HC Deb 25 February 1932 vol 262 cc649-54

I beg to move, in page 3, line 21, at the end, to insert the words: (3) The Chairman of the Committee and any member of the Committee shall, within one month after his appointment, relinquish any directorship which he may hold in any undertaking engaged directly or indirectly in the production or sale of any goods which if imported would be chargeable with the general ad valorem duty. During the progress of the Bill through Committee, a good deal of scorn was poured on proposals put forward by this side that members of the Committee should divest themselves of all financial interest in questions that came within their purview. This Amendment merely proposes that they should surrender directorships in any concern which may come under the operation of the committee. There is no suggestion whatever of dishonesty. Members of the Government are men of the most impeccable character. [An HON. MEMBER: "Some Governments!"] All Governments. When I look across the Table at the Front Bench opposite, I see hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who seem to me to combine the veracity of a George Washington with the purity of a Sir Galahad and perhaps a touch of the simple folly of a Parsifal. At the same time, they have, before thy take office, to relinquish all their directorships, and I know that some of them have done it at considerable financial sacrifice. It seems to me it is only right that members of this committee should follow that very wise provision and surrender their directorships also. I believe this has the support of Members not only on these benches but in other parts of the House. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not allow the Financial Secretary to obscure the issue with irrelevant farmyard remarks about bulls, cows and calves, but that he himself will make the concession which, I believe, is supported by very influential Members of his own party.


I beg to second the Amendment.

If the Bill is to operate successfully, it is desirable that people outside shall have the greatest confidence in those who are responsible for its administration. No one will have a greater degree of responsibility than the Chairman and members of the Committee. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Government generally, would desire also that confidence should exist in the mind of the public. Confidence certainly will be strengthened if the concession we are asking for is made, but, if not, there will, with some reason, exist in the mind of the public suspicion that the personal interest of the people holding that high office may influence their judgment. It may be altogether untrue that they would be influenced in that direction, but experience in the past will influence people in coming to a decision and the personal interests of the Commissioners may perhaps outweigh their judgment and their sense of fairness and, as a consequence, public suspicion will exist. I hope, therefore, that the Chancellor will make the concession that is asked for in the interests of the Bill itself and in the interests of that confidence that the public ought to have in officers holding high office under the State.


The wording of the Amendment indicates that it is supposed to protect the public from members of the Committee being influenced by personal interests, but it is clear that the interest of a director is not necessarily more than, or even as much as, the interest of a person who may not be a director but who may have shares to a, very considerable amount in the particular concern. Really, one has to trust to the standing of the sort of people who will be appointed to act with a proper sense of their responsibility. On the other hand, I agree that it is not right that members of the Committee, who are supposed to be giving their whole time to work on the Committee, should at the same time hold directorships, which, of course, would make calls on their time. I cannot accept the Amendment, but I take the opportunity of saying that I shall make it a condition of appointment of each member of the Committee that he shall at the earliest possible moment divest himself of any directorships, whether concerned with industry or not, which he may happen to hold at the time of his appointment.


I remember in the old days the late Lord Harcourt telling me, when he took office as Secretary of State for the Colonies, that he got rid of all his investments which were affected by Colonial Office work. I should have thought something of that sort might have been done by these people, because I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that a large holding in shares is more important than a directorship.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 28, at the end, to insert the words: in accordance with the evidence submitted to them. The object of this Amendment is to ensure that, although the committee is not technically a judicial body, it should at least act, judicially in the sense that its recommendations should bear some relation to the evidence before it. It would be manifestly improper of the committee to make any recommendations which were entirely against the weight of the evidence before it. It may be said that the committee would not do any such thing, but the safer course is that it should be placed entirely beyond the realm of possibility. The committee is invested with very great powers indeed, and it should be clearly enacted that its findings should not be arrived at too arbitrarily or by some hastily formed and ill-conceived decision. After all, the great judicial tribunals are bound by law to give decisions based upon the evidence before them. Surely it is not too much to ask that this committee should be similarly bound to have proper regard to the evidence brought before it.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I wonder what the lion. Member means by "in accordance with the evidence." What evidence? A lot of evidence is going to be submitted to the committee. They have to weigh up the whole of the pros and cons with regard to any particular industry which applies for protection, and they will come to a decision on the widest possible grounds. I hope very much that the committee will not take a purely judicial view of its functions. It is not a purely judicial body. It has to take into consideration, not merely the interests of the industries involved, but the interests of the whole of the industries of the country—the interest of British industry as a whole.


I take it that the hon. Member desires the advisory committee to have some regard to the evidence. Surely it is not unreasonable to ask that that should be enacted in the Bill.


Clearly the committee is bound to have some regard to the evidence, or evidence would not be asked for at. all. I see no reason for the Amendment. It would only confuse the issue, and we can perfectly well leave it to the committee to decide what weight to attach to whatever evidence is submitted to them.

7.30 p.m.


May I remind the hon. Member of a speech made by his leader, who said in, July last that this committee was to be judicial in character. The evidence given will be sifted and the facts and arguments for and against will be considered in the interest not only of the producer but of the consumer, and it will have the atmosphere associated with a court of law. This is a practical constructive proposal, so as to assure the public that when a case is put before this great and powerful committee, upon whose actions the whole future of British industry will depend, the atmosphere of a court of law as laid down by the Lord President of the Council will prevail, and that it shall not act as a committee whose ideas may be similar to those of some of the tariff commissions in America which are severely handicapping the trade of the country.


I ask the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment. whether they really desire to press it. If not, may we not get on to the other very important issues which have to come before us. The Mover of the Amendment says that it would no doubt be desired that the advisory committee should have some regard to the evidence submitted to it. How would he like me to move a manu- script Amendment that should have some regard far giving the public and the trade of this country just as much protection as the phrase used in the Amendment which he wishes to put in here? It is not possible for this House by word spinning to fetter the committee. The value of the committee will depend upon the character of the men upon it, and the judicial or the non-judicial character of the decisions which they may make. The committee will be judged upon the decisions which they make. It is not a ease of whether or not a phrase should be put into an Act of Parliament that they should have regard to evidence submitted to them. I would point out to the House that it is half-past Seven o'Clock and that there are many important matters to come before the House. I hope that it will be possible for us to pass rapidly on to those great questions of fact upon which we can make decisions instead of trying to put expressions of opinion into Acts of Parliament.


If the right hon. Gentleman feels that there are sufficient safeguards in the Bill already to ensure that the committee will act by having regard to the evidence before it, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in page 4, line 20, at the end, to insert the words: Provided that the power of the Committee under this Sub-section to require a person to attend as a witness before a person authorised by them shall not be exercised unless the Committee are satisfied that, having regard to the nature of the proposed inquiry, it can be conducted more conveniently or more efficiently by a person so authorised than by the Committee, and that the person proposed to be authorised possesses the necessary qualifications for the purpose. this is the fulfilment of a promise which I made to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and also to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Swindon (Sir R. Banks) to define rather more exactly the case where power is given to a person authorised by the advisory committee to examine a person attending as a witness.


I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making this concession.

Amendment agreed to.