought to bear the expense of running their own concern so that the general taxpayer will have to contribute to a very minor degree. With regard to the proposal that there should be a com- 1115 mission set up for each organisation, I suggest that that part of the Bill might well be dropped in order to save expense. One can foresee that this Commission, when set up, will busy itself in framing schemes which may never be required, in going round among the various producers and endeavouring to persuade them to come into the various schemes. What is more important than organisation of that sort is to use the existing organisation. I suggest one point to the Minister for his consideration. In connection with the promotion of co-operation and marketing, why ought he not to use the agricultural colleges which exist in Scotland? We have three of them doing first-class work, though not work in connection with co-operation and marketing.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Johnston)
There is the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I am aware of that society, but the Minister might do a great deal in promoting co-operation and marketing amongst the farmers by using the agricultural colleges. The money which it is proposed to spend in making grants to that particular society, or other commissions, would be better spent in education. I will give one classic example. In Denmark, before starting co-operation, they used money for education in co-operation. They did that for some ten years before they attempted to set up a single cooperative scheme. They put the horse before the cart, instead of doing what is proposed here—putting the cart before the horse. They educated the farmer in the matter of co-operation, and such education was widespread before the farmers were asked to co-operate. Some of the money which is to be earmarked under this Resolution should be used for education.
The Committee will notice that in the title of the Bill education is mentioned, but one searches the Bill in vain for any expenditure of money upon education. The Committee may have noticed recently two letters from Sir Horace Plunkett which have appeared in the "Times." They have particular reference to this Bill and to the question of co-operation. The Committee will remember the 1116 splendid work which Sir Horace did in Ireland in promoting marketing and in setting up a system which was an example to the world. In that system there was no compulsion whatever. Nor is there any compulsion in Denmark. What they have relied upon there is entirely the spirit of good will. You must have the desire to co-operate before you can have success in co-operation. Accordingly, I can foresee much difficulty in making this Bill a success unless the Government take steps to secure that good will.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
I think the speech to which we have just listened one of the most severe condemnations of the Resolution. It will be very interesting to notice exactly what action the hon. Member takes during the various stages of the Bill. I do not wish to go into the general question, but rather to ask the Government certain specific questions on this Resolution. The first part of the Resolution is very cumbrously worded:That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session. … to encourage agricultural co-operation, research and education.There is extraordinarily little in the marketing scheme that deals with the encouragement of co-operation, research or education. Why are those words in the Financial Resolution? Are they governed by the general phrase "That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session"? Are those words there to cover some new Bill which is to promote real co-operation—which this Bill does not do—and to deal with the making of grants for research and education? There is nothing about those two objects in the Bill. If there were I should raise at once the question of the overlapping which must come about if the moneys under this Resolution are to be used for promoting research and education and the like—the overlapping between grants that can arise under this Bill and grants which will be made to the Ministry of Agriculture in England and the Department of Agriculture in Scotland by the Development Fund and the Empire Marketing Board.
I am certain that we shall get into inextricable financial confusion if we are to have wide Financial Resolutions and a series of grants under different Bills and under different headings and differ- 1117 ent accounts to the Ministries for identical purposes. It is high time that there was a straightening out and consolidation of these grants so that we may know exactly what the Ministry of the Department of Agriculture are spending under headings of this kind. I question very much whether money under this Resolution is to be used for the improvement of marketing of a kind which is justified when the Government is cutting down the Empire Marketing Board and particularly its scientific activities, that is if the money is to continue to be paid out of the Empire Marketing Board Fund for the domestic purposes of the Ministry of Agriculture in the direction of marketing which may occasionally have some experimental value but not for the main intention of the grants, which is the development of real scientific research to deal with pests and various problems of agriculture. What is the research and what is the education that is covered by these words in this paragraph?
I want to ask a question in regard to paragraphs (a) and (b). When we were discussing the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill it was perpetually stressed by the Government that it was most undesirable to separate the money between England and Scotland, that though in practically every Act of Parliament and every act of administration the agreed ratio by which Scotland received money from the central Exchequer was in the proportion of eleven-eightieths to sixtynine-eightieths, we were told that in this matter it was essential that the fund should be treated as one and that there should be no particular allocation. Take a particular case into consideration. It is common knowledge that every day large consignments of milk come into London from one of the most celebrated Scottish farmers' co-operative societies. It seems to me that you will get immediately into inextricable confusion. I am not at all sure that it is desirable to have these two separate funds. There are English commodities sold in Scotland, especially in the spring, and there are periodical imports into England from Scotland. The attempt to organise the marketing and the pool and the board on strictly nationalist lines is probably a very retrograde step.
The next thing I want to ask is, what really is the meaning of and what is 1118 the amount involved in paragraph (c) of the Resolution? In moving the Resolution the Minister made no attempt whatever to justify or explain that paragraph. We have had no estimate of what the possible liability under it may be. In the Bill it is very difficult to see exactly where this paragraph comes in. At any rate, to-day we are being asked to allow payments over and above the £500,000 and £125,000 to be made into the funds of any one of these boards or other bodies "of amounts equal to any sums from time to time written off the account of its assets." That may mean almost anything. It depends very largely on the system of accounting. Before any Financial Resolution in connection with any Bill is passed by this Committee the Minister ought at least to tell us what amount is involved. The maximum amount under each head should be stated in accordance with the regular practice of Parliament. Where that is not possible it is essential that the Minister should give an estimate of the total amount.
Similarly, in paragraphs (d) and (e) there are undefined liabilities. I think the last speaker made it clear that the whole machinery of the Bill will involve an entirely new set of officials, of paid chairmen, of organisations with their clerks and their offices and all the rest of it up and down the country, and inevitably it is all going to be on a very large scale. The right hon. Gentleman is going to attempt to form these many boards, covering practically the whole country and a wide range of products. He cannot justify his proposals on the ground that they are experimental. He has put into the Schedule of the Bill practically the whole of agricultural produce. When we translate into action, in relation to cereals, the proposals in paragraph (e), I presume that the Minister intends to set up elaborate organisations throughout the country so that every grower of oats will be brought into an oat pool. Similarly the wheat growers will be brought into a wheat pool, the barley growers into a barley pool, and so on.
All that means a very large amount of public money to expend in persuading people to come into organisations which, on present showing, they are very reluctant to enter. My Noble Friend the 1119 Member for Basingstoke (Viscount Lymington) in an admirable speech put his finger on the real weakness of this Financial Resolution and one of the essential weaknesses of the Bill. On what ground does the Minister justify his assumption that even under paragraph (a) of the Resolution, £500,000 is going to be anything like the sort of sum necessary in maintaining and buttressing up one of these marketing boards in the present state of the world, particularly if he accepts the axiom of the hon. and gallant Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison) that Free Trade is to be inviolable? Given the principle of free imports into this country, given falls in world prices, given gluts in some of these commodities, can the Minister undertake that these boards which by Government action you are going to compel minorities to enter, will be guaranteed by this provision, the kind of assistance which will prevent the most frightful crashes? Is this the kind of guarantee which will be required in connection with all these various pools including milk, vegetables, meat, wool, and other commodities? I do not believe it for one moment.
When we allude to these points, the Minister says "potatoes." He always takes the most favourable example, as if you could argue from hops and potatoes to all these other articles. You cannot do so. It is in regard to the other commodities that the Minister is going to experience the greatest difficulty. But even as regards potatoes, if it is true that, on the average, we produce 90 per cent. of our total requirements in Great Britain, let us remember that there are years in which the bottom is knocked out of the potato market by a small glut in a country like Holland. That happens periodically—not frequently, but now and again. There is a glut for climatic reasons and, usually, it coincides with a glut of the home produce. We all know what happens in our market. However much you organise internal marketing, what happens when there is even a comparatively small glut, is that the price runs down to a far greater extent than would be expected from the extent of the glut. It is a common phenomenon of the law of supply and demand that a slight excess supply upsets the price to a fan- greater extent than would be expected, and vice versa a slight scarcity will suddenly 1120 raise prices. Situated as we are, as regards the importation and marketing of agricultural produce in this country, the market is liable to be violently oscillated, particularly in regard to crops such as potatoes and the like. It is particularly in reference to those crops that you may get in one year a necessity for buttressing up one of these boards which will swallow up your £500,000 in a few weeks.
I believe that the financial consequences of the Government undertaking to impose this new plan of pool marketing, on the producers of this country, in the present state of the world and the extent of the financial responsibility, aye, and the moral responsibility involved have not been faced, and that the figures presented in this Resolution are quite illusory and are not founded upon a real comprehension of the nature and extent of the problem. If this Bill becomes law, in anything like its present form, we shall be faced with immense demands—demands fur greater than this Resolution indicates—upon the British taxpayer. The Chancellor's warning of last week will have been completely in vain, because the right hon. Gentleman the Minister will have thoughtlessly committed the House of Commons and the country to a policy, the end of which he has not begun to see.
§ Sir HARRY HOPE
The House of Commons is being asked to vote money for a very novel purpose, namely, to set up collectivist marketing organisations for agricultural produce. The foundation stone on which this proposal is based is compulsion, and I wish to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary one important question on that subject. They have both instanced potatoes as a product which can usefully be brought into the scope of this Measure. Is it proposed that if, say, 100 small growers with holdings of two acres each, in any district, vote for the setting up of a compulsory pool they are to have equal voting power with, perhaps, 50 or 100 large growers who are farming from 50 to 100 acres each. I know that, as regards Scottish agriculture, the main quantity of our potato supply is grown by large growers, and I think that system operates all over the country. Are 100 small growers, of two acres each, to have the same voting power? Are they to be considered of the same value as an equal number of growers of, say, 100 acres each, or are we to follow the method 1121 applied in company law under which a man has voting strength according to the number of shares which he holds? I know that in Lincolnshire, which provides the chief competition against Scottish potatoes in the London market, there are growers who farm 500 acres or 1,000 acres. These are business men, able to conduct their businesses in every respect. Are they to be considered as having only the same voting strength as small growers?
I submit that in the First Schedule to the Bill the phrase, "substantially representative of the persons who produce" should be more carefully worded, and I ask the Under-Secretary to give us some explanation of what the words "substantially representative" mean. If this scheme is to be a success, it is necessary to win the support and confidence of the producers, and if large farmers, whether in Scotland or England, are to be in a position of being out-voted by large numbers of smallholders on a matter affecting their business in this way, it will be a retrograde step as regards the conduct of agriculture. I think that the Minister of Agriculture and the Under-Secretary of State hardly understand what they are proposing. They say that there is to be a cattle or sheep pool, if a majority of persons "substantially representative" of the producers desire such a pool, and that compulsion is to be put upon everybody else to join it. Consider what happens. If a man is under compulsion only to sell his cattle or sheep when the pool tells him to do so, what effect is that going to have in a country like ours? We have changes in the weather, sometimes causing droughts in counties or in parts of counties, which would prevent the farmer keeping his cattle until the time when the pool tells him he is to market them. It is essential that producers of stock shall have power to market their stock when the supply of food, whether of roots in winter or of pasture in summer, necessitates them doing so.
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to benefit the agricultural industry, he ought to cut compulsion out of the Measure altogether. If he were to devote this money to the encouragement of co-operation, I have no doubt that co-operation would be taken up by the men who want it, and that they would make a success of it. But to put compulsion upon potato growers, who can manage their own business far better than any 1122 officials could do it for them, or upon stock-raisers to prevent them marketing their stock at the time when nature demands that they should market it, is taking the worst possible step for the industry. Therefore, I ask the Minister, respectfully and earnestly, if he cannot strike compulsion out of the Measure altogether, to limit the compulsion to such an extent that those practical difficulties and hardships which I have indicated will not arise.
§ Major MUIRHEAD
Several speakers on this side of the Committee have raised a question which we consider vital, and that is the necessity—in our view the absolute necessity—of coupling with the provisions of this Bill some form of restriction on foreign imports. That point has been adequately stated, and I do not propose to deal with it any further at this stage. After all, the fact that one thinks that a Measure would be very much better if coupled with something else does not prevent one considering the actual Measure itself. One may argue that a judicious marriage produces the happiest results, but that is no reason for condemning out of hand the condition of singleness. I myself wish to take the Measure as it stands, without considering how such additions as the control of foreign imports might improve it, and to deal with one or two points arising on the terms of the Bill itself. The Minister cannot complain at the reception which this Measure received from the House on Second Reading. Although we pressed our points, and shall continue to press them, with regard to foreign countries, there is a disposition on this side of the Committee to consider the Bill as fairly as we can, and to put our finger, if possible, on any particular merits which it may possess.
When it comes to a question of a certain sum of money being voted to a certain object, it is no good taking out the plums and saying, "Here is a good thing, and there is a good thing," and putting all the goods things together and saying, "Surely these are worth £500,000." It is possible that in the Bill there may be certain provisions which not only diminish the goodness of the Bill, but nullify any goodness that it may possess. Therefore, when we are considering a Bill which consists of good and bad things, it is no good saying that the good things are 1123 worth the money if the bad things knock all the goodness into the next world. A great deal of play has been made with the argument that, after all, this is only an enabling Bill, and that it will only be put into operation if the producers want it. On the surface there appears to be a certain merit behind that argument. We have to consider not merely the starting of the operations under the Bill, but what happens when the operations have been started.
Many of us on this side have a great fear of the Ministerial powers under this Bill which perhaps—I emphasise perhaps—will not operate very largely, or at all events very obviously, when the starting of the schemes is considered, but which can undoubtedly operate after the schemes have been put into effect. Let me take four points. First, there is that phrase "substantial representation," the inadequacy and unsatisfactory nature of which has already been discussed a great deal, and the Minister ought not to want it further impressed upon him. As long as it remains, I shall not be satisfied with the Bill, because the definition of the term and its application are to be left to Ministerial wisdom or folly, according to the particular Minister of Agriculture who will occupy the position. My second point is that Clause 2, Subsection (1), enables the Minister to put in his own nominees during the first 12 months of the scheme. That is a very insidious suggestion. It may seem to be very kind of the Minister to help the thing along in its infancy, and I cannot help thinking that when the right hon. Gentleman framed those words, he must have been mindful of the phrase that "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world." He must have felt that if he could control the direction of the scheme during the first 12 months, Ministerial stock would be very high during its continuance.
The third point is in regard to Clause 7, Sub-section (4), under which, if nothing happens during the progress of the scheme, the Minister may take very drastic powers. He may suggest Amendments, and if they are not agreed to by the Board, he may step in and with autocratic powers reconstruct the Board with his own nominees. There is nothing to stop him, as far as I can see, at one 1124 fell swoop altering the entire construction of the Board, the entire organisation of the scheme, and the nature of the whole proceedings. We are being asked to vote money for a certain purpose where the Minister will have autocratic powers to alter the whole nature of the scheme after it has started. My fourth point relates to Clause 13, Subsection (1), which contains a sentence which sounds very glib. It is:The Minister shall take such steps as he thinks fit to further the consideration of the scheme by producers with a view to the submission thereof, subject to such modifications (if any) as may be expedient, for his approval under this Act.That is very suave language, but it is very glib. It is the sort of language which the executioner in days gone by might have used to his victim in the torture chamber when he was about to commence his persuasive operations. There is a good deal of hidden danger in regard to ministerial interference in that rather long drawn out, and on the surface, rather suave sentence. I hope that by these four points I have emphasised the real inherent danger in the scheme. This money is to be used for schemes after they have been started, and we on this side cannot vote that money until we are satisfied that some alteration will be made in the Bill to remove the fear which we have of ministerial interference.
There is an absolute necessity of getting co-operation between all sides and interests. I have found that in canvassing opinion in my constituency. There is a fear—perhaps a justifiable fear—that this Bill is to be used as a sort of weapon to combine producers against what may be called the trade. Reference to other interests is certainly mentioned in the Bill, but it is rather stowed away. There is a feeling that by bringing forward this Bill the Minister of Agriculture is, so to speak, going back to some of his War-time activities; he is introducing compulsory service and is going to set up a Ministry of Munitions in order to forge a gigantic weapon to put into the hands of the producers so that they may beat down the trade interest. It is lamentable if that opinion gets abroad. In order that the Bill may be implemented, there ought to be the fullest means of co-operation between the producers and the general trade. However willing we may be to consider the Bill and its merits, the Minister 1125 will get no constructive assistance from this side unless he satisfies us in regard to some of the dangers I have tried to outline.
§ Lieut.-Colonel GAULT
I listened with much interest to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Money Resolution, and I only regret that he has so few Members of his party to support him during the Debate. Indeed, the paucity of numbers behind him reflects the interest of the Labour party in the welfare of the oldest industry in the country. The Bill which is governed by this Resolution incorporates certain principles which appeal to Members on various sides of the Committee. The principle of education and scientific research will particularly appeal to Members on the Opposition benches, while the principle of co-operative effort will appeal to all those who wish to see a comprehensive marketing scheme developed. I was informed the other day that the country produced something like £200,000,000 worth of produce, and that it cost £280,000,000 to market it. These figures show to what extent the agriculturists can be helped by a scientific and comprehensive enabling Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) pointed out, however, organisation alone is not sufficient to help an industry unless that industry has a secure market.
The principle to which so many of us object in this Bill is the principle of compulsion, for it is entirely foreign to the characteristics of our race, and is a principle which thoughout the centuries we have always combated. Our national characteristic has always been to fight for the rights of individual liberty and freedom. For this reason, I object strongly to the Bill. One of the great mistakes in the introduction of this principle is that it will penalise good marketing. I once heard a speech in this House by the late Lord Melchett in which he pointed out the futility of trying to help industry by lowering the efficiency of efficient units to the average efficiency of units that were not so good. The introduction of the compulsory principle in this Bill will, instead of helping the industry, only reduce the efficiency of the really efficient producers. I heard not long ago from a man who was engaged in chicken farming in one of the southern 1126 counties that he had tried co-operative methods, but that he had been forced to abandon them because he found that he could do infinitely better by marketing his own goods. On another occasion I heard of a smallholder who had a farm of 37 acres only, and whose efficiency was so great that he paid some £1,500 a year in wages. As he pointed out, his business entirely depended upon his being able to market his produce in his own way, and if anything in the nature of compulsion were applied to his business, it would unquestionably so penalise him that he would probably be unable to produce as efficiently as he has been producing during the last few years.
There is a point in the Money Resolution which affects Scotland, and I really do not see why Scotland should receive this preferential treatment. Why should not the eastern counties, which are probably the most adversely affected by the agricultural depression, receive preferential treatment? Better still, why should not preferential treatment be accorded to the counties of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall? It is true that the sum named in the Money Resolution is not a very large one, but after the grave warning of the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week the Government would do wisely to save their pence in order to have the necessary pounds to meet the deficit with which the Chancellor will be faced the month after next. This is an example of the sort of coercive legislation that this country can expect under the tyrannical heel of a Socialist Government, and I, for one, propose to vote against the Resolution.
§ Lieut.-Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE
I was present to hear the opening remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, but I am not clear as to how far he found himself in sympathy with the Amendment of the Noble Lord as regards the expenses of winding-up boards. The right hon. Gentleman devoted some few minutes to that particular subject, and I understood him to say it was a point he was willing to deal with in Committee, but I would like to ask here and now if he will give an undertaking that he will incorporate an Amendment which will make it possible to contribute out of the fund towards the winding-up expenses of the boards. I rather gather from the right hon. Mem- 1127 ber that that is what he had in mind, and if he can give us such an assurance it will be a satisfaction to us on these benches. The position in regard to the winding-up of boards is rather a curious one. In Clause 17, Sub-section (5, c), we find that a society or governing body is exempt from liability except as a registered producer. If the society is not a registered producer, apparently it has no liability at all; the whole liability will fall upon the farmer producers. This is confirmed by the Second Schedule, which in paragraph 7 states that a registered producer is liable to contribute to the payment of the debts and liabilities of the board and the costs and expenses of winding-up in proportion to the aggregate amount of the sums paid or payable to him in respect of the sale of the regulated product during the period of the preceding year. I suggest to the Government that there is a curious wording. In the first part of it, the "liabilities" of boards are referred to, and in the last paragraph of that section he will find that contribution by the farmer producers is to be made to the "assets." I do not know whether there is any subtle distinction in the phraseology, and I should be glad if whoever is going to reply will clear up that point.
As regards the liability on the part of producers to pay a levy towards the cost of winding-up boards, the Committee must bear in mind that this is a great experiment, and there are bound to be mistakes. It is the intention, no doubt, to assist producers, but nothing could be more discouraging to them in the early stages of such an experiment than that they should find themselves let in for the unsuccessful trading liabilities of boards which were set up with the object of helping them. Some of the producers will have come into the scheme only under compulsion. Their freedom to deal with their products is to be taken away from them. They will be allowed to sell them only through the agency of one of these boards, and yet when this board makes mistakes and, through trading inefficiently, incurs heavy losses, the unwilling producer is to be compelled to make them good.
There are two small points on which I wish to ask the Minister questions. In Clause 9, Sub-section (5), it will be 1128 found that sums which are irrecoverable may be written off the assets of the Fund. Such sums are to be repaid by the Treasury to the Fund. Assuming that the whole of the £500,000 had passed from the Treasury to the Fund, and that then the Fund found it necessary to write off a certain amount, would the Treasury be liable to contribute a further sum over and above the £500,000? Clause 11, dealing with short-term loans, which are to be free of interest for two years, states that those loans shall be renewable on the recommendation of the Agricultural Marketing Facilities Committee. If the Committee permit their renewal, are these loans to be renewed without interest? Clause 12, which deals with long-term loans, limits them to £100,000 for England. I wish to know for what period of time these long-term loans are to be granted, what is the provision for interest, and whether the interest is to include a payment towards a Sinking Fund in order to wipe out the loan within a term of years?
Coming to the wider aspect of the problem, I wish to deal with the question of the adequacy or inadequacy of this amount of £500,000 to carry out the purposes of the Bill. The Minister has told us that in his view the amount asked for was modest in view of the magnitude of the scope of the Bill. The real point is whether this £500,000 is adequate to finance the operations of the boards which are to be set up? Will the money be expended merely on what I may call the machinery of the boards? It appears that the bulk of the money will undoubtedly go in the payment of salaries. There would be the expense of setting up the board—officers will have to be paid, and directors also; then there will be the payment for the members of the Consumers' Committee—apparently they will have to be paid; there will be the salaries and expenses of the Committee of Investigation; there will be also the salaries and expenses of the Agricultural Marketing Facilities Committee; and, in addition, there is to be a provision for short-term loans and long-term loans. It appears that the larger part of this £500,000 will be expended on salaries. How will that help agriculture? The Minister's estimate that £40,000 would be adequate must surely be under the mark.
1129 The Minister has told us this £500,000 is a gift to agriculture. If the whole of it, or a large part of it, is to be absorbed by salaries, I can hardly think agriculture will think much of the right hon. Gentleman's generous gift. At all events it is not the form of gift for which agriculture is asking at the present time. There are plenty of other ways in which agriculture could be much more effectually assisted. What agriculture does ask for is to be given a fair share in our home market. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the boards are to be self-supporting institutions. I ask the Committee to consider what would happen if a board were set up for the whole country to deal with either potatoes or milk. It would be an undertaking of considerable magnitude. How is the board to start its trading operations? The right hon. Gentleman says it would go to the bank. It is quite legitimate for trading concerns to go to the bank, but it is not legitimate or wise for any trading concern to start without some capital of its own. What is to happen if a heavy loss is made in the early years? There is no capital to fall back upon, and a levy will have to be made upon the farmer producers.
I turn to another aspect of the Bill. Surely a Measure which will put out of business a very large section of the community should provide some means of compensation for those who are deprived of their livelihood. It is the fashion to-day to decry middlemen, but they are no better and no worse than any other sections of the community. The middleman is performing a service of very great importance to the community. Is he to be put out of business at the will of a local board dealing with a regulated product? Is an auctioneer who has built up a business over a number of years, who has proper equipment in a cattle market, to lose the whole of his business at the whim of some local board which decides that in future no cattle, pigs, sheep or horses may be sold through any agency but its own? No provision has been made for compensation in such a case, and apparently there is to be none. We may ask whether the board will proceed, as presumably it will, on the lines of a co-operative society?
Has the history of co-operative societies in agriculture been a success? We know 1130 of large co-operative societies which have embarked upon farming and have sold their produce direct to the consumer, with the elimination of all middlemen's profits, but, in spite of that, have been a hopeless failure and have made very heavy losses. What the Bill is going to do is to compel a producing industry to take upon its shoulders the risk of trade. The producer should confine himself to producing unless he says voluntarily, "I am prepared to shoulder all the risks and liabilities of trade in addition to my own risks as a producer." The State has no business to compel him to shoulder heavy trade risks while at the same time putting out of business those who have spent their lives in acquiring a knowledge of trading conditions. For the reasons given I cannot think the Bill or the Money Resolution attached to it is justified, and I cannot believe the right hon. Gentleman can really be sincere in standing at that Box and telling us that £500,000 is adequate to carry out the great schemes which undoubtedly he has in mind. Unless he is prepared to make a very big alteration in his scheme I cannot believe there is any hope of success for it.
§ Captain GUNSTON
I rise with the object of calling attention to the poultry industry as it will be affected by this Measure, but before doing so I must express my fears regarding this Bill after the speech we heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week, because if he is going to limit the expenditure of his Parliamentary children then it is quite obvious that he will chiefly have his eye on his prodigal son, the Minister of Agriculture. I was a little alarmed to-day when I saw the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) come into the House, because he must have known, as the prodigal father, that the Minister in charge of this Bill is one who has spent the largest sum of public money in the shortest space of time. I hope attention will be paid to what has been said by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Perry), who is one of the experts in the Co-operative Movement, and no doubt he will be able to give the Minister some very valuable advice when we reach the Committee stage of this Measure. My view is that this Bill will penalise the most progressive section of the agricultural industry. Hon.
1131 Members opposite are aware that this industry has been built up mostly by the efforts of small men. Reference has been made to the question of education in agriculture, but I think hon. Members opposite will agree that it was not any Minister who was responsible for promoting education in agriculture. It was the County Councils Association that first set up education committees in the agricultural industry.
Co-operation among egg producers has enabled them to meet the keen foreign competition in imported eggs, and these producers have been able to meet the competition of large importations of eggs from Holland and Denmark. This has been done by the English agricultural industry increasing largely its supply of eggs. There has been a tremendous increase in the number of eggs laid by English hens during the last 20 years. Scientific research in agriculture has been applied in a very practical way to farming in the past, but it is not being applied so much to-day to egg and poultry production. The men engaged in this section of agriculture have created a great industry which I believe is far greater in value than all the cereal production which is likely to be effected by the marketing part of the industry—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Captain GUNSTON
The men who have built up the egg and poultry section of the agricultural industry have established their own co-operative arrangements, but, apart from that, many of them have established connections in the large towns. I know cases in ordinary markets to which the good-class eggs are sent where they get higher prices than the eggs bearing the national mark. I agree that the national marking of eggs has been useful in obtaining a higher price, but the producers for whom I am speaking are afraid that if you compel them to come into a national scheme they will suffer because, at the present time, they are getting twopence per dozen more for their eggs than they would obtain if they were obliged to sell under the national mark scheme. As the Bill stands it is laid down that all producers must sell under the national mark 1132 scheme, and although the men whose cause I am pleading have been pioneers in this industry, if they are compelled to come under the national scheme they will lose twopence per dozen on their sale, which means a very great deal to them.
The CHAIRMAN (Sir Robert Young)
The hon. and gallant Member does not appear to me to be confining his remarks to the Resolution, and the question he is raising does not arise.
§ Captain GUNSTON
The Minister in charge of the Bill referred to the Schedule and mentioned the limitation of one year. I was going to point out that in addition to compelling these producers to lose money to the extent of twopence per dozen by coming under the scheme, this Bill does not protect them only to the extent of one year, and then they would become liable as regards their produce to sell under the scheme provided by the Bill. The agricultural industry needs some assurance that under this Bill you are not going to penalise men who by their own efforts—
§ The CHAIRMAN
That argument would be in order in discussing the Bill, but the argument that producers are being penalised to the extent of twopence a dozen in regard to egg production does not arise on this Resolution.
§ Captain GUNSTON
I ask the Minister of Agriculture to give an assurance that Clause 7 will be applied only for one year and I hope he will extend some protection to that section of the agricultural industry to which I have referred.
§ Mr. CHRISTIE
The more serious part of this Bill seems to me the vast number of officials who will be appointed under its provisions, and I do not think such appointments are necessary. I think some estimate should be drawn up as to the amount of money that is going to be spent on the assistance which it is claimed will be given to hop growers. We ought, as far as possible, to see that no more public money is spent on the appointment of officials, because the whole of this business can be carried on without costing the agricultural industry a single penny. The proposals of the Measure are very problematical. We have been informed, as far as the potato industry is concerned, that if 15 per 1133 cent. of imported potatoes could have been kept off the market, the price to the English grower would have been maintained at £5 per ton instead of being somewhere in the region of £1 per ton. It seems to me that to go to the expense of appointing a lot of officials and committees to create an artificial market in the potato industry would be a terrible waste of public money. Even if by limiting the output of potatoes, which is the object of this Bill, the price can be forced up to £5 a ton, unless at the same time an effort is made to check the foreign imports into this country, the only result will be that foreign potatoes will come in competition with the home product and the higher price of the home grown produce will not be maintained. Therefore as far as potatoes are concerned, the expenditure proposed under this Bill would be absolutely wasted.
When we come to deal with soft fruit, we find the same thing. Unless you can limit the importation of soft fruit, it is perfectly impossible to increase the price of the home products to any extent which would be of the slightest use to the producer. The efforts to be made under this Bill would not only be very costly, but they would end in complete failure unless accompanied by a limitation of imports. That would also be true in regard to milk, which is said to be one of the agricultural products which this Bill would assist. It is argued that the trouble in the milk industry is not the desire for a marketing scheme, but the desire for advertisement, and that one of the advantages of this Bill would be to enable milk producers to advertise more. The reason why our present consumption of milk is so low is not so much the fact that we do not advertise it, but the fact that the public are very nervous as to its quality, and I believe that the first way in which the milk industry should be helped is by doing something to placate the hostility of the medical profession towards the unfortunate dairy farmer. They are the people who are responsible for the very low consumption of milk in this country, and so long as they are allowed to go about making speeches, like that of a Noble Lord the other day in another place, about the quality and purity of our milk supplies, it seems to me that a Measure of this sort is not of the slightest use. Finally, I cannot help thinking that 1134 the whole of this expenditure is aimed in the wrong direction, because I imagine that, if these marketing boards are set up, they will be set up, not with a view to the actual retailing of the produce, but rather with a view to the question of distribution to the retailers. In my belief the intermediate people in the agricultural markets are not the people who are gaining an unfair advantage. The commission salesmen and the auctioneers are not taking—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am at a loss to understand how this question has arisen. The question before the Committee is that of the money which is to be voted under this Resolution for the purposes stated in the Resolution. The Bill itself will come up for consideration in due course, and, if any special regulations or orders are to be made, they can then be discussed. At present, however, the discussion of such matters is not in order.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I should like to draw your attention, Sir Robert, to the fact that on the Second Reading we were only given a very limited time for discussion, and I think it was understood, in view of that fact, that ample discussion would be allowed on the Money Resolution.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If there was an understanding of that kind, of course I must allow the discussion to proceed, if it is in order, but really the whole thing is out of order. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have been making speeches on this Money Resolution in which they have gone into all sorts of details connected with the Bill and matters arising out of them, but all that we are concerned with now is the Money Resolution.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I submit that hon. Members who have spoken from the opposite benches have been allowed a very wide discussion on various matters, and, as they were allowed to go on, I suggest that we should be allowed to do likewise.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the discussion has been out of order for three hours, that is no reason why it should continue to be out of order.
§ Mr. CHRISTIE
I quite see the justice of your Ruling, Sir Robert, but what I was trying to do was to show 1135 the importance of avoiding waste of public money in financing a scheme which was aimed at the wrong person, and that seemed to me to be, at any rate to some extent, in order. I was only trying to suggest that the people from whom the producer was suffering were not people like the commission salesman and the auctioneer, but the retailer. I will not, however, pursue the point any further. Of course, we cannot be expected to do very much at this stage, but I hope that at any rate, in Committee, the Minister will be able to see his way to reduce to some extent this large number of committees and officials, and to ensure that this money which is to be provided by the impoverished taxpayer shall, at any rate for the most part, come down to the unfortunate producer, and shall not be spent in salaries for an increased number of officials.
§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN
I should like to say, as others have said, a word of congratulation to the Minister on the fact that he is not asking in this Resolution for an extravagant amount of money. Certainly, as compared with the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill and the other legislation which is being brought forward, this amount is a very modest one. It is not, however, the amount that we have to criticise and look into; if the amount is not going to be of any use, and is not going to carry out the object of the Resolution, it will be wasted whether it be small or large. Our objection to the Bill is that it is powerless because there is no control of similar imports from abroad, and that, until such control is established, it will not work. I am very much in favour of better marketing such as is attempted by this Bill—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Member, again, is discussing the Bill. I must draw attention to the fact that this money is required for the purpose of making loans to boards and administering schemes under the Act; for the payment of expenses in Scotland, including remuneration to the chairman and other members, and the secretary, officers, agents and servants, of any commission or committee constituted under the Act; and also for the purpose of meeting the expenses of an Agricultural Marketing Reorganisation Commission in Scotland.
1136 We cannot discuss, under this Resolution, the question whether there should be control of imports.
§ Viscount WOLMER
On a point of Order. Is not my hon. and gallant Friend entitled to argue that, so long as imports are not dealt with, the whole of this money is being wasted, because Parliament is being asked to vote £500,000 under conditions which will inevitably lead to the loss of that money; and that, unless the Bill is amended in the sense that he suggests, the money will be thrown away?
§ The CHAIRMAN
No. It would be perfectly in order to make a statement of that kind and pass on, but we cannot discuss the whole question of whether there ought to be control of imports or not. It so happens that there appears at the moment to be nobody on the other side who is prepared to take up that point, but there might be later on.
I will not refer to that point again. I notice that the Resolution confers powers upon boards and other bodies, and provides them with money. These powers are surely excessive, because they can deprive the registered producer, as soon as he has joined, of control of his own money. He will have nothing to say about the financial liabilities into which these boards may get him, and, as far as I can see, these boards, under Clause 5 of the Bill, can do a great many things—they may pay compensation, they may lend money, they may guarantee payments, they may start debentures, and so forth; and, while the producer may lose his money, he has no control over the appointment of these boards, because it is laid down that the Minister, if necessary, can replace a board by persons nominated by himself. There is no appeal, as far as I can see, against the action of the boards. I submit that very few registered producers will be got to join unless these conditions are very much altered, and that is one of the reasons why I think that this expenditure will be on wrong lines and wasteful.
The Resolution says that among the objects of this expenditure is the encouragement of agricultural co-operation, research and education, but I should like to ask the Minister where in the Bill is there any encouragement of research 1137 and education? If money is to be provided for the encouragement of research and education, surely it would be better to finance the county education committees, Rothamsted, the Milk Research Institute at Shinfield, and so forth, which need money and are already doing this research, rather than to start another scheme, mixed up with marketing, to do the same things which are being done better at the present time. I cannot see how the Bill does anything except encourage co-operative societies to spend money on schemes, whether good or bad, to the disadvantage of agricultural research and education.
Further, Sub-section (5) of Clause 9 of the Bill provides for the payment of money which can be written off. I may be wrong, and perhaps I have read this provision differently from some of my hon. Friends, but I gather that the money thus provided for is not included in the £500,000 for England or the £125,000 for Scotland, but is an extra amount. The Sub-section says:If, in the opinion of the Treasury, a sum representing the whole or any part of the principal of any such loan as aforesaid is not likely to be recovered, the Treasury may direct that that sum shall be written off;and, later on, thatthere may, in addition to the sums hereinbefore mentioned, be paid into the fund out of moneys provided by Parliament an amount equal to the sum so written off.The Resolution is wonderfully worded, and I want to know what it means. I suppose that the provision in Clause 9 of the Bill, to which I have just referred, is not covered by the money that we are now being asked to grant, but is extra, and, if so, I think it is bad business that these boards can be allowed to default, write off wasting assets, and then recover the money straight away from the Treasury in order to keep themselves going. It is nothing more or less than a dole to these boards.
The Resolution also refers to the remuneration of the chairman, secretary, officers, agents and servants of any commission or committee constituted under the Act. Why is there no limiting provision in that case? How much is it going to cost, and how is it possible to find out from the Resolution what the expenses will really be? This is one of the worst drawn Financial Resolutions 1138 that I have ever seen. I cannot understand it, and I am sure that the Minister cannot tell how much he is going to spend under it. How many boards, committees, and commissions are there to be, what are they going to consist of, and how much is to be paid in salaries? There is nothing except a vague provision as to power to draw money from time to time. Like other Socialist proposals, the Bill asks for a blank cheque, and I think we have no right to pass Money Resolutions of this sort without having more details. While, however, these matters can be put on a much more businesslike footing than seems to be the ease in this Resolution, the real objection to the Bill, which I am not allowed to go into, is that it will never work while imported foreign articles are allowed to come in and compete with our own produce in our own market without any control or regulation whatever.
§ Sir JOSEPH LAMB
My objection to this Resolution is that it is a gigantic experiment. It might be said that in some cases experiments are justified, but in this case I do not think it can be justified at all, because we have previous experience. It is not very long since the House had to pass a Resolution to find a sum of not less than £40,000 to pay for an experiment which had already been tried and proved a failure with regard to the marketing of agricultural produce, so that we have that as an assurance that this is a vast experiment which is hound to be a failure. In addition to that, until there is some control of the imported article, this is bound to be a failure from that cause alone. What I am now going to say may appear paradoxical when I have been complaining against this, and saying I am not in favour of this grant for experimental purposes. Unlike the Minister and many others who have spoken from these benches, I do not think the sum is adequate for the purposes proposed. If you are going to organise the marketing of the various articles that are mentioned in the Bill, the sum that is asked for will be absolutely insufficient. The Minister himself stated that there was no less than £56,000,000 worth of milk. That is one article only. How is this sum to be sufficient to organise the sale of £56,000,000 worth of a product? It is absolutely inadequate. Here I should like to make a correction of a statement that 1139 the Minister made, by a slip I should imagine, but a very serious one. He said £59,000,000 worth of milk was produced in this country in a year and £50,000,000 worth was consumed as liquid milk. That is not correct. 1,100,000 gallons of milk are produced of which 600,000 gallons only are consumed as liquid milk.
Another objection I have to the loan is this. The purpose of it is really to extract from agriculturists money which they in many cases have not, and in other cases can very ill afford for this object, because it is not only Government money which this will spend. It is going to compel from the industry, from agriculturists themselves, the provision of certain money for this experiment of collective and organised marketing. That is an object with which I certainly cannot agree, because there is not only the question of providing money for capitalising the scheme, but of providing for the great amount of loss which will take place. That, again, is a hardship to the industry itself. Then a certain amount of money is to be given in the form of loans. Many people, when they talk about loans, assume that they are gifts. They are nothing of the sort. Under another Bill loans that were made did prove, to the extent of 80 per cent., to be gifts, but in this case they are supposed to return the loans that are made to them. That is inflicting another liability upon the industry which it cannot possibly stand. I object to it on this ground.
Again, some of this money is to pay commissioners, officers, servants and agents. Undoubtedly these men are not going to give their services. They will have to be paid, and they will be adequately paid, but who is to pay for them? This money will not be sufficient. A certain amount of it will have to come from the industry itself to provide for these parasites upon the industry. You replace a certain number of men who are now marketing their articles very successfully and receiving the benefit of their marketing themselves, which will be an injury to them, though perhaps an advantage to those who are not satisfactory in their marketing arrangements and ability. It will have the effect of levelling down instead of levelling up, and that will be a very great objection to the Bill. I object to paying for something with which I do not agree, and 1140 I do not agree with the powers that are being given to these commissioners. They are to be allowed to examine the accounts of the producers, not for legal, but for inquisitorial purposes, and that is something to which I object very strongly. I hope I shall never be tempted to vote for money being paid to commissioners for services of that description. Again, what is the cost of organisation to be? No one can say. We are contributing something—not a great deal—towards the enormous cost of organisation which you place upon the industry. That is to replace an organisation which may not be perfect to-day, but which still, in the circumstances, and in the difficulties of a free market, is doing very much better than this organisation will do in the future.
This money is to be used as a subsidy. No one has said more about the iniquities of subsidies from their point of view than hon. Members opposite, and the Minister has himself repeatedly refused to give any subsidy to agriculture. On this occasion he is keeping his word, but if the Bill is to be successful, and raise the price of the article for the producers at home, it is really going to be a subsidy to those people who are producing goods elsewhere and bringing them into this country and competing against ours. I will never support a Measure which will subsidise those outside the country, who do not have to undertake the responsibility which our own producers have to, as against our producers here. I hope some help will be given to the industry in a different form from this, or it will fail, but if the money is to be spent, the subsidy should go to those who need it in this country and not to those who are their opponents and competitors abroad.
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS
I have listened to several speeches from various parts of the Committee, and I hope hon. Members will forgive me if I do not criticise all the details in some of those speeches. This is a Financial Resolution in the name of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. The Committee has been discussing the Motion for something over three hours, and I believe at no part of that time has the hon. Gentleman, for practical purposes, been sitting on the 1141 Front Bench. It is also interesting to realise that we are being asked to vote a sum of money, not merely £500,000, as is defined, for certain purposes in England, but for a considerable addition to that money for Scotland, with added powers, as I understand it, for various other vague and indefinite sums. For that, if for no other reason, I think it is a highly disgraceful episode in the annals of the House of Commons that, when we are voting a Financial Resolution of this kind, for colossal and enormous sums of money, the Committee should be deliberately flouted and insulted by the entire absence of the representatives of the Treasury. I do not wish to run down the Minister of Agriculture, and his capacity for dealing with finance. I will leave that for others to deal with. I do not wish to say anything about the financial capacity for dealing with the Amendment either of the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary for Scotland. I have no doubt that they have both looked after the Scottish people exceedingly well, as you can see in the Resolution, but on a Resolution of this kind we ought to be able to get clear and definite information from the Treasury as to how they propose to administer its details.
The Minister told us he was going to set up a certain number of committees. Over how many different sections of the agricultural industry does he propose to extend the £500,000? I know he has very little knowledge of these matters, but presumably he has some information from his Department. Does he intend that the various commissions that he is setting up should be on a county or on a wider basis, and could he give some sort of estimate as to the number of committees and how they will be placed in an area? I should like to ask him to give a simple illustration as to how he proposes to use this money, we will say, in dealing with any one particular crop. He informed us that he intended to set up a marketing commission. He intended also to set up various investigating committees of producers. Are they for wide or for narrow areas? Take potatoes, with which they will have to deal. Unless the committees are to be very small and narrow bodies, you must have on them men of great experience if they are to investigate the whole of, say, England and Wales as one area. Again, you have your consumers' 1142 committee. When you take your committees of investigation, your consumers' committee, your reorganising commission, and your marketing commission, how are you to divide this sum among these various sections and committees? It is perfectly monstrous on a Motion of this nature, which has enormous difficulties of a financial character, on which Member after Member has put various questions to the Minister as to how he proposes to use its finance, that we have had no answer of any kind. No interest has been taken in this question so far as the Treasury are concerned, and I hope that we, on this side of the House, will vote against this Financial Resolution and do all in our power to prevent the taxpayers having to find the money for a Bill, which will be purely wasteful in its administration and which has no connection with any desire to administer the country in a better or more sensible way, but which, as is proved clearly by the wording of the Resolution, is merely the outcome of a desire to set up endless numbers of officials and committees, who will waste the substance of the nation when it is our primary duty to conserve our means and prevent the imposition of additional taxation by any such kind of stupid waste.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I do not rise to move the Amendment standing in my name, as I understand it is likely to be out of order, but to call the attention of the Minister to the point with which that Amendment attempts to deal. Under the Resolution as at present worded, the Minister is precluded from rendering any assistance in the event of any marketing board going into liquidation. Under the Bill, if a marketing board goes bank-rupt, the farmers have to put their hands in their pockets and in certain proportions pay the entire cost. I would draw the attention of the Minister to the way that is bound to strike the agricultural community. In the first place, under Clause 13 of the Bill, the Minister is instituting Reorganisation Commissions, which will be charged with the duty of propounding new schemes, which will be brought to the attention of the farmers by the Minister, and, through his eloquence and that of the Reorganisation Commission, farmers may be induced to come into a marketing scheme. When the 1143 marketing scheme goes bankrupt, the Minister will be precluded under this Resolution from giving a single farthing towards helping the farmers out of the mess into which he and his Reorganisation Commission may have led them. Under Clause 4, the Minister takes power to coerce any farmer who has not been convinced by the eloquence of the Reorganisation Commission. Farmers who are in a minority may, therefore, be forced into a marketing scheme, in which they never believed, and, when it goes bankrupt, they and their colleagues will be charged with the entire expense. That will be regarded as a very grave injustice by farmers.
Under Clause 7, the Minister takes power, in the event of his investigation committee reporting that certain action of a board is not in the public interest, to reconstitute the board himself. He may displace all the old members of the marketing board and put in nominees of his own choosing, and that board appointed by him will have complete control of the funds of the co-operative society. That board of the Minister may lead the organisation into bankruptcy yet, under this Resolution, the Minister will be precluded from giving a single farthing to help the unfortunate farmers, who will be required to pay every penny of the loss incurred, although it may have been due to decisions of a board forced upon them by the Minister. In those circumstances, I would point out that as long as that is possible under the Bill—I do not say it is likely to happen—the Minister cannot really hope to get the good will of farmers towards this Bill. I am sure he is anxious as I am to get the good will of farmers behind anything which is passed by this House. I appeal to him, therefore, whether he cannot do something to meet the point I have stressed. If the Financial Resolution stands in its present form and the Bill is not amended in this respect, we shall be going forward under conditions which the agricultural community cannot possibly regard as fair.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I have looked very carefuly into the point raised by the Noble Lord. It is quite evident that we could not give a blank cheque to any Minister to make good the loss which any board might incur. That would not be 1144 reasonable. There would be no incentive to frugality or care if the Treasury were behind them. I am sure the Noble Lord will recognise that. He makes a further point by which I am impressed as a reasonable point. It is true that, under the Bill in certain circumstances, by the Reorganisation Commission and by the proceedings set out in Clause 7 where a committee of inquiry have inquired into complaints, the Ministry is empowered if need be to reconstitute a board. The point put by the Noble Lord is this. Apart from the boards set up by producers themselves, in this case there is a board for whose composition the Minister is responsible and, therefore, if this board behaves imprudently, the Minister really has a share in the responsibility. That is a fair point, and I have been endeavouring during the last hour and a half to see if we could not find some way of meeting that point which is really fair. I understand it would not be open to me or to the Noble Lord to amend this Resolution to give effect to that. But I am prepared, if I can receive the assurance of the Noble Lord and his friends on the point, to suggest a proceeding which fairly meets the point. The suggestion I have to make is that the House should have the Resolution in a new form, with these words added to the paragraph relating to the Agricultural Marketing Fund:and for such other purposes as may be provided by the said Act.at the end of paragraph (c). That would enable us, when we get into Committee upstairs, to amend Clause 7 on the lines indicated. Unless these words were in, we could not so amend Clause 7. It will be seen that the words I have suggested are very wide words, and I should like it to be understood that they are put in for that purpose and not for all sorts of other purposes. Otherwise it would be necessary to put in precise words in the Amendment to the Resolution, which might perhaps tie us upstairs more than any of us could wish to be tied. I have taken care to try to define the purpose which would be behind this arrangement. It would be a proposal to widen the terms of the Resolution so as to enable the Minister or the Opposition upstairs to amend the Bill to enable the Minister to contribute to the debts of a board composed wholly or partly of his nominees. That would be one of the boards set up 1145 by a Minister. The Amendment would make it permissive, because it is clear the Minister could not be compelled. It would have to be permissive in form and not mandatory. Another reason for that would be that a board may have to be reconstituted because the old board made a mess of it, and may have to take over the debts of the old board, with which it would not be fair to saddle the Minister.
I would ask the Noble Lord and his friends, if we withdraw this Resolution so as to introduce it in the amended form, that they should undertake not to ask me to make it mandatory, and that it should be understood that the Amendment to the Bill will be limited to boards nominated by the Minister under Clause 7 and not to the original boards. That is to say, power to contribute to the liquidation expenses in these cases would be limited to the cases where the boards were partly or wholly nominated by the Minister under the proceedings to which I have referred. If the Committee upstairs should desire to amend the Bill in that respect and not in other respects, I am prepared, if the Opposition agree, to withdraw this Resolution and bring it up again to-morrow. There is one other complement to that understanding for which I would like to ask. I understand it is agreed that the Report stage of the Resolution will be taken to-morrow evening. Therefore, it will be understood that the time taken on the Committee stage will be the time that otherwise would have been taken on the Report stage, and subsequently the Report stage will be a formal stage, and not an inroad on our time. If that arrangement can be entered into, I will act accordingly.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I am grateful to the Minister for the endeavour he is making to meet us. I should like to say at once—and I think I can say it on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends—that if he will substitute a Resolution to-morrow which has the very wide term he read out, we shall not take unfair advantage of the very wide term, and it will enable us to move the Amendments which we desire to move on the Committee stage. The Minister says that he would be prepared to consider favourably an Amendment to Clause 7 of the Bill, but, as I have already indicated, that would not entirely meet our point of view.
1146 We must reserve liberty to move Amendments to a similar effect in the case of schemes put forward by Reorganisation Commissions under Clause 13. I think if we were allowed to move in the Committee stage that the Minister should be empowered to contribute, in the event of any scheme going into liquidation under the auspices of a board, wholly or partly appointed by him, and to the liquidation expenses of any board that went into liquidation after having adopted a scheme sponsored by his Reorganisation Commission and himself, that would entirely meet the points we wish to raise.
I do not ask the Minister to commit himself with regard to our further point with reference to Clause 13, but we cannot merely accept the very narrow interpretation the Minister has just announced of what he intends to do. He is prepared to go a certain way, largely towards what we have been asking, but he has not yet gone the whole of the way, and we must reserve liberty to try to convince him on that point and to discuss the point on the Committee stage. I can assure him that we shall not use those wide words for the purpose of snaking wholly extraneous points. We have no desire to take an undue time in the Committee stage of this Bill. In regard to what will happen to-morrow, I take it that the Minister will have a new Resolution upon the Order Paper and that that will be taken in Committee during such time as we should have had for the Report stage of this Resolution. We on this side of the Committee do not think that the matter should be taken in a perfunctory fashion. In our view there should be full discussion—at least two or three hours discussion—as we should have had on the Report stage if this Resolution were not withdrawn. It would then be perfectly fair if we allowed the Report stage of the new Resolution which would have to be taken the day after to-morrow to go through formally. The result of such an arrangement would be that our opportunities of discussion would not be limited, and the Government would not have lost any time. At the same time, the Government would have amended their Resolution in such a way as to enable us to move the Amendments to which we attach great importance. The Minister is perfectly free to refuse or to accept those Amendments when we move them.
§ Dr. ADDISON
May I intervene once more in order to reply to the Noble Lord? I understand that the further liberty which the Noble Lord suggests should be confined to the liquidation point, but he wants to move Amendments in connection with any board set up under the Reorganisation Commission as well as under Clause 7. I accept that understanding, although I am not in any way tied to accept any Amendment with regard to reorganisation. I shall have very carefully to discuss this amended form between now and the Committee stage, because it is quite clear that if money were lost or disappeared in liquidation expenses it would pro tanto diminish the amount in the Marketing Fund. That point I should have to consider very carefully. I will do my very best to meet the point with regard to the board under Clause 7, but with regard to any reconstituted board in Clause 13, I say quite frankly that I must not give any pledge upon that point. If that could be arranged, I should be glad.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I take it that nothing I have said in any way prevents us from moving any Amendment which we could have moved under the old Financial Resolution?
§ Viscount WOLMER
And that we are free to move any Amendment we like? It is only on the new words which the Minister is to introduce that we should confine ourselves?
§ Dr. ADDISON
May I point out to the hon. Member for Kincardine (Mr. Scott) that the very same point was made by the first speaker on the benches below the Gangway, and I referred to both sections of the Opposition.
§ Mr. SCOTT
It may have been raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison), but not in the form in which it was raised by the Noble Lord. I, at least, 1148 am not going to be a party to this arrangement, because I think that the reasons the Minister gave for the State becoming liable to make good losses in a scheme, seem to be entirely fallacious and inconclusive. I do not think that there is any reason for the State to come forward and make good the losses.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understand that the Committee are trying to come to an arrangement, and the question which the hon. Member is now raising is one which might be discussed on the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I only desire to say that I wish to dissociate myself from any attempt on the part of the two Front Benches to enter into an arrangement which will have the result of fleecing the taxpayers. I should have expected also that the Minister would have made an effort to deal with other questions which were raised by speakers from these benches. I put a number of pointed questions to the Minister, and I hope that in the main they will be dealt with. I think that notes were taken by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and, accordingly, I hope that he will deal with the point.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I intended no discourtesy to the hon. Member, and I am sure that he realises that I did not wish to be discourteous. I understand that these points will be replied to in the discussion to-morrow. My hon. Friend has made notes. I hope that the hon. Member will accept that explanation and that he and his friends will not object to the course which is being proposed.
To avoid any possible misunderstanding at a later stage, and to make the position clear, we should be allowed, I suppose, to move any Amendment about contributions on winding-up under Clause 2? Obviously, the Minister could resist such an Amendment, but we wish to raise the issue which I outlined earlier in the Debate, that in special cases, such as the case where we made a large contribution three years ago, it should be open to the Minister to consider the propriety of a contribution. The Minister has made it clear that it cannot possibly be mandatory upon him to contribute to all these boards in case of failure, but we shall want to put forward to the Minister a plea of liberty 1149 to consider all these cases. A case may never arise under Clause 2, but in view of the precedent of the Agricultural Co-operative Society and the disastrous effect upon the whole co-operative movement when a failure takes place involving a lot of small people, we should have an opportunity of raising this point in Committee, and I want to make sure that it will not be considered any breach of faith if we do so.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I hope that we shall agree that these words are used to cover the winding-up point. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Resolution.
§ The CHAIRMAN
We cannot discuss that point. If hon. Members wish the arrangement to which the two Front Benches have come to be recognised, there must be no further discussion today. If hon. Members discuss the matter, the whole thing falls to the ground for the time being.
§ Mr. C. WILLIAMS
If I wish to discuss it, does it fall to the ground? I very strongly object to the arrangement.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
That the Chairman do now leave the Chair."—[Dr. Addison.]