§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
I beg to move, in page 16, line 25, to leave out Sub-section (3).
The House will see that the procedure that is contemplated in this Clause is that a poll should be taken of the registered persons, and afterwards, if a majority is obtained, the scheme is to be laid before Parliament, and the approval of the two Houses obtained, after which the Minister will table an Order in draft. That is different from the procedure under the Agricultural Marketing Acts, according to which the two Houses of Parliament must approve this scheme first, and then it is submitted to a poll of registered producers. This Amendment is linked up with a series of Amendments in my name, which are all designed to the same end. I am proposing that, first of all, the scheme should be laid before the two Houses of Parliament and they should have the power to amend the scheme, as well as to accept or reject it. After it has been passed, with or without Amendments, it must then be submitted to the registered producers. Obviously, I have to take it in that order, because otherwise the registered producers, if they vote first and we have power to amend, will not know whether the scheme for which they vote is the one that will come into force. This is a matter to which I attach great importance.
We have had a great deal of experience of these marketing schemes. They are brought forward as draft Orders and laid before the House. They are matters of considerable complexity. They affect intimately the livelihood of very large numbers of persons. They are brought before the House, and very often at very 640 short notice. With the milk scheme, we had only five days in which to familiarise ourselves with the terms of the scheme. It was passed late at night, taken with a lot of other business; and afterwards the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for Scotland made a speech in the country in which he said:My scheme to revolutionise the milk industry had 90 Clauses. In the morning the House knew nothing about it, and by night it was the law of the land.I do not know if that was a correct picture of what happened; but, at any rate, it throws an interesting light on the mentality of the Front Bench. A great many things that come before the House are trivial compared with these schemes. Yet I remember, when we had the potato marketing scheme, the hon. Member who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour making a great many criticisms of that scheme, the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) making many criticisms from the point of view of Scotland, to which the House listened with great interest and which had much substance, yet we were unable to give effect to them, and the Minister could not have given effect to them, even if he had wished to do so, because we had no power to amend. This modern practice of doing things by Order, which used to be done by Statute, is derogating in a very real sense from the power and authority of this House. I do not propose, in view of the fact that many Members are not present at this hour, to divide the House on this issue, though I would on another occasion; but I want to make my protest against the adoption of a procedure of this kind, fettering this House on a matter which affects the lives of a great many of our constituents.
§ 8.44 p.m.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I presume that the Minister is not going to accept these Amendments, and my hon. Friend has intimated that we shall not divide; but I hope the Minister will keep this in mind. Would he not consider whether, when the next Bill of this kind comes along, arrangements may be made so that a committee of Members who are really interested in the matter should deal with schemes of this kind and make amendments in Committee upstairs? 641 Will he examine whether that is a possible way of getting out of what, I am sure, the Minister must regard as an unsatisfactory position, in which you have to choose between taking up the time of the whole House with an immense amount of detail, or presenting a Bill to the House in a form which the Minister can amend when he is convinced by our Amendments that it is desirable?
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell
There is only one observation I want to make in reply to hon. Members who sit on the Liberal benches. They deprecate taking up the time of the House. If the Liberal party had cared to be represented on the Committee, as it might well have been, it might have been unnecessary to take up the time of the House with all these Amendments. We might have disposed of them in the name of the Liberal party during the Committee stage of the proceedings. I am within the recollection of hon. Members on both sides of the House who were present when I say that during the Committee stage we discussed most of the matters to which the Members of the Liberal party have referred in the course of the discussion on the Report stage tonight.
§ Mr. Shinwell
To the best of my recollection we discussed the question whether it was desirable to permit schemes of this kind to pass muster without very careful examination by Parliament. The matter was not discussed at great length, but I can give the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) and his hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) the assurance that their interests were well safeguarded by the Labour party on the Committee during their absence.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It appears to this extent. With the exception of the hon. Member himself as far as speechmaking is concerned, supported by one or two at most of his hon. Friends, it does not appear that the Liberal party were unduly perturbed about the principles to which he referred during the course of his speech. The hon. Member said that they did not intend to press the Amendment to a Division. It is open to him to divide the House——
§ 8.49 P.m.
I gather from the hon. Member that his other Amendments are consequential on this one, and that he would like me to deal with them all simultaneously. The hon. Member raised this matter, although he did not attend the Standing Committee, in his speech on the Second Reading of the Bill, and he included in his condemnation of the existing procedure, all the marketing schemes under the Agricultural Marketing Act. He has been good enough to say that he does not wish to take up much of the time of the House in dealing with this matter, and that he will not proceed to a Division. I hope that I shall be equally tender towards the House. Since the matter involves an important issue of principle which he has often raised before, perhaps I ought in one or two sentences to go over the case against it. It is a case in which most Members of the House are interested on constitutional grounds. All schemes must fall within the framework of the Bill, and the Bill is subject to detailed criticism and amendment in Parliament.
We have been told that the working of Parliament is becoming congested with too much business, and I have heard some of my hon. Friends of the Liberal party argue that it would be much better if we could spend more of our time in debating broad issues and not take up so much time with details. All these marketing schemes must be within the framework which has been subjected to detailed criticism and amendment in Parliament. Provided the scheme complies with that condition and is approved by the responsible Minister, it seems unnecessary to add to the already long and complicated procedure by conferring upon Parliament power for detailed amendment. The Bill provides ample safeguards both for persons whose activities are to be regulated by the scheme, and for the general public, and for other persons likely to be affected in their commercial interests. Those who may be registered under the schemes have power of acceptance or rejection, and all affected persons are amply protected by the constitution of the Consumers' Committee and the 643 Committee of Investigation. If the Minister is convinced, either by argument within the House or by any other considerations, he always has the power to revoke an unsatisfactory scheme.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Petherick
I beg to move, in page 16, line 32, to leave out from "least," to the end of the Sub-section, and to insert:eighty-five per centum of the total number of registered persons have voted in favour of the scheme.Sub-section (3) of this Clause, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) has just pointed out, contains conditions under which a poll shall be carried out. Hon. Members will find rather an extraordinary factor in it. The Clause reads:unless the result of the poll shows that at least half the total number of appropriate registered persons have voted, and that at least two-thirds of all the votes polled have been cast in favour of the scheme.It appears only necessary, therefore, to have 34 per cent. of the people in the branch of the industry concerned voting in favour of the scheme and the scheme will go through. I have before in this House suggested certain conditions without which I did not think it feasible to proceed with schemes of this kind. The first condition is a very obvious one. A scheme must be sound in itself. We do not know whether a scheme is to be sound or not as yet. The second condition is that there must be a very great majority in favour of the scheme. You are presumably to coerce the minority. Thirdly, and this is almost as important as the other conditions, the minority which is coerced must consist as far as it is possible for them to consist of the non-co-operative element and not of the most efficient financially and otherwise of the trade in question.
Under the Clause as it stands about one-third of the industry could vote in favour of a scheme and that would be sufficient for such a scheme to be put into operation. I admit that it may be claimed that, if people do not take the trouble to vote, they deserve what is to coming to them. Whether that is the case or not, I say that one-third of an industry in favour of a scheme is not a 644 sufficient percentage for such a scheme to be carried through. My Amendment says that 85 per cent. of the industry must be in favour of a scheme. I admit that that is putting it rather high. Under the Agricultural Marketing Act the percentage which has to vote in favour of a marketing scheme before it receives Government sanction is 66 per cent. I think that is far too low—it should be much higher—but to put it at 34 per cent., one-third of the industry, as it is in this Bill, is to my mind perfectly futile and outrageous. If the Government will not accept the Amendment as it stands I hope they will give some indication that they are alive to the dangers of a small percentage of an industry being able by their votes to put a possibly unsound scheme into operation.
§ Mr. Beechman
I beg to second the Amendment.
These schemes will depend on good will and co-operation, and you cannot enforce good will. You may force a small reluctant minority to come in, but it seems to me that this is not a good example of collective security.
§ 8.58 p.m.
The point at issue between the hon. Member and the Government is that, while the Government think that if at least half the total number of registered persons have voted and if two-thirds of the votes polled are in favour of the scheme, it is an indication of the feeling in the industry for the scheme to go forward, whereas my hon. Friend wishes to make it as difficult as possible for a scheme to be accepted. If only 15 per cent. of registered producers abstain from voting a scheme could not go through. I think the real safeguard is indicated in the observation of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) that the ultimate success of these schemes must depend on good will. We think that these percentages are a reasonable condition for the acceptance of a scheme, and they do not depart from the principles in the Agricultural Marketing Act. If the hon. Member thinks that any class of producers ought not to be included under a scheme he will welcome the Amendment of my right hon. Friend to Clause 12, which provides for any class of producers to be exempted.
§ Amendment negatived.645
§ 9.0 p.m.
I beg to move, in page 17, line 15, at the end, to insert:Provided that it shall not be necessary to take any poll under Sub-section (3) of this Section in relation to such an amending scheme if, within one month after a copy of the draft scheme in the terms in which the Ministers propose to lay the draft before Parliament has been delivered by the Ministers to the board administering the scheme to be amended, that board gives written notice to the Ministers that, in the opinion of the board, such a poll in relation to the amending scheme can properly be dispensed with.The purpose of the Amendment is to enable non-controversial amendments to a marketing scheme to be made without taking a poll of persons registered under the scheme. The Amendment will bring the Bill into line with the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, which provides that if the board administering a marketing scheme proposes an amendment to the scheme a poll need not be taken unless it is demanded by a prescribed number of registered persons. The procedure under the Bill as drafted is a little different from that under the Agricultural Marketing Act, as it provides that all amendments to schemes are to be submitted to Ministers by the Commission, but the effect of the Amendment will enable this to be dispensed with, and the Bill will correspond in principle with the Agricultural Marketing Act.
§ Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 18, line 39, at the end, to insert:(ii) In relation to a marketing scheme for regulating, in any respect, the carrying on of two or more designated businesses, this Section shall have effect as if for Subsections (3) and (6) thereof there were respectively substituted the Sub-sections directed by the Fifth Schedule to this Act to he substituted therefor.The object of this Amendment, which is introductory to a new Schedule to the Bill, is to lay down the necessary procedure for taking a poll in connection with a marketing scheme which covers two or more designated businesses. It is on the model of the provisions of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, relating to marketing schemes for more than one commodity, and the procedure to be followed in these circumstances is laid Clown in two new Sub-sections which will be included in the proposed Fifth Schedule to the Bill.
§ Amendment agreed to.