HC Deb 22 February 1935 vol 298 cc704-8

11.47 a.m.


I beg to move to leave out the Clause.

I do not apologise for raising this matter again in the House. It was raised in Committee, but we were working rather against time in order to get the Bill through, and the full implications of this clause were not thoroughly understood. The object of it is to give power to transfer to the board powers as to branding. The Secretary of State showed by his reply in Committee that he fully recognised the importance of this question, and he said: I suggest that the Ministers would not agree"— that is, to the transfer— unless they were convinced by practical knowledge of the facts and by experience that it would be in the interest of the industry as a whole. It is essential that the Crown's brand, which has gained a name for itself during over 100 years in the markets of the world, should be safeguarded."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 19th February, 1935, col. 126.] I think we all are of opinion that this brand should be safeguarded, and what I ask myself is whether the best method of safeguarding it is to transfer the administration of it to a corporation like the Herring Board. We have to remember that we are establishing an independent body with power to sue and be sued and to deal in herring, and, if this transfer were effected, it would put into the hands of this corporation the power to apply a Government mark to their own goods. A matter of considerable principle is involved. No objection has been taken in the past to the manner in which the administration of the brand or the branding of herring has been carried out, but the suggestion has now been made, and was made by the Duncan Commission on page 43 of their report, that the presenting of specific standards for brands, including the Government brands, the administration of which should be taken over from the Fishery Departments, should be handed over to the Herring Board. Another argument put forward why it should lie handed over is, I imagine, the general supposition that the board will establish national and other marks, and, being interested in marks generally, it should have the administration of the Crown branding as well as the marks which it might itself impose. I ask the House to consider, however, whether it is desirable that we should allow a trading board of this nature to apply a Government mark under its own administration and by its own officers. The value of the Government mark, which the Secretary of State rightly said should be safeguarded, has been its complete independence. It has been administered by the Government without regard to whoever may be the dealers in herring. I am sure that the Ministers would not be prepared to agree to the handing over unless they thought it was desirable that it should be done, but I go a step further than that, and say that the power should not be given to Ministers to enable them to hand over to the Herring Board power to apply what should be kept, and what has always been kept, as the Government mark which has been placed upon herring under the absolute independence and skilled administration of a Government department.

11.52 a.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

In Committee I was inclined to think that this clause should stand part, but on further consideration I have reached the conclusion that it would be, in all the circumstances, better to omit it. I do not attach so much importance to the value of the Government brand as was suggested in Committee. I think it would possibly be a good thing for the Herring Board to start its own brands, and possibly allow the Government brand to disappear when its own brands are fully established. I think, however, that a precedent of allowing a board representing interests, in the industry to use the mark of the Crown is one about which we should think twice or three times before we finally accept it. There is a great deal of legislation on the subject of herring covering the last 300 or 400 years, and the Government in a year or two may find it possible to consolidate and amend all the Acts, and perhaps take power in some fresh form to discontinue the branding if by that time the Herring Board has its own brand fully established on the market. There is no reason why a new brand of the Herring Board should not have the same reputation and validity as the Crown brand. In the past 20 years I was a consul at ports abroad, and I saw many marks disappear and replaced by new marks of no less repute. The Crown has a special significance in England and abroad, and I should greatly dislike it being used as a mark for export purposes upon goods unless it had been placed by a Government official in the exercise of his duties independently of the board.

11.53 a.m.


We recognise that there are arguments both for and against this Clause. It is interesting that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), who supported in Committee the proposal that this permissive power should be given to the board, is on further consideration moved, to speak against it. The position of the Government still remains as it was in Committee. The Committee showed itself in two minds on the subject, and finally decided that the clause should remain. At that time my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that before the power was transferred the board would, in the first place, have to ask for it. In the second place, the Ministers would have to agree, and I suggest that they would not agree unless they were convinced by a direct knowledge of the facts and by experience that it would be in the interest of the industry as a whole. This is not a case of a brand being applied for the benefit of certain sections of the industry. This is, in fact, a case of the incorporated industry assuming responsibility for the quality of its goods. Responsibility is a great soberer, and the Board will have to exercise responsibility in many other directions in which, if it fails, it will do just as much damage to the industry as if it were to exercise in an irresponsible fashion this power which it is suggested might in future be transferred to it.

The Duncan Commission Report recommended this transfer, and recommended that it should be made now, forthwith, in the statute setting up the new Board. We think that would be going rather too far, but at the same time it is desirable that wherever possible the recommendations of the Commission should be given effect to in the statute. Parliamentary time is limited, and it is not often we can bring before Parliament a Bill for the reorganisation of one of the fishing industries. Parliament has given much time and attention to this problem, and we are now in the final stages of enacting a statute which sums up the work and thought of many months. Without strong reasons it would be inadvisable to take out a Clause which merely says that, in the exercise of their administrative functions, Ministers may, On application by the Board, make a transfer of these powers, especially as the transfer was recommended by the Duncan Commission. I will, however. give a most specific undertaking, in the name of the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself, that no such transfer shall be made as a mere ordinary piece of administrative routine, but only after due consideration, and, I think we could say, after an opportunity had been given for a review of such a decision in the House. I can go no further, but I think that is a far reaching pledge, and I hope that with that assurance hon Members will not find it necessary to press the amendment.

11.58 a.m.


I take the view that it would be inadvisable to delete this Clause. The Board will, as a matter of honour, quite apart from duty, be eager to make their operations a success, and if they are, as I hope, going to seek for fresh markets, it may be necessary that there should be great elasticity as to the branding of herring. It will be to the advantage of the industry to allow the Clause to remain, so that if the Board do apply for this right to make brands, and put up a good case to the Minister, the Minister may, if he likes, transfer those powers to them.

11.59 a.m.


I fully appreciate the spirit in which the Minister has met this amendment, but I still think the House fails to appreciate the principle underlying it. It is on a question of principle that I moved it. I think it is wrong in principle that the Herring Board should have the right to apply its own brands, and although I appreciate the assurance that no step in this direction will be taken without a most careful scrutiny of the position I remain of the same opinion as I was when I moved the Amendment. I do not propose to divide the House, because opinion appears to be against me, but I want to register most strongly the view that we are making a mistake.

Amendment negatived.