HC Deb 06 April 1932 vol 264 cc249-71

I beg to move, in page 14, line 3, at the beginning, to insert the words: The transactions of the Flour Millers' Corporation shall be published in a manner to be approved by the Minister and. As the Bill stands the transactions of the Flour Millers' Corporation will be quite as secret as the proceedings of any private company. The Corporation is being given tremendous and unprecedented power, and, in conjunction with the Minister and the Wheat Commission, it really takes the place of Parliament in levying taxation. It is to consist of five persons, who are almost certain to represent the five great consolidated milling firms of Messrs. Rank, Messrs. Spillers, the London Association of Millers, and so on. Those bodies have a very close understanding with each other. Personally, I have been buying flour in pretty large quantities in the last few years, and I know how the market is rigged. I know the sort of ring that exists in the milling world to-day. The public have an absolute right to know what a body of this sort really does and on what grounds, financial or otherwise, it arrives at its decisions, which will have a very important influence upon public welfare and upon the financial position of the individual. We ought to know what it does with its surplus, how it distributes its surplus and why it distributes it in a particular way. The minutes of this body really ought to be accessible to the public who are intimately concerned with its decisions. We are not suggesting in the Amendment that the minutes ought to be available, but that the transactions shall be published in a manner to be approved by the Minister.

I have had put into my hands to-day a memorandum, for publication, and I think that probably the best publicity I can give to it is to read it in this House. It is written by a gentleman who has knowledge of the position from the inside, knows every detail of it, and the sort of game which goes on in that organisation. I propose to read it as, in my judgment, it gives absolutely conclusive reasons why the transactions should be published as the Amendment asks. The document reads: In order that you may appreciate the power the Bill proposes to give to the millers, let me take you on a time-journey into next year and see what will happen. In Great Britain and Northern Ireland there will be a tax on flour of 2s. or 3s. a sack, which will later on rise to 4s. a sack. This means, of course, another halfpenny a quartern loaf on the price of bread. This tax on bread, the chief food of the poorest of the poor, is called a 'quota payment' and will be used to pay farmers the difference between the average market price, the price they receive collectively for their wheat, and the statutory price of 45s. a quarter which is guaranteed to them by the Wheat Act of 1932. But most nations had quotas or high protection for wheat in 1932, and now that we have a small 15 per cent. or 20 per cent. quota and still others have followed us, the free market for surplus wheat is less than ever. That will be obvious to everybody. The wheat producing countries have made efforts to reduce acreage, but the United States Federal Farm Board has still had to dump its huge surpluses into this country, while Canada, Australia, Russia and the Argentine are still sellers. This surplus had to come here and it had to be sold 'at any old price.' if perchance, we have an Empire quota later on, the free market will be even less. This is the millers' opportunity. They buy cheap foreign wheat and then force the home wheat growers to sell at low figures. The wheat growers do not mind a bit. They get their 45s. just the same. But the Minister has to put up the quota payment. It may go up to 6s. or even 8s. a quarter, and the bread eaters will have to pay. Also the millers get a little extra tariff preference out of the deal as well, as flour importers have to pay the levy and the 10 per cent. import duties in addition. The Flour Millers' Corporation can buy wheat"—

it is specifically authorised to buy the surplus wheat in the country— and also it has to distribute its profits among millers. Supposing that the Corporation asks millers to hold off native wheat and elects to buy it at rock-bottom prices itself, where is the remedy under the Bill? Perhaps the Minister will be able to answer that question. As far as I can see, there is no remedy. My informant goes on to say: There is no suggestion that the millers would do anything so foolish as to force down the price of wheat to something which is purely nominal, but they will have that power all the same if the Bill is left in its present state. Power is generally used even if not fully employed. Practically 90 per cent. of the milling of wheat in this country is done by four or five large firms. I suppose I might even say that 95 per cent. of it is done by them. They will be able to control the market. They rig the market at the present time, and their powers of rigging the market will be greater than ever. The public have a right to have access to the transactions of this Corporation and to know why it arrives at certain decisions, what are its surpluses, how those surpluses have accrued and how they are distributed. I suggest that we have a right to that information and that the Minister should agree to accept the Amendment. It will still be in his own hands to determine the form in which the information is available to the public, but at any rate it will give us—and the farmers particularly—some safeguard against wholesale exploitation by any milling rings.


I have listened with some interest to the speech of the hon. Gentleman and to the advertisement which he has felt bound to give to a correspondent. I am at a loss to understand what the correspondent's opinion has to do with this particular Amendment. It is, I think, clear that, where the transactions in connection with these problems are concerned with the Wheat Commission, the accounts should be available for audit and supervision in this House, but when you come to the problem of the purchase at the end of the season of the surplus stock on the farms, so long as they conform to the Order of the Minister, what the millers do with the wheat after they have purchased it is entirely their own affair. It is no concern of Parliament any more than any business transaction carried out by any other firm in the ordinary course of business. The Bill ensures that wherever any of these transactions have anything to do with the Wheat Commission Parliament has a right to have the information submitted before the Auditor-General, but in the case which I have instanced, so long as they comply with the Order that is made, it is no concern of Parliament or of the Minister. In these circumstances, I cannot accept the Amendment.


I have listened with interest to the reply of the Minister, but I think we have had no reason given why an Amendment like this should not be accepted. The Minister says that the Millers' Corporation, like any other business concern, will make their sales and accounts in accordance with the regulations, but in this case they are not like any other business concern. Let me draw the attention of the House to the fact that we are arranging a payment in which the Millers' Corporation will be directly interested, and, where public funds are going to subsidise the industry, the public have a right to know in every particular how the money is allocated, how the goods on which it is going to be paid are exchanged, and where they ultimately arrive. I should have thought the Government would be anxious to see that the public are satisfied that these payments and this quota system are managed in such a way that everyone has the right to know the conditions under which the payments are made and the transactions are dealt with. Therefore, we hope that the Minister will reconsider this matter and give serious consideration to the Amendment.

9.30 p.m.


I should not have intervened in this discussion except for the statement of the Minister about this particular Corporation. He said that it was no concern of the House of Commons what they did with the surplus and that they were a private organisation which carried out its business like any other trading affair. This is not an ordinary trading organisation. It is an organisation created by an Act of Parliament and by the action of this House. Under the Schedule, it is laid down that the Corporation shall be a body corporate with a common seal, with power to hold land, and to consist of a chairman and four other persons appointed by the Minister. The Minister is a partner of this Corporation. He is the creator, founder, and inspirer of its existence. He is its parent. He cannot divorce himself from responsibility. He may want to get out of all liability as to its future transactions. I understand he does not want to take on more liabilities, but this House is directly concerned. A little later on there is on the Order Paper an Amendment proposing that the transactions shall be laid before Parliament. If we are going to engage in this kind of State Socialism— [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]. This is denied by hon. Members opposite, but not over here. It is a kind of State trading, and, if we are going to have interests of this kind, surely they should be above-board? There should be an annual report giving full particulars and details of how they are carrying out their work. It should not be a hole-and-corner affair.

I do suggest that there should be not only a full report of its transactions made public—and not merely audited, for any ordinary private company audits its accounts in order to satisfy its shareholders—but that in the case of this organisation, created by the action of this House and composed largely of Members appointed by the Minister, Parliament is entitled to know exactly how it carries out its work. It should be a public report obtainable at the Vote Office, giving full particulars and figures and the report should be laid before Parliament so that if hon. Members desire to discuss it and ask questions of Ministers they may obtain full information and all the facts and figures. I attach a good deal of importance to this matter. I cannot see the Minister's objection. On the contrary, he should be proud of every publicity for his offspring, and we ought to know the full results of the work of this Corporation. All the interests concerned, the millers, the bakers, the wheat growers, and, above all, the general public, should be made conversant with how it carries out its work.


This distinguished child of the Minister was born with a silver spoon in its mouth and should have great publicity in the future as well as at present. I can hardly think that the right hon. Gentleman was serious in his address to the House on this Amendment, because, if anything is quite certain under the provisions of this Bill, it is that the Flour Millers' Corporation is unlike any private body. It is set up specifically under the Bill, its powers are adumbrated in the Bill, the scheme for the election of its members is going to be passed by the Minister, the whole of the transactions have to be carried out in accordance with that scheme, and the scheme can be objected to by outside persons if they do not think it is a proper scheme before it is approved by the Minister. There is every device in the Schedule for seeing that this is a regulated statutory body and not a mere private company, as the Minister would suggest. Further than that, there are other powers that this body has outside those suggested by the Minister. Let me take two instances only.

Clause 1 (8) says: The Flour Millers' Corporation may make arrangements for the purchase by any person on their behalf of wheat required by any such order as aforesaid to be bought by the corporation.… They can nominate a single miller, if they like, or they can nominate a number of millers. They can nominate the actual purchasers in every case, if they wish to do so. They can deprive certain millers of the right or power to buy this wheat. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it may be a matter of value to a miller to be able to buy some of this wheat, or it may be a disadvantage, one or the other. The Flour Millers' Association can allocate that advantage or disadvantage to any miller as they wish. That is clearly a thing which should not be done in a hole or corner manner. This power is given to them in the Bill, and the public ought to know, and other millers ought to know, how the power is to be exercised.

Clause 4 (3) says: Byelaws made under this section providing for the times at which and the manner in which sums due to the Wheat Commission by way of quota payments are to be ascertained and paid, may, with the consent of the Flour Millers' Corporation, make provision for the payment of such sums by that corporation on behalf of registered millers. … In other words, if the Flour Millers' Corporation like to do it they can make this the collecting body for the whole of the quota payments. Is it not obvious that if such a thing is done there must be some publicity attached to their dealings? It is only the consent of the Flour Millers' Corporation that is required. The Wheat Commission can make a bylaw saying, provided that the Flour Millers' Corporation consent, that they shall in future collect on behalf of the registered millers and pay over to the Wheat Commission the quota payments.

Surely, with a power of that sort in the hands of the Flour Millers' Corporation the right hon. Gentleman is not going to say that it is undesirable that publicity should be given to their doings, and that he has no more right to interfere with them than he has kith Spiller's now. It is a completely different proposition. We think that this is a really serious matter. It is not a matter to be brushed aside by a perfectly fallacious answer. If this large transaction is to be carried out through the Flour Millers' Corporation, if they consent, we ask the right hon. Gentleman to see that there shall be a condition that in those circumstances publicity shall be given. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that that is desirable and that he would not wish the public to have a suspicion that things are being done by the Flour Millers' Corporation which dare not see the light of day. For their own protection I should have thought that he would have liked to put these words in the Bill, in order that the Flour Millers' Corporation might be able to say: "Here are our transactions. Anyone can look at them. We are not afraid of the public seeing them." If the right hon. Gentleman does not accept the Amendment one can only conclude that he is afraid of the public seeing the Flour Millers' Corporation's transactions.


In so far as the transactions have anything to do with quota payments or with the Wheat Commission, those will be expenses incurred in connection with the work of the Wheat Commission, and in so far as they deal with any of those problems they will come under the review of the Auditor-General and of this House. The only thing that remains is that at the end of the cereal year the burden is placed upon the Minister of directing the purchase of the surplus stacks. Those surplus stocks, so long as that condition is carried out, is a matter for the millers. So long as they make the purchases, that is all with which we are concerned. The method of how the purchase is made and the method of how, when they have purchased the surplus stocks, they dispose of them is a matter between the individual millers in the concern. It is not a matter in which we have an interest, but it certainly is a matter of interest between the millers who deal with the problem, and for them alone. Their organisation is complete, and they are quite capable of looking after themselves. It is not a

Division No. 143. AYES. [9.42 p.m.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar South) Groves, Thomas E. Mallalleu, Edward Lancelot
Attlee, Clement Richard Grundy, Thomas W. Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)
Batey, Joseph Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Maxton, James
Sevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Owen, Major Goronwy
Briant, Frank Harris, Sir Percy Parkinson, John Allen
Brown, C. w. E. (Notts., Mansfield) Hicks, Ernest George Pickering, Ernest H.
Buchanan, George Hirst, George Henry Price, Gabriel
Cape, Thomas Holdsworth, Herbert Rathbone, Eleanor
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Jenkins, Sir William Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)
Cove, William G. Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Salter, Dr. Alfred
Cripps, Sir Stafford Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Thorne, William James
Daggar, George Kirkwood, David Tinker, John Joseph
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Lantbury, Rt. Hon. George Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. David
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Lawson, John James Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Edwards, Charles Leonard, William Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Logan, David Gilbert Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Lunn, William Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea) Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) McGovern, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Mr. Duncan Graham and Mr. John.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.) Gluckstein, Louis Halle
Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Chotzner, Alfred James Glyn, Major Ralph G. C.
Albery, Irving James Clarry, Reginald George Goodman, Colonel Albert W.
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd) Clayton, Dr. George C. Gower, Sir Robert
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Clydesdale, Marquess of Grimston, R. V.
Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K. Conant, R. J. E. Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.
Apsley, Lord Cooke, Douglas Guy, J. C. Morrison
Aske, Sir Robert William Cooper, A. Duff Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.
Atkinson, Cyril Craven-Ellis, William Hales, Harold K.
Bailey, Eric Alfred George Crooke, J. Smedley Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)
Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M. Croom-Johnson, R. P. Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)
Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J. Crossley, A. C. Hammersley, Samuel S.
Balniel, Lord Cruddas, Lieut-Colonel Bernard Hanbury, Cecil
Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell Culverwell, Cyril Tom Hanley, Dennis A.
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Dawson, Sir Philip Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry
Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey Denman, Hon. R. D. Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n)
Bateman, A. L. Denville, Alfred Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)
Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th, C.) Dickie, John P. Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.
Bernays, Robert Doran, Edward Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.
Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B. Drewe, Cedric Hepworth, Joseph
Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Duckworth, George A. V. Hope, Capt. Arthur O. J. (Aston)
Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton) Duggan, Hubert John Hornby, Frank
Bird, Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.) Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Horsbrugh, Florence
Borodale, Viscount Eastwood, John Francis Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E. Hume, Sir George Hopwood
Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald Elliston, Captain George Sampson Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Elmley, Viscount Insklp, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.
Briscoe, Capt. Richard George Emmott, Charles E. G. C. James, Wing.-Com. A. W. H.
Broadbent, Colonel John Emrys-Evans, P. V. Joel, Dudley J. Barnato
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Entwistle, Cyril Fullard Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan)
Brown, Brig. -Gen. H.C.(Berks., Newb'y) Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)
Browne, Captain A. C. Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Jones, Sir G.W.H. (Stoke New'gton)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.) Kerr, Hamilton W.
Burghley, Lord Everard, W. Lindsay Kimball, Lawrence
Burnett, John George Fermoy, Lord Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R.
Butt, Sir Alfred Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst Knight, Holford
Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley) Fraser, Captain Ian Lamb, Sir Joseph Qulnton
Campbell, Rear-Adml. G. (Burnley) Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Law, Sir Alfred
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Fuller, Captain A. G. Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)
Carver, Major William H. Ganzoni, Sir John Leckie, J. A.
Castle Stewart, Earl Gibson, Charles Granville Leech, Dr. J. W.
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Lees-Jones, John
Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City) Gledhill, Gilbert Leighton, Major B. E. P.
Chalmers, John Rutherford Glossop, C. W. H. Lennox-Boyd, A. T.

concern for us. There are no quota payments involved. It is, therefore, a matter between themselves, and as I have said, they are capable of looking after themselves. It is their affair.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 57; Noes, 254.

Liddall, Walter S. Penny, Sir George Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)
Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest Peters, Dr. Sidney John Stones, James
Llewellin, Major John J. Petherick, M Storey, Samuel
Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n, Bilst'n) Stourton, Hon. John J.
Lloyd, Geoffrey Procter, Major Henry Adam Strauss, Edward A.
Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander Ralkes, Henry V. A. M. Strickland, Captain W. F.
MacAndrew, Maj. C. G. (Partlck) Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich) Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-
MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian) Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
McCorquodale, M. S. Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles) Templeton, William P.
MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw) Ramsbotham, Herwald Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
McKie, John Hamilton Ramsden, E. Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)
McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston) Reid, James S. C. (Stirling) Thompson, Luke
Magnay, Thomas Reid, William Allan (Derby) Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M. Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U. Thorp, Linton Theodore
Margesson, Capt. Henry David R. Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall) Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Marsden, Commander Arthur Robinson, John Roland Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)
Martin, Thomas B. Ropner, Colonel L. Touche, Gordon Cosmo
Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.) Rosbotham, S. T. Turton, Robert Hugh
Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Ross, Ronald D. Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge) Wallace, John (Dunfermline)
Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A. Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Milne, Charles Runge, Norah Cecil Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Milne, John Sydney Wardlaw- Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tf'd & Chisw'k) Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tside) Watt, Captain George Steven H.
Mitcheson, G. G. Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury) Wells, Sydney Richard
Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale Rutherford. Sir John Hugo Weymouth, Viscount
Moreing, Adrian C. Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney) Whiteside, Borras Noel H.
Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.) Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart Whyte, Jardlne Bell
Morrison, William Shephard Scone, Lord Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Muirhead, Major A. J. Shakespeare, Geoffrey H. Wills, Wilfrid D.
Munro, Patrick Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell) Windsor-Clive, Lieut-Colonel George
Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Shepperson, Sir Ernest W. Wise, Alfred R.
Normand, Wilfrid Guild Simmonds, Oliver Edwin Womersley, Walter James
North, Captain Edward T. Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A.(C'thness) Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)
Nunn, William Skelton, Archibald Noel Worthington, Dr. John V.
O'Donovan, Dr. William James Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D. Wragg, Herbert
O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam) Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)
Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A. Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Palmer, Francis Noel Somervell, Donald Bradley TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Patrick, Colin M. Soper, Richard Major George Davies and Mr.
Pearson, William G. Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E. Blindell.
Peat, Charles U. Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)

I beg to move, in page 14, line 5, at the end, to insert the words: and shall be laid before Parliament. This Amendment, although somewhat different in terms to the Amendment upon which the House has just voted, is not very different in character. It still revolves around the important question as to whether or not Parliament should have some means of access to an examination of the accounts of the Flour Millers' Corporation. It is unnecessary for me to apologise for referring to this matter again because when we put as strong a case as we could during the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman was so impressed that he promised to re-examine the matter before Report. Two or three quite substantial bodies are being created by this Bill. One is the Wheat Commission, and a second is the Flour Millers' Corporation. In the case of the Wheat Commission there is a provision whereby their accounts shall be subject to audit by the Auditor General and, therefore, subject to review by Parliament itself, but in the case of the Flour Millers' Corporation that pro- vision is not present and, as I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman takes the view that the House and the country has little or no interest in the transactions of the Flour Millers' Corporation. In his view they are somewhat private in character. I disagree very respectfully from the right hon. Gentleman in that matter and I shall try to show that the general public and this House has a very special and direct interest in the operations of this particular body.

The point has already been made that when this Measure becomes an Act it is highly essential that it shall carry with it the complete confidence not only of those who are directly associated with its operations but of the outside public as well, and if there should be any circumstance in connection with the working of this Bill which raises any suspicion, or gives rise to any chance of suspicion, it will be an eventuality which everyone will deplore. Vast transactions will be conducted by the Flour Millers' Corporation. The very size of these operations seems to me to be one reason at least for a review by Parliament of its operations, especially when we recall the fact that this corporation is being created by Parliament. It is Parliament which calls it into being and gives it its authority and, therefore, it is essential that its operations should come under the review of Parliament. I am not convinced that the Minister is strictly justified in laying down the proposition that we have no concern with the operations of this Flour Millers' Corporation. I would direct attention to Clause 8, where are these words: The Flour Millers' Corporation shall have power to borrow such sums as may be required by them for the purchase of any stocks of wheat. … . It may very well be that upon occasion the borrowing operations of the corporation may be on a very substantial scale, and that their coming on to the money market may have an extremely important result, advantageous or disadvantageous, as the case may be. Surely, the Minister, therefore, is not entitled to argue that the operations of the corporation are of no concern to the general public. On a previous occasion I put to the right hon. Gentleman an aspect of this matter with which I aim very closely acquainted at the moment, since I happen to have the honour of being chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. In the ordinary course of events the operations of the Wheat Commission will come before the Public Accounts Committee, which has been appointed by this House to examine the financial transactions of various Departments or corporations set up by Parliament. It may very well be that the witness who appears before the Public Accounts Committee on behalf of the Wheat Commission will be asked questions as to what reason actuated the Wheat Commission in undertaking certain transactions. It may very well happen that such a witness may have to admit that he has acted very largely on the authority of the Flour Millers' Corporation.

If the House will refer to the paragraph which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) read a few minutes ago, they will find that the Wheat Commission is almost subject to the will of the Flour Millers' Corporation in certain respects. Clearly, then, the corporation ought to be answerable to some Committee of this House. This is a highly important constitutional point. I say with all earnestness that it really is not satisfactory for the Minister to say that the operations of this corporation are of no concern to this House. They are of vital concern, and unless the committee set up by this House to examine the financial affairs has the power to cross-examine a witness who speaks on behalf of the corporation directly, then this House cannot keep in review the work of the Wheat Commission which has to report to this House.

10.0 p.m.

We ought to be assured that there are adequate reasons for reserving the whole of the operations of this corporation from the purview of the House of Commons. Personally I do not know very much about agriculture, but like other people I know a good number of members of the farming community. They are people who live a somewhat circumscribed life in most cases, and on account of that are a little apt to be suspicious of the operations of vast concerns such as this, and they have a right to be assured to the utmost that the operations of this corporation are above suspicion. There are to be five people appointed by the Minister, and they are not called upon to report to any man. They are not like directors of a company, for there are no shareholders. They just determine for themselves precisely what they shall do and how they shall do it. That really is not good enough when it is a question of the control of what might very well be in a given year a million or more of money. The Minister has treated us very frankly up to now, and we are entitled to a full and complete justification for the removal of the operations of this corporation from the purview of the House.


I thought my last speech put the case as clearly as it was possible to put it. One thing I would say at the outset, and that is that the Wheat Commission will never be under this corporation. There seems to be some sort of idea in the minds of hon. Members that the Wheat Commission will be subservient at one point or another to the Flour Millers' Corporation. The corporation can be used for certain purposes, and in so far as it is used for dealing with any problem connected with quota payments or any trans- actions in the ordinary way of carrying out the scheme under the Wheat Commission, all those transactions will come under review and will eventually be laid before this House. The sole transaction that will not so be dealt with is the transaction which takes place at the end of the cereal year. I am very far from desiring to deny the right of this House to a proper review of things which are material to it. In this case the sole concern of the Minister, whoever he may be, will be to find that his order for purchase is complied with. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that after that purchase is made there is going to be some kind of transaction which is material, which is going to be hidden and which concerns us. I have tried to show what is the actual position. I quite understand that there should be anxiety on this matter and I am quite willing to discuss it, but I have tried to convince hon. Gentlemen opposite that they are here concerned about a thing which really does not matter, as far as Parliament is concerned, as far as the question of price is concerned, or as far as the consumer is concerned.

What in fact happens? These people are the representatives of constituents outside in the business. They are, under this legislation, obliged to purchase. After they have purchased and the stocks have been delivered, then, as long as we have clear evidence that that has been done, the question of how they dispose of what they have purchased is a matter for themselves and their constituents and not for us. It does not affect the quota payments. It does not affect the expenses or transactions of the Wheat Commission and, with every desire to see that there are what I would call, frankly, necessary provisions in this matter, I think it is then a question which concerns nobody else except the corporation itself and its constituents. There are the registered millers throughout the country who are in fact conversant with what is going on, whose interests, no doubt, are affected, but whose interests in this respect have nothing to do with quota payments, but only with their own affairs. Any burden which may fall upon them is a matter solely for them and, in the circumstances, it is unnecessary to burden them by adding further provisions to deal with a question which actually has nothing to do with the public authorities.


We are obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the sympathetic way in which he has spoken, but I do not think that he quite grasps what he is doing in this Bill. He is engaged in a very novel experiment. He is setting up a great corporation which is going to run, to a considerable extent, the business of milling and it is quite clear that, once this thing is started, it is going to be, practically, in the position of a syndicate. There is a curious tendency on the part of the Government in favour of Syndicalism rather than Socialism. They do not appear to like very much control by this House, but they like setting up corporations. Very much the same thing was done in the case of the Electricity Act. The right hon. Gentleman says that the House is not concerned with this, but it is very much concerned. We are setting up a very powerful business which is going to make profits and is going to be controlled in syndicalist fashion by the millers.

We are always told that it is going to be controlled by absolutely trustworthy people. I have no occasion to speak against the millers. I know millers myself and I have no doubt that the millers are admirable people, but, on the other hand, we must remember that in the milling world there are some very big businesses and some very small ones, and it is clear that this corporation is going to be run by a few of the very big firms. They will "boss" the whole show, and I think it essential that some watch should be kept by this House upon their proceedings. I do not suggest that the corporation's affairs should be meticulously controlled by the Treasury or subject to questions put in this House, but that is quite different from saying that they are to be set free to run "on their own," free from any control as to their general lines of policy. This is a very large sum of money which is to be controlled, and I am rather suspicious of this power of purchasing. The duty of purchasing stocks is a very curious provision. I think there is every possibility of the market being rigged, and I frankly state that in our view the House would be ill-advised if it left this new Behemoth which is being created by the right hon. Gentleman to escape altogether from its control. We shall certainly press this Amendment.


A very good case in favour of the Amendment has been made out by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones). The gravamen of the charge which he made was that this corporation would be able to borrow and the Minister entirely ignored that consideration in his reply. This House is very jealous of its own privileges and prerogatives, and it should watch carefully what powers it delegates either to the Wheat Commission or the Flour Millers' Corporation. As the hon. Member for Caerphilly pointed out in his very able speech, the corporation, under Subsection (3), will have power to borrow. That is a very important power and it might be used at a very awkward moment for British credit. The Speakers of the House of Commons have always been very jealous of the position of the House of Commons in regard to these matters. Time and time again in British history Speakers have defended the rights of the House in this respect. I can hardly ask you, Mr. Speaker, to intervene in the Debate, but it is the case that this is a question affecting the rights of the House of Commons. An occasion might arise when this corporation would issue a loan which would interfere with the operations of the Treasury or of His Majesty's Government, and it is right and proper that its transactions should be subject to and should be laid before Parliament.

That is a proposition which ought to appeal to many hon. Members who do not agree with my views on fiscal affairs. They might do me the honour of showing me some sympathy when I raise a question concerning the rights of the House. This is a matter which does not apply to Free Traders or Tariff Reformers but affects the House of Commons as a whole. I support the Amendment and I ask that the Government should reconsider this very modest suggestion that proposals of this corporation to borrow or to issue loans should be laid before Parliament before being issued to the general public. It is an immense power to delegate to anybody, either to the Wheat Commission or the Flour Millers' Corporation, that this House, the guardian of British credit, should hand over to anybody the right to issue loans without being able to say whether it is advisable or not. Under the Bill the corporation may enter into financial transactions on an immense scale which may affect the national credit of Great Britain and the British Government, and therefore I suggest that the Minister should reconsider this very modest proposal.


I wish to support the Amendment and to say that we are very disappointed with the Minister's attitude to the later Amendments that we have put from this side. The more we see and hear of this Bill, the less we like it, and, while we are disappointed with the Minister's excess of caution, we feel that he knows what he is doing well enough, and that he knows it is better to remain silent than to try to clear up this point, which must cause apprehension in the mind of everyone who has given the matter his attention. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment rightly called attention to the fact that the Flour Millers' Corporation will be merchants of wheat on a very large scale indeed. In Clause 3 there is provision for the corporation to buy no less than 12½ per cent. of the national output of wheat in a given year. When we try to assess the value of that proportion of the national output, we find that it may be a figure of no less than £1,750,000.

This corporation is not a body to carry on the business of flour milling. It is to be given very extensive powers, and, strange to say, the number of persons to be appointed on the corporation coincides exactly with the number of people who are connected with big milling firms, as we have heard to-night from the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter). There are to be four representatives of millers on this corporation, and we are told that 90 per cent. of the milling operations of this country is done by four large firms. Those people will not only be given the right to control their own business as millers of wheat, but they will be allowed to buy a large volume of millable wheat which, under the provisions of the Bill, never need be milled. They will be allowed to go to the market and, finding 12½ per cent. of the year's crop unsold, they will be able to borrow money, from some public bank, it may be —we do not yet know how it is to be borrowed—sufficient to buy this wheat, but, having bought it, they are under no obligation to mill it. They can then go to the poultry breeders or stock raisers and say, "We have wheat on our hands which we can sell to you," and there is nothing in the Bill which states the price at which it may be sold.

They can make a very large profit. They can sell this millable wheat for purposes other than milling to private individuals, and in this Clause, in Sub-section (4), it is provided that: any profits shown by the audited accounts of the Millers' Quota Fund to have been earned in any cereal year by the sale or disposal of any such stocks as aforesaid shall be distributed to millers in the same proportion as the output of each miller for that year bears to the aggregate output of all millers for that year. These four large milling firms, represented directly on the corporation, will be allowed to search all available sources of wheat supply in this country, buy up to the extent of 12½ per cent. and an annual figure of nearly £2,000,000, and sell it, without any limitation of price or profit, and there is nothing in the Bill to prevent them enriching themselves from services entirely unconnected with the business of milling or growing wheat. These people are to be constituted into a body of wheat merchants with limitless

Division No. 144.] AYES. [10.24 p.m.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)
Attlee, Clement Richard Grundy, Thomas W. Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot
Batey, Joseph Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Maxton, James
Briant, Frank Harris, Sir Percy Owen, Major Goronwy
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield) Hicks, Ernest George Parkinson, John Allen
Buchanan, George Hirst, George Henry Pickering, Ernest H.
Cape, Thomas Holdsworth, Herbert Price, Gabriel
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Jenkins, Sir William Rathbone, Eleanor
Cove, William G. Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)
Cripps, Sir Stafford Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Salter, Dr. Aitred
Daggar, George Kirkwood, David Tinker, John Joseph
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Watts-Morgan, Lieut. Col. David
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Lawson, John James Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Edwards, Charles Leonard, William Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Logan, David Gilbert Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Lunn, William Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) McGovern, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Mr. Groves and Mr. John.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Balniel, Lord Borodale, Viscount
Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.
Albery, Irving James Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd) Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar Briscoe, Capt. Richard George
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey Broadbent, Colonel John
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Bateman, A. L. Brown, Ernest (Leith)
Apsley, Lord Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B.(Portsm'th,c.) Brown,Brig.-Gen. H.C.(Berks.,Newb'y)
Aske, Sir Robert William Bernays, Robert Browne, Captain A. C.
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B. Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.
Atkinson, Cyril Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Burghley, Lord
Bailey, Eric Alfred George Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton) Burnett, John George
Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M. Bird, Sir Robert B.(Wolverh'pton W.) Butt, Sir Aifred
Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J. Blinded, James Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)

opportunities for making profits, which they will divide in their own way without making a return to anybody. We are demanding that these people should have their accounts put before Parliament. Are we to have the risk of a national scandal over the business? The beet-sugar subsidy is becoming a scandal even with all the publicity which is afforded to it, and people are becoming seriously concerned with the way in which the business has been done. Here is a thing to be carried on in the dark, with profit for a few individuals, with secrecy, and with reticence from beginning to end. I believe that it will be in the right hon. Gentleman's interest to accept this Amendment, for he will be the person to be held responsible if any scandal arises out of an unwillingness to reveal these transactions. It will be brought back to him, and for his own personal honour, for the honour of his party, and for the honour of Parliament, he should accept this simple request which will cost nothing. It is a straightforward, simple Parliamentary request to which he ought very readily to accede.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 55; Noes, 256.

Campbell, Rear-Adml. G. (Burnley) Hornby, Frank Remer, John R.
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Horsbrugh, Florence Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.
Carver, Major William H. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)
Cassels, James Dale Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport) Robinson, John Roland
Castle Stewart, Earl Hume, Sir George Hopwood Ropner, Colonel L.
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg) Rosbotham, S. T.
Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City) Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H. Ross, Ronald D.
Chalmers, John Rutherford James, Wing.-Com. A. W. H. Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.) Joel, Dudley J. Barnato Rothschild, James A. de
Chotzner, Alfred James Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan) Ruggles-Brlse, Colonel E. A.
Clarry, Reginald George Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields) Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Clayton, Dr. George C. Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton) Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tside)
Colville, John Kerr, Hamilton W. Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)
Conant, R. J. E. Kimball, Lawrence Rutherford, Sir John Hugo
Cooke, Douglas Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R. Salmon, Major Isidore
Cooper, A. Duff Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Craven-Ellis, William Law, Sir Alfred Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart
Crooke, J. Smedley Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.) Scone, Lord
Croom-Johnson, R. P, Leckie, J. A. Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Crossley, A. C. Leech, Dr. J. W. Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Cruddas, Lieut-Colonel Bernard Leighton, Major B. E. P. Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.
Culverwell, Cyril Tom Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Simmonds, Oliver Edwin
Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery) Liddall, Walter S. Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A.(C'thness)
Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil) Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest Skelton, Archibald Noel
Dawson, Sir Philip Llewellin, Major John J Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Denman, Hon. R. D, Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Denville, Alfred Lloyd, Geoffrey Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Dickie, John P. MacAndrew, Maj. C. G. (Partick) Somervell, Donald Bradley
Drewe, Cedric MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Soper, Richard
Duckworth, George A. V. McCorquodale, M. S. Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.
Duggan, Hubert John MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw) Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) McKie, John Hamilton Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)
Eastwood, John Francis McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston) Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)
Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E. Magnay, Thomas Stones, James
Elliston, Captain George Sampson Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M. Storey, Samuel
Elmley, Viscount Margesson, Capt. Henry David R. Stourton, Hon. John J.
Emmott, Charles E. G. C. Marsden, Commander Arthur Strauss, Edward A.
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Martin, Thomas B. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Entwistle, Cyril Fullard Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.) Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Mayhew, Lieut,-Colonel John Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Templeton, William P.
Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.) Mills, Major J, D. (New Forest) Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Everard, W. Lindsay Milne, Charles Thompson, Luke
Fermoy, Lord Milne, John Sydney Wardlaw- Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Flelden, Edward Brocklehurst Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tf'd & Chisw'k) Thorp, Linton Theodore
Fraser, Captain Ian Mitcheson, G. G. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Molson, A, Hugh Elsdale Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)
Fuller, Captain A. G. Moreing, Adrian C. Touche, Gordon Cosmo
Ganzoni, Sir John Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.) Train, John
Gibson, Charles Granville Morrison, William Shephard Turton, Robert Hugh
Glimour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Mulrhead, Major A. J. Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Gledhill, Gilbert Munro, Patrick Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Glossop, C. W. H. Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Gluckstein, Louis Halle Normand, Wilfrid Guild Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Goodman, Colonel Albert W. North, Captain Edward T. Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) Nunn, William Watt, Captain George Steven H.
Grimston, R. V. O'Donovan, Dr. William James Wells, Sydney Richard
Guinness, Thomas L. E. B. O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Weymouth, Viscount
Guy, J. C. Morrison Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A. Whiteside, Borras Noel H.
Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Palmer, Francis Noel Whyte, Jardine Bell
Hales, Harold K. Patrick, Colin M. Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Pearson, William G. Wills, Wilfrid D.
Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford) Peat, Charles U. Windsor-Clive, Lieut-Colonel George
Hammersley, Samuel S. Petherick, M, wise, Alfred R.
Hanbury, Cecil Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n, Bilst'n) Womersley, Walter James
Hanley, Dermis A. Procter, Major Henry Adam Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Ralkes, Henry V. A. M. Worthington, Dr. John V.
Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n) Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich) Wragg, Herbert
Haslam, Sir John (Bolton) Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian) Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)
Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Ramsbotham, Herwald TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Ramsden, E. Sir George Penny and Commander
Hepworth, Joseph Reid, James S. C. (Stirling) Southby.
Hope, Capt. Arthur O. J. (Aston) Reid, William Allan (Derby)

I beg to move, in page 14, line 26, at the beginning, to insert the words: In computing for the purposes of this sub-section the output of a miller and the aggregate output of all millers there shall be excluded wheat-meal delivered by the miller or millers for consumption without further manufacture as animal or poultry food, and. This is a purely consequential Amendment.


I do not think that the Minister of Agriculture appreciates that this is really more than a consequential Amendment. The miller who purchases this British wheat under the order, if this provision is inserted, is not going to be the person who either pays the loss or derives the benefit, because the bulk of the British wheat will be presumably used for the purpose of making wheatmeal, and it is just that very wheat which apparently is now going to be excluded from the calculation. The meal which comes from the wheat bought by the Flour Millers' Corporation is to be excluded in calculating the output of the millers under this Clause. I should have thought that that could not possibly have been the intention of the right hon. Gentleman, and surely he does not intend the loss to be borne by people other than those who are buying the wheat. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman was wise in the other Clause to introduce this provision by which wheat-meal is left out of the calculation in arriving at the quota payment on the flour, but this proposal is a different thing. This is really the distribution of profit or loss on purchases of English wheat by the Flour Millers' Corporation and that is a completely different thing from the wheat distribution payment which was the collocation in which those words were used before. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the output of the miller is presumably the output defined under Clause 18. What is now proposed means flour produced by mixing, and we have not yet discovered what that means or how to do it. However that may be, does the right hon. Gentleman really intend that this wheat-meal, produced from the very wheat bought by the Flour Millers' Corporation, is not to be counted in calculating the amount which the individual miller is to get out of the aggregate loss or aggregate profit? That contention seems to me to be wholly illogical.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 14, line 27, leave out the words "exempting him," and insert instead thereof the words: certifying that he is exempt."—[Sir J. Gilmour.]