HC Deb 07 December 1933 vol 283 cc1967-74

Considered in Committee, under Standing Order No. 69.

[Captain BOURNE in the Chair].

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purpose of any Act of the present Session to make further provision with respect to the financial powers of boards administering schemes under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, and with respect to the contents of such schemes, to extend the power to make loans to such boards under Section thirteen of the said Act of 1931, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of the sums required to defray any increase, resulting from the operation of the said Act of the present Session, in the expenditure authorised by Sub-section (5) of Section eleven of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, to be made out of moneys so provided."—[Kings Recommendation signified].—[Mr. Elliot.]

11.16 p.m.


I rise to reply to a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland), who asked why the Clause in the Bill differed from the Financial Resolution. It is simply that in the Clause we deal with the operation of the boards. They operate under Section 13 of the Act of 1931. The only place where the Treasury comes in is under Section 11 of the Act of 1931, and the House will see that it is only if a loan is not repaid that there will be any increased charge on the Exchequer. The Section dealing with loans which are not repaid is Section 11 of the Act of [931, and thus the House will see the reason for the discrepancy, to which my right hon. Friend rightly drew attention, between the terms of the Clause and the terms of the Financial Resolution.

11.17 p.m.


I wish to express my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman and regret that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) was unfortunately called away, but I will convey the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to him.

11.18 p.m.


I would like to put more formally the point upon which I made an interjection a little earlier. Although the Bill to which this Resolution relates limits the operation of the proposed loans and guarantees, is it proposed that the Exchequer under this Resolution and consequential administrative action will be responsible for the aggregate or any part of those loans and guarantees which may be unpaid by any of these boards? If so, is it not likely that once this precedent is set this loss, which has already been incurred by the Bacon Board, will be the forerunner of many others He said, a few days ago, that we may now have to deal with beef, which may mean very much bigger losses.

With regard to the Bacon Board, I suggest that it illustrates the grave risk which the House is running in backing the financial losses as the thing stands at present. Obviously, if production is increased in this country imports must be reduced from somewhere else, and that is the great flaw in the whole of these schemes. So far as finance is concerned it may well be the means of this House being called upon to make very considerable advances for meeting the losses incurred, due to the glut to which the Minister has referred on other occasions. The tragic fact is that in the period in which the Bacon Board made this loss of £500,000 the enhanced prices which have accrued owing to the action of the board put something like £4,000,000 of surplus profits into the pockets of the Danes, increasing the adverse balance of our trade with Denmark without any corresponding advantage to the exporters of this country, and at the expense of the consumers in this country, as an hon. Member below i:ne remarks. There really must be some end to this kind of thing. In the Resolution the House is shouldering a responsibility of financial losses and guarantees, and I venture to say that the constituent producers have no control whatever over the activities of this board. There is no analogy between membership of this House and membership of the boards. We at least can be thrown out by our constituents next time, but the unfortunate producers cannot dismiss these boards.


Why not? I cannot explain the whole of the Act of 1931 to my hon. Friend, but I can assure him it was all done in that year.


The point I want to make is that the constituent producers to whom these boards are supposed to be responsible have no kind of control over the boards in the manner that electors have over Members of this House, or in the manner that company shareholders even have over the directors of a public company. These boards, except for the flimsy control exercised by the Minister—who may not always be my right hon. Friend, but somebody with entirely different views—can act in a manner that may very well embarrass the finances of the country to a considerable extent. Under this Resolution, and those for which it will be a precedent, we are undertaking a dangerous and, it may be, a disastrous financial liability, all because of this acceptable and desirable increase in the production of home-produced food, and because the Government have not had the courage to impose a corresponding reduction in the imports of our foreign competitors.

11.22 p.m.


I do not think I could take the line of my hon. Friend who has just spoken, but I would like to point out the very real fears of many of us who opposed the stupid Measure of 1931. There is a very real danger in this Resolution, for the Government are making further provision out of moneys provided by Parliament, and there is the possibility that the whole scheme may break down and that the money will have to be paid. That ought to be made perfectly clear. I hope that these schemes will go through and be of great value in the future to our agricultural industry; I believe everyone hopes that; but it is right that some of us should occasionally point out that we see very real dangers in these schemes. The only reason why I vote for this Motion or for the Bill is because I am determined to give the Government every possible support in trying to get things done. We would rather see the Government fail than that they should sit down idly doing nothing, like a Socialist party. I am making these remarks, not because I wish in any way to criticise the Government, but because I want to support the Government. I do say, however, that there ought to be careful supervision by the Treasury over the whole of these proceedings. I am somewhat shocked in these days to find how very rarely we see a representative of the Treasury on the Front Bench on these occasions looking after the interests of the taxpayer.

11.24 p.m.


I am sure that the House as a, whole will sympathise with the criticisms of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). It is true that we must watch very closely the inception of such schemes, and any liability that Parliament may incur with regard to them. We agree that a vigilant eye should be kept on such schemes, and I readily recognise my hon. Friend's final words, that the House would forgive the Government much, but not any somnolence in dealing with the critical nature of things as they are at present. I pass now to the extraordinary remarks just offered to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for the Hulme Division (Sir J. Nall). My hon. Friend, coming late into the Debate, to which I think he cannot have listened—


I have been here all the evening.


Then my hon. Friend has not done us the honour of listening.


I gave way to you to reply.


My hon. Friend has displayed a very casual acquaintance with the foundation Act of the whole of the schemes which we are discussing. He made the statement that the producers had no means of getting rid of those boards, or, as I understood him, no power to prevent them being set up.


I said they had no control in any way similar to the control that electors have over the Members of this House or that shareholders have over the directors of a company.


Let. us examine that proposition. Did the hon. Member hear me say how the Pig Board or the Bacon Board was brought into existence 7 He did hear me. He must have heard me say that they had been brought into existence by a, vote of 99 per cent. of registered producers.


Is it not a fact that they had to agree to that or they could not sell under the scheme?


No, my hon. Friend should not be too rash in rushing to the rescue. I assure him it is not so. But I am dealing with my hon. Friend the Member for the Hulme division. He admits that the scheme was voluntarily set up by a majority of the producers. They did not need to set up the scheme. They had the power to bring it into force. Let me read to him a passage from an Act which describes the control which the producers have over the board that they set up. He will find it in Section 2 (1) of the Act of 1931 under which this scheme is now being brought forward: Every scheme shall provide for the registration of any producer who makes application for that purpose and shall constitute a board to administer the scheme which shall, subject to the provisions of the scheme as to the filling of casual vacancies, be composed of representatives of registered producers elected by them in such manner as may be provided by the scheme. Does he still maintain that they have not at least as much control over those representatives as cons auents have over Members elected to this House? If so, upon what does he base that contention?


They have not the same means of getting rid of them.


The control of representatives elected to this House is exercised on the occasions upon which those representatives proffer themselves for reelection. How often is that with the case of Members of this House? It may be a year, two years, three years, or up to the full term of the Quinquennial Act: These proposals as regards the election of board members by the registered producers give annual elections—five times as often. How, then, does he substantiate his claim that their control is not as effective as that exercised by constituents over their representatives in Parliament? I have in my hand the Agricultural Marketing Act scheme regulating the marketing of pigs. It constitutes a, board and says: thereafter the Board shall consist of eight district members elected one for each of the local districts specified in the First Schedule to this Scheme by the registered producers of that district, and three special members elected by the registered producers in general meeting. An election of district members for the South Western, South Eastern, Eastern and East Midland districts shall be held in the year 1934 and every second calendar year thereafter, or every second year. Here is the scheme to which he objects. I have read the passage which provides for an election, subject to the provisions of the scheme, every second calendar year. Surely examination of the scheme does not bear out the statement that the registered producers have no control whatever. I do not wish to do more than clear up the point at issue between the two of us. The election of members every second calendar year makes it clear that the registered producers have control over the members of the board, a control which, it seems to us, they are capable of exercising.

One or two of the other propositions which were tendered to the committee by the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not seem to me to stand criticism any more than his original contention. He accused us at one and the same time of creating a large expansion in home production and of putting purchasing power into the pockets of the foreigner. He cannot have it both ways. It is impossible at one and the same time to maintain both those propositions. As far as I understood him, he regretted a large expansion of home production.




Then I apologise to him He rejoices in this large expansion. He greets with pleasure, as we all do, this great expansion. He is fundamentally at one with us, then, in welcoming this scheme, and in supporting this Financial Resolution. All that he fears is that the expansion may not be great enough to carry the risk in granting a loan.

Let him come with us joyfully into the Division Lobby. The greater the expansion of home production that can take place, the less will be the liability to the Treasury. A risk of £500,000 on a £5,000,000 contract is greater than a risk of £500,000 on a £15,000,000 contract. If we can expand home production to a point which will lower these risks, my hon. Friend's fears will be dissipated. The loan is made under this Act, and is made on the security of the board, and it would not be rashly or lightly made, because Section 13 lays it down that: A loan under this Section shall not be renewed unless the renewal is recommended by the appropriate Agricultural Marketing Facilities Committee, and that committee shall not recommend the renewal unless they are satisfied that the board are in a position to repay the loan forthwith, that the renewal is required to provide for additional services which the board propose to undertake and that adequate arrangements have been, or will be, made to repay the loan at the expiration of the period for which it is to be renewed. The position of the loan is safeguarded as far as it is statutorily possible to safeguard it. It is true that there is a risk; there is always a risk in lending money. This country has lost money in vast sums abroad; cannot we trust our own people a little and develop our own country? Does it not mean expanding home production here, and giving the same facilities to our own country as have been extended to other countries? That is the proposal we put before the House. I hope that those words of explanation will make it possible for the hon. and gallant Member to follow us into the Division Lobby, if the Committee are so ill-advised as to divide upon the Resolution.

Resolution to be reported upon Monday next.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

It being after Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-four Minutes before Twelve o'Clock.