HC Deb 29 May 1933 vol 278 cc1677-81

Amendment made: In page 11, line 13, leave out the words "kind, variety, grade of."—[Major Elliot.]

10.42 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 11, line 15, to leave out the word "either."

This Amendment must be taken in conjunction with the following Amendment, to leave out the words "or require the board to prescribe it." The point is this. Clause 9 amends the original Act and permits a marketing board to determine not only the kind, variety and grade, but the quantity. It says: The principal Act shall have effect as if section five thereof were extended so as to enable any scheme under that Act to provide for the determination from time to time of the quantity of the regulated product or of any kind, variety, grade or description thereof, which may be sold by any registered producer, so, however, that the scheme shall either specify the method of determination. And then come the offending words: or require the board to prescribe it. It may be necessary to determine the quantity which may be sold by any producer, but surely the scheme ought to determine the method of restricting quantities. This House has or should have some little control over accepting or rejecting a scheme, but if the method of restricting and determining quantities is left to the board the last vestige of power of this House has gone. We are proposing these Amendments in order to ensure that the scheme itself shall embody the method by which quantities shall be determined, otherwise we are left with no control. For that reason alone the right hon. Gentleman, being a good Parliamentarian and constitutionalist, at least until he introduced this Bill, will, I hope, accept the Amendment.

10.44 p.m.


Can the Minister of Agriculture tell me whether the Clause will enable a board to amend a scheme without going through the procedure required by the principal Act? Are we doing away with a public inquiry, which at present is necessary before any amendment can be made in a scheme?

10.45 p.m.

Viscount WOLMER

I hope my hon. Friend will not press this Amendment.

I can assure him that this is one of those provisions which necessarily follow from the task which we set ourselves, largely at the instigation of hon. Members opposite two years ago, of planning agricultural production. When you are planning control of any crop you are engaged on what is necessarily a difficult task. The amount which a board has to prescribe is related not only to the home demand, but also the nature's bounty. When you are dealing with any vegetable crop you are constantly against the problem of either having a possible shortage or a possible bumper crop. A few months or a. few weeks before the harvest it is very difficult to tell exactly what the crop is going to be, but if we want to relate supply and demand and to avoid the enormous waste of money which is involved in harvesting a crop that is not required for public use, we have to give the board some wide powers to adjust the supply to the demand.

My hon. Friend says that that is quite right, but the methods that the board are to pursue ought to be laid down in the scheme. I suggest that it is not possible to require a board always to lay down exact details of the method which it will have to employ. The principles no doubt must be specified in the scheme, but the exact method which the board is going to employ in every season to-make this adjustment must to a large extent depend on the circumstances of the case. I submit that in these matters we are bound to give to the board a certain amount of latitude. Everything. that the board does is subject to the review of this House. The Minister has to present an annual report on the working of the board to this House. If the board makes any mistake it is certain that hon. Members' constituents will see that the mistake is brought to the notice of the House. In all these matters the board will be acting under a great searchlight of public opinion. We shall probably achieve the best result by giving to the board a certain amount of latitude and trusting to the very ample provisions which exist in the Bill and in the Act of 1931 for seeing that the actions of the board are subject to criticism and review. If the board goes beyond its legitimate authority or makes mistakes, there is every means open to this House to call upon the Minister to interfere and for the matter to be ventilated.

10.49 p.m.


As I understand it is your intention, Mr. Speaker, not to call a second Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), I wish to refer to a point in the latter part of the Clause. I believe that this latter part was introduced by the Minister himself in Committee, and I want to refer to the passage which says: the scheme may provide for the quantity aforesaid being determined, in the case of any registered producer, wholly or partly by reference to the quantity of the product or of the kind, variety, grade or description thereof, as the case may be, which was, in some past period, produced on particular land or premises or by particular persons. It appears to me that, in its present form, this would enable producers to prevent anyone coming in because of the wording of the latter part of the Clause. For instance, the co-operative movement, which is engaged in a number of activities, might refuse to come into another type of production and might be prevented from coming in at all by those words.

10.50 p.m.


In the first place, the general position as to the particular Amendment which has been moved ought to be considered by the House in view of the admittedly novel and. experimental nature of the procedure which we are setting up. There is a danger in attempting to foresee too completely and to lay down in advance too rigidly the steps we shall have to take. No doubt we shall have to review the procedure under this Act in years to come, but the proper time to do that is when we come to it. As the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot {Lord Wolmer) said, if there are mistakes made, the whole position is subject to Parliamentary review. Every producer of any product anywhere in the United Kingdom has his representative here in the House of Commons, and will undoubtedly raise these matters. I think there is less danger of injustice being done by leaving a good deal of latitude at the beginning and correcting things as they come along than by tying the matter up too closely and then unpicking the knots when we have got the parcel so tightly tied that it is impossible for us to find a knife to cut the string. It may be that, when we are in a hurry to get a particular knot untied, we shall find it requires action by both Lords and Commons to alter it. That is my answer to my hon. Friend.

It is true that, if liberty is given to the board to prescribe the method, then the actual procedure will not come before this House for sanction, though it will come before this House for review. It is true that these powers are novel but with good will we shall do ourselves less harm by allowing for a certain amount of play than by making things too rigid at this stage. I would strongly urge the House not to insist on the Amendment put forward by my hon. Friend, and I would ask him, with that explanation that it is an experimental position, to allow the Amendment to be withdrawn. The further point of the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) touches rather on the later lines of the Clause itself and the power of new entrants coming into this field. Again, I say it is not intended to operate these provisions harshly or aggressively. They will be under the review of boards or committees on which there is a considerable amount of Governmental representation. In any case, the whole matter will be reviewed by the House of Commons canvassing and catechising the action of the servant of the Crown, the Minister of Agriculture, who stands here to answer for his salary, and thus the House has the ultimate right of controlling his actions. I hope the House will see its way, Since it has the power of future catechism and review of my action, to leave liberty to these boards and to rely on its power of reviewing future events.


Is that statement a repetition of the previous promise of the Minister?.


My previous promise was more specific that that. My promise then was to bear in mind. My present assurance is that the House will be able to review these matters. I am simply reminding the House that it is not abandoning any of that power. My previous promise was to bear something favour- ably in mind. In the previous case I was presumably to sit as a judge, in wig and gown as it were; in the present case it is contemplated that I may appear in the future as a penitent in a white sheet carrying a candle. There is a difference between the two positions.


In view of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's evident desire to do something—whether right or wrong—we express our appreciation by asking leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 11, line 21, leave out from the first word "of" to the word "as" in line 22, and insert instead thereof the words "that product or description."—[Major Elliot.]