HC Deb 29 May 1933 vol 278 cc1553-8

(1) Every scheme under the principal Act approved after the commencement of this Act shall require the board to appoint from among the members thereof an executive committee consisting of not more than seven persons, and shall provide—

  1. (a) for the delegation to the said committee of all the functions of the board under the scheme, except such functions, if any, as may be specified in the scheme; and
  2. (b) for securing that during the period specified in the scheme in accordance with the proviso to Sub-section (1) of Section two of the principal Act at least one of the members of the board nominated by the Minister in accordance with that proviso shall be a member of the said committee.

(2) In the case of any scheme under the principal Act which was approved before the commencement of this Act the Minister, after consultation with the board, may make an order amending the scheme so as to make it conform with the requirements of the foregoing Sub-section."—[Major Elliot.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.32 p.m.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This Clause arose out of an undertaking given in the Committee stage. It is a non-party matter. There was a desire expressed to get a business-like body which shall be able to address itself to the day-to-day working of the schemes. It was indicated by those who had had experience of the working of schemes that, with a large board, such as the scheme is to procure, it might—as in the case of the Hops Board, which has 18 members, the Potato Board, which has 33 members, or the Milk Board, with 17 members—find difficulty unless it was able to delegate its powers. It was desired very much that there should be no feeling that the producers were not getting fair consideration of their particular problems. Therefore, I asked the Committee to defer decision on this point until I had had full consultation with the representatives of the producers. I have been able to have that consultation and the new Clause has been drafted in agreement as a result of that consultation, and I think it fulfils the undertaking. It leaves the board large enough to preserve its representative capacity in regard to the producers all over the country, and it gives an executive committee sufficiently small to permit the appointment thereon of persons who are able to devote not merely a day or two in a month to the duties but perhaps a day or two a. week, and possibly more if need be. It also enables the full board to retain control of the necessary powers, particularly useful powers, which they would desire to retain, such as the power to submit amendments of the schemes or the power to determine the method of regulating sales quantitatively. The second Sub-section provides the simplest procedure that we can devise to apply the new Clause to the existing boards.

3.34 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman says that he has been in consultation with some of his friends between the Committee stage and the Report stage. I regret that he has not consulted any hon. Members who sit on these benches. I think we are entitled to some consideration if this whittling down process is to continue. I agree with him when he suggests that a smaller committee for certain purposes might be infinitely better than a large body, but I would point out that origiNaily it was provided that two members should be nominated by the Minister to sit on these boards. We think that in view of the interests of the consumers that are involved in all these marketing schemes the consumer is entitled to know that his side of the business will be looked after. This Bill is something rather different from the original Act of 1931. Not only does the Bill deal with the question of regulating imports, but the Marketing Board, once it has been established, will have the power under the terms of this Bill to propose a development scheme dealing with secondary products. It therefore involves all sorts of industrial interests. Therefore, we say that instead of the nominated members by the Minister being reduced it would have been wise in limit- ing the number of the members of the Marketing Board, not to reduce the Ministerial nominations from two to one. We cannot alter things if we go to a Division, but in view of the importance of the consumers in all these schemes we think the Minister might have considered them before placing the new Clause on the Order Paper. We shall watch the position from now onwards, and if the Amendments on the Order Paper are a clear indication that the right hon. Gentleman intends to give everything that his colleagues pleaded for upstairs, then the original purpose of the Bill will be wholly side-tracked and instead of its being the Marketing Bill that we look forward to, it will be an Import Restric-tions Bill, with all the conditions hitherto determined upon whittled away to nothing. We do not propose to vote against the New Clause, but we do think that the Minister might have consulted Members on these benches.

3.37 p.m.


If my recollection is right the Minister only gave an undertaking in Committee to consult those whom he has consulted. There was no suggestion that all parties in the House should be consulted, but only the existing representatives on the marketing boards. I do not think, therefore, that there can be any suggestion that the Minister has not done anything that he said he would do. It is very sensible and useful to have small committees which can do the day to day work that must arise if the work under the Act is to be done to the best advantage. Although I see the point as between one member nominated by the Minister and two, I am rather doubtful whether that can properly be made a point of substance if, as one hopes, the Consumers' Council watches these things from the point of view of the consumer. It seems to me that in the New Clause the Minister is doing a useful thing and one in regard to which I do not think any point of disagreement or contention ought to arise.

3.38 p.m.


As one of those who upstairs supported an Amendment to reduce the number of members of the board, I want to congratulate the Minister very heartily, not on accepting our Amendment but upon having produced some- thing of his own which is a great deal better. In the case of the Potato Board with its 30 members it was obvious that one could not get very quick decision from such an unwieldy body, but it has been pointed out that potatoes, which are grown all over the country wherever arable land exists, would require more representatives than a board, say, of only nine would be able to afford. Under the new Clause, while the representatives on the Board will be eligible to put their case, we shall have an executive of sufficiently manageable proportions to ensure that business will be carried on in an expeditous manner.

3.39 p.m.


If I remember rightly this Clause arises out of an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer). I do not object to a small committee. The Noble Lord made a point about the usefuiness of nominated members. He said that they brought business experience to the board. Why is the right hon. Gentleman limiting it to one member?

3.40 p.m.


There is one point I wish to put to the Ministry of Agriculture in regard to the size of the board. In the draft scheme from Scotland the board is to consist of eight members, and if they have to appoint a committee of seven members it means that one of the eight people origiNaily nominated to the board will have to be cut out. Would it not be better to alter this proposal and say that where a board is above a certain number, 12 or 14 members, they should be compelled to have a committee of seven to do the executive work? In the case where you have a small board, as in Scotland, of the number of eight, I think the scheme should be left as it was drawn origiNaily and that only in the case of larger boards should this committee of seven be necessary.

3.41 p.m.

Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN

This new Clause, I take it, merely means that a large committee will have to elect an executive committee who will have full powers to act. The Minister of Agriculture has power to nominate at least one extra member. In the Act of 1931 he had power to nominate two, and I take it that the new Clause does not prevent the Minister nominating two persons in- stead of one to a committee if he thinks it necessary. I hope that is clear. The trouble of these boards will be that they will not be up to their business. They require to know the consumers' point of view as well as the producers' point of view. Therefore I hope the Amendment will not prevent the right hon. Gentleman nominating two members instead of one on these small executive committees.

3.43 p.m.


An examination of the arithmetic of the new Clause will show that the fears of the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) are not justified. He will agree that the consumers' interests are much better represented by one representative out of seven than by two out of 33.


Thirty-three is the maximum.


The maximum is unlimited; and he will agree that a proportion of one to seven is a much better representation for the consumer than a representation of two out of 33. One hon. Member raised the point why leave it at one nominated member, why not make it two? I think that one out of seven is a fair representation. If you make it two it might lead to accusations of packing the board. That also answers the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown). While the Minister of Agriculture may nominate two members to the board he can only insist on one member being a member of the small executive committee. It would be unreasonable to insist on both his nominees being members of the executive committee, although I hope the men nominated will be of such a character that the board itself will desire to have both as members of the executive committee. I hope that will be the result in many cases. The hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. B. W. Smith) raised the case of small boards consisting of eight persons and. suggested that it was unreasonable to make an order making an executive committee of seven out of a board of eight. That is true, and, consequently, in the case of existing boards it is only provided that the Minister may make such an order; in the case where the board is as small as eight members the Minister would not desire to make an order insisting upon their nominating a committee of seven. In future, where new boards are set up, they would be set up with the knowledge that this provision exists and it would make it less necessary to pull down the members of the board Since it would be possible to have a large and representative board and a smaller executive committee.

Clause added to the Bill.