§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I think that a few words ought to be said on this occasion, but they need be only very few. It is more than three months since this Bill passed its Second Reading; there have been long delays in proceeding with it. It has been a case oflinked sweetness long drawn out.On the Second Reading I ventured to detain the House at considerable length, and made as full an exposition as I could of the reasons that led me to oppose the policy embodied in the Bill. Although I feel sure that everything I then said has faded from the memories even of those who listened to the speech, yet I do not propose on this occasion to repeat one single word of it. I would only renew my protests against the continuance of this enormously extravagant subsidy, which unquestionably penalises the general public for the benefit of one particular interest. The sums that are now being voted will bring the total expenditure upon the beet-sugar experiment, from subsidy and from rebate of taxation, to a sum of no less than £40,000,000. We have protested against any renewal of the subsidy beyond the date fixed in the original Statute without at least there being a full and careful inquiry as to the manner in which the money has been spent, and what justification might be given for it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer promised in his Budget Speech more than two years ago that such an inquiry would be held before the House was asked to vote any additional sum. 1525 The inquiry has not been held, and the House is being asked to vote an additional sum. The maxims that the Government commend to the House is that we should pay first and inquire after.
The reason why it is necessary to continue the subsidy after the date originally intended, of course, is to enable time to elapse for the interests concerned to combine together in order to create the monopoly which is now being formed. All the interests are combining, the producers and the refiners, in order that they could substitute a new plan which would draw from the consumer in an indirect way sums similar to those that are now being paid from the taxes. Two inquiries, as a matter of fact, are now being held. The Government, having delayed so long the investigation that was promised two years ago, think they will bring the average right by having now two inquiries simultaneously, one under the Agricultural Marketing Act which is being conducted by Mr. Scholefield, and the other a Departmental inquiry which is presided over by Mr. Wilfrid Greene. It seems a strange thing that, while both these inquiries are now sitting, they should have been delayed so long that it is necessary to ask the House to vote several millions of pounds, which is what we are doing now, in order meanwhile to continue the former system of sugar subsidy. There is only one thing to be said in favour of the Bill. It is that an open attack upon the public funds which is brought before Parliament and voted definitely and formally is better than what is now in prospect, a system of subtle, concealed subsidies which withdraw similar sums from the national pocket though not by means of special taxation upon the citizens. One may have some little respect for a highwayman but one can have no respect for a pickpocket. With that final benediction, I take leave of the Bill.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Clearly neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the House will expect that I should go once again into the subject of the principle underlying the Bill. It is admittedly a temporary Measure, a Measure for one year, which will have to be eventually replaced by a long-term policy. I am not saying at the moment whether that long-term policy should be the abandonment of any 1526 attempt to keep alive the beet-sugar industry or an attempt to keep this industry, valuable in itself and for the employment it affords as I and others hope. But I think it is fair to say with regard to the danger which the right hon. Gentleman immediately anticipated, that some subtle attack was about to be made upon the consumer by some back-stairs access to his private funds, that no such attack is made. Any scheme brought forward along the lines of the Marketing Act must be brought before the House, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. It was his Act. It was his party under his leadership which formed the majority that got that Act on the Statute Book.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
It is under the procedure of the first Act that both those schemes have been evolved. It is a little hard that hon. Members opposite who placed this Act on the Statute Book should twit us with all the imperfections it contains and to claim that we are organising the subtle attack of the pickpocket when we operate legislation which they themselves placed upon the Statute Book. I should hesitate to characterise my right hon. Friend's action in such strong terms, but, if he thinks that his Act lays the public open to attack by pickpockets rather than by assault by highwaymen, we must see what can be done about it. I am not saying that all the Acts which we place upon the Statute Book or which the right hon. Gentleman has supported are perfect. It may be that this Measure may have to be amended, and after this very strong expression of opinion, I shall certainly bring the matter to the notice of my colleagues in the Government. Any scheme brought under the Act will have to be brought before the House. When it is brought before the House, not merely subject to being prayed against, but to an affirmative resolution of the House, then will be the time to make an attack upon it or to defend any scheme put forward, and then I shall be willing to make such a defence. Meanwhile, the public inquiry into the procedure of that Act has been completed. The Scholefield inquiry into the objections to the sugar-marketing scheme has been made, and the report of the Commissioner is in my hands.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Reports under the procedure of this Act, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, are not presented to Parliament. I present a scheme in which I embody, if necessary, any alterations which are the result of the Report, but under the procedure so carefully framed and loyally supported by the right hon. Gentleman, the report itself is not actually laid.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
There is nothing actually to prevent it being laid. The report of the Greene Inquiry which is now in progress, will be a document of great public importance. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be fortified with this report when he comes to make a long-term policy, which we all agree is necessary in this respect. The inquiry is proceeding. There is a great deal of ground to be covered. It has many witnesses to hear. It has already heard a great number of witnesses. I think that I can say that it is making very good progress, and that the only ground of quarrel between the right hon. Gentleman and myself is that he has not had the results of the Greene Inquiry sooner. I regret it. If we had been in normal times and had not been working under tremendous pressure, I should have felt the necessity for apologising in coming before the House on this occasion. I wish it had been possible for the report of the Greene Committee to have been available at an earlier date. It is owing to the extreme pressure of circumstances which have fallen upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Agriculture that it has not been possible to get the report forward sooner, so that the House might have had the advantage of deliberating upon it before coming to a conclusion even upon this temporary part of the policy, as it must have the advantage of considering it before coming to the permanent policy.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
Is the Scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act? I gather that no action will be taken upon the Scholefield Report until the Greene Committee has reported and the report is made public?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am desirous that I should not take action in putting forward a scheme under the Marketing Act procedure until I and the House have had the benefit of considering the results of the Wilfrid Greene Committee's investigation also. It would be inadvisable to take action under the Agricultural Marketing Act on a matter so closely concerned with this inquiry, and I will give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that I will not take any such action. That is as far as we can go at the present time, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will not raise any further objection.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.