HC Deb 06 April 1932 vol 264 cc272-5

Amendments made: In page 16, line 38, leave out the words "or flour," and insert instead thereof the words "flour or wheat offals."

In line 43, leave out the words "or flour," and insert instead thereof the words "flour or wheat offals."

In page 17, line 7, leave out the words "or flour," and insert instead thereof the words "flour or wheat offals."—[Sir J. Gilmour.]


I beg to move, in page 17, line 14, to leave out the words "all reasonable times," and to insert instead thereof the words: any time which has been agreed upon with a miller or an importer of flour or a person carrying on business as a dealer in wheat or flour. I think the House should realise that in this Clause the Government are bringing in what is almost a new precedent. A corporation is being set up in this country which will have the power to order its agents to enter into the premises of millers or dealers in flour without any warrant whatsoever, and search those premises for certain substances mentioned in the Bill. As the Attorney-General knows, the power of entry upon land has always been very circumscribed under English law, and is only exercised under certain conditions. I see that the late Mr. William Fielden Craies, the lecturer on criminal law at King's College and an authority on the subject, stated the following opinion: Entry upon land cannot as a rule be justified except under judicial warrant. The only common law warrant of this kind is a search warrant which may be granted for the purpose of searching for stolen goods. Special powers for issuing search warrants are given by the Army, Merchant Shipping, Customs, Pawnbrokers and Stamp Acts, and for the discovery of explosives or appliances for coining and forgery; also under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, which allows the issue of search warrants when it is suspected that a female is unlawfully detained for immoral purposes. The Official Secrets Acts, 1911 to 1920, are remarkable in that they dispense with the necessity of the intervention of a Justice of the Peace, in the case of a search for official documents, and enable the constable to make such a search on the order of a Superintendent of Police if it appears that immediate action is necessary. No one says that immediate action is necessary in a case of this sort. In all these cases the person who is allowed to intrude on anyone's premises with a warrant is a police officer. Under this Bill a corporation of business people, called the Wheat Commission, has the right to appoint persons to go on to private premises. It is monstrous that private persons, not police officers, without any warrant from justices or anything of the sort, can go to the premises of a farmer, miller, or corn dealer, and ransack his place for millable wheat. We, being a small body, are unable to resist what I consider to be a great infringement of English liberty, but I am not at all certain whether in another place this provision may not be dealt with by those who are learned in the law instead of those who in this House are merely learning the law. If you are going to do that, it should be done, not by order of this corporation, but by agreement between the corporation and the individuals with whom they are dealing. That will not be a difficult or elaborate operation. As far as I can visualise it, it might mean two or three letters—four at the most. The corporation would write to a farmer and say: "We propose on Wednesday next at three o'clock in the afternoon to inspect your place for millable wheat." The farmer may be at the market or may be engaged in a difficult farming operation, in which cases he will write to say: "Three o'clock on Wednesday is inconvenient. I suggest five o'clock on Friday." The Wheat Commission will say: "Friday will suit us, and we will come then." By that means the inspection will be done in a reasonable way instead of this way, which is reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition.

The Minister may say, "That will be all right in 99 per cent. of the cases. Farmers and millers and corn dealers are reasonable people, and I am willing to give my own view that that is the procedure that will be adopted." But we want that in the Bill, because the ipse dixit of the Minister is not a legal thing. We cannot say, "The Minister of Agriculture said so and so in the House of Commons." In the remaining 1 per cent. of cases, the farmer may wish to avoid inspection. I am dealing with the 99 per cent. If it is wished to safeguard yourselves in respect of the 1 per cent., it is up to the Minister of Agriculture to add a few words in the Bill, which he can easily do, and say that if a reason- able agreement had not been arrived at within a reasonable time the Wheat Commission should be able to go to a magistrate for a search warrant. I am not suggesting such words, because I disbelieve in the idea of people searching and going on to premises without any legal sanction.


I beg to second the Amendment.


It is most refreshing to hear the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) standing up for an absence of any restrictions upon anybody's liberty, and it is equally refreshing and agreeable to us to hear him relying upon another place for correcting any mistakes which this House may make. But I respectfully suggest to him that he has not provided in his Amendment for the circumstances in which the miller would not be prepared to make any agreement with the representatives. He has provided for a visit at a time which should be agreed upon by the miller or importer of flour, but he has not provided for what would happen if the miller or importer of flour said, "I will make no agreement, and this representative shall not come at any time, convenient or inconvenient, reasonable or unreasonable." That shows the impossibility of accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member, unless he goes as far as to suggest that if a miller does not want a visit nobody shall be allowed to make a visit. That is not a view which can be taken by the Government, having regard to the necessity for seeing that the provisions of the Bill are complied with.

There is no desire on the part of the Government to infringe in any way the private liberties of a houseowner, and there is nothing in the Bill to make it possible for a man to insist upon invading private premises for purposes which are not required by his duties under the law. But the provision which the hon. Member has sought to amend merely allows him to visit at reasonable times. If he goes at an unreasonable time, the ordinary judgment of the courts may be trusted not to impose any penalty upon the miller or importer of flour who refuses permission to inspect his premises at unreasonable hours. I venture to think that the provision "reasonable times" is a better and more complete one than the terms proposed by the hon. Member. It is further to be observed that the proposal that notice shall be given and agreement shall be arrived at may, in a particular case where it is most advisable to make a visit, defeat the whole object of the Bill. If the hon. Member suggests that a letter should be written, stating that "I propose to come on Wednesday afternoon at three o'clock," very likely the miller may say, "I am much obliged for your intimation to come on Wednesday at three o'clock," but he may not say in his letter, "I will make provision so that your visit will not be successful in finding out what I desire not to be known." The Amendment of the hon. Member would make the Clause worthless for the purposes for which it is intended.


Has the right hon. Gentleman observed that in paragraph (b) notice must be given in writing? On the Committee stage the Minister of Agriculture told us that if the farmer said he was engaged at a certain time that would be accepted as long as it was not in order to evade the whole thing.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: In page 17, line 16, leave out the words "or flour," and insert instead thereof the words "flour or wheat offals."

In page 18, line 7, leave out Sub-section (5).—[Sir J. Gilmour.]