HC Deb 29 June 1938 vol 337 cc1991-8

(1) Any dispute between the Development Board or a Marketing Board and any person aggrieved by an act or omission of the board being any of the following persons, namely, any registered producer of pigs, any registered curer, any holder of or applicant for a producer's licence, or any person producing or desirous of producing bacon in Great Britain, as to whether such act or omission is in breach of the board's powers or duties under this Act or under any direction or determination thereunder, or under the Pigs Marketing Scheme, 1933, or the Bacon Marketing Scheme, 1933, and any dispute between any of the said boards and any such person as aforesaid as to the construction, meaning, or effect of any provision of this Act or of any such direction or determination or of the said schemes, shall be decided by arbitration and the arbitrator may make such an order in the matter as he thinks just.

(2) Where any such dispute relates to an act or omission of a Marketing Board and the Marketing Board claims that the act or omission was done or omitted in accordance with directions given by the Development Board, the Marketing Board may give notice in writing to that effect to the Development Board and to the person aggrieved, and the Development Board shall then be entitled to be a party to the arbitration, and the arbitrator may, if he decides to make an order in favour of the person aggrieved, decide whether the Development Board or the Marketing Board is responsible for the act or omission complained of, and make such an order in the matter as he thinks just.

(3) No person shall be deemed to be aggrieved for the purposes of this Section where the act or omission complained of is done or omitted in exercise by the board of a discretionary power vested in the board whether by or under this Act, or under either of the said schemes or otherwise.

(4) This Section shall have effect in lieu of paragraph 67 of the Pigs Marketing Scheme, 1933, and paragraph 60 of the Bacon Marketing Scheme, 1933, and accordingly those paragraphs shall cease to have effect.—[Sir A. Gridley.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.49 p.m.

Sir A. Gridley

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

I think there is general agreement that a provision of this kind is essential in the Bill, and I am glad to say that the Clause has the approval, not only of those who represent bacon curers, but also of the Pigs Marketing Board and, I think, of the National Farmers' Union as well; and I hope to hear in due course that it has also the approval of the Minister himself. I need not take up much time in commenting on the Clause. Sub-section (1) deals with disputes which may arise between any of the boards, or between persons and any of the boards, and provides for arbitration in such circumstances. Sub-section (2) deals with the question which board is at fault, and provides that the arbitrator shall make an order accordingly. The purpose of Subsection (3) is to direct the arbitrator. There have been cases in the past in which marketing disputes have been referred to arbitration, and the arbitrator, having heard the evidence of both sides, has come to the conclusion that such-and- such a decision on his part is the right one looked at from the point of view of his own judgment and common sense, but has ignored the Acts by which his award should have been guided. The Sub-section directs the arbitrator's attention to the fact that he must put on one side what may be his own personal views, and must have regard to the provisions of the Act dealing with grievances and the discretionary power vested in one board or the other.

Sir Joseph Lamb

I beg to second the Motion.

6.52 p.m.

Mr. Liddall

The proposed new Clause dealing with arbitration which stood in the names of myself and two other Members was not called, but I hope the Minister will accept this Clause, because, so far as I can see, there does not appear to be in the Bill any general provision for a right of arbitration, although the right of arbitration was provided for in the Bacon Marketing Scheme. In certain circumstances the Bacon Marketing Scheme might cease to function, and certain of its powers would then, I understand, be taken over by the Development Board. I am sure the House will agree that it is reasonable to suggest that, in such an event, registered curers should still have the right to arbitration. Apart from that, it is not difficult to conceive that there may in the future be differences of opinion between registered curers or other persons and the Development Board. I do not propose to weary the House with the various points on which differences may arise between the curers and the board, but, if the Minister is going to suggest that there is not likely to be any difference of opinion, and that, therefore, the right to arbitration would not be exercised, the obvious answer is that in that case there does not seem to be any reason why the right to arbitration should not be granted. After all, it is difficult for any of us here to foresee exactly what is going to happen when the Bill comes into operation. For that reason I support the Clause, and hope that 'the Minister will accept it.

6.55 P.m.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I am sorry to be a discordant voice in such a chorus of agreement as to the virtues of the proposed new Clause. My disagreement does not arise from any dislike of arbitration, or from any desire to prevent anyone who has a grievance from securing a speedy and full airing and ventilation of that grievance. I take it that the real reason why this Clause has been moved is that it appeared in somewhat similar terms in the Agricultural Marketing Acts, and has been a feature of the schemes under those Acts. But I would point out that we have adopted in the present Measure a rather more selective process for dealing with this question of arbitration. When the Agricultural Marketing Acts were passed, the future of the schemes under them was dark, and a general provision for arbitration seemed to be the proper method of forestalling any difficulty. But in this Bill we have made arbitration specifically a recourse for anyone aggrieved by a large number of things in the Bill. Indeed, nearly every case of importance where disputes may arise between curers and the boards, or between other persons and the boards, is covered by its particular arbitration Clause.

In Clause 12, the question whether producers' licences have been validly revoked has been made the subject of arbitration, and in Clause 14 the question whether compensation should be paid to people in respect of rationalisation, and, if so, how much, is made referable to arbitration. The question whether a producer's licence can properly be revoked under a rationalisation scheme is also made the subject of arbitration. Under Clause 29, if there is any question of the action of a marketing board being in contravention of an instruction of the Development Board, and damages arising therefrom, it is made subject to arbitration. What we have done is to pick out every case as we went along where arbitration seemed to be a proper course, and to attach specific references to arbitration in each case.

If, on the top of that detailed series of references to arbitration, we were to put in a general Clause of this character, the House can easily see what the result might be. So far from its being a protection against arbitrary action by the board, it would, in my view, have the effect of destroying one very powerful safeguard against arbitrary and unjust action, and that is speedy reference to the courts of justice. At the present time, if either the Development Board or a marketing board were to go outside the powers conferred upon it by the Statute, an injunction could be speedily sought to restrain it from its illegal action; but if all matters were to be referred to arbitration, it might involve a very long hearing, and much damage might be done before the courts were invoked. Again, take the ordinary debt collecting powers of the courts. The courts can not only decide whether debts are due to citizens, but can also collect those debts.

At the present time, supposing that a board has a debt against one of its members, it can issue a summons in the county court, and, if the man comes and says that the debt is not due because the facts are not as stated, the whole matter can be determined in the county court; a determination can be made upon the facts there and then, and it can be decided whether or not something is due. The whole matter is settled, both as to facts and as to law, in one operation. Now it is proposed that, instead of that, every dispute should be a matter of arbitration, and in that case we should have a prolonged procedure, where an arbitrator would first of all find the facts, and then make a pronouncement on the law. That would be very much more cumbersome and expensive and less satisfactory than the procedure of the ordinary courts of justice in this country. Arbitration is very often an admirable method of settling differences on questions of fact, and we have accepted it in every case; but the courts of justice have their own functions, and I should not like to see a general provision of this character ousting the law courts from their proper function of seeing that the bodies set up under the Statute act within the powers which Parliament has conferred upon them.

It is often a mistake to think that questions of a legal character can be more speedily and cheaply disposed of by arbitration than by a straight reference to the courts of law, because it is always within the powers of the arbitrator, or indeed of any of the parties appearing before him, if they wish for a settlement of the legal issue arising in the arbitration, to get the arbitrator to state a case for the decision of the High Court, and sometimes I have known cases when resort to an arbitrator has proved a more dilatory proceeding because in the end the matter has had to be referred to the courts. To attempt to cover every conceivable case of possible grievance against the board by reference to arbitration would be to oust the courts from a proper consideration of legal matters, and would not be in the public interest.

7.2 p.m.

Mr. Turton

I very much regret that the Minister has taken this line on this new Clause. After all, we have had a certain experience of the old marketing schemes, and the Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) has endeavoured to enshrine the result of that experience in this new Clause. It was with great regret that many of us saw in the Fifth Schedule that the arbitration system which has been tried and proved most satisfactory was to be discarded. The Minister says that Clause 45 covers all the cases of possible dispute. I would like to remind him of one very important gap in his framework. The disputes about quotas of factories under Clause 26 are not covered at all by Clause 45. That is a matter of very considerable importance. I remember the consternation that was felt about two years ago when a factory that had a licence for 150,000 pigs given it by the Development Board had that licence cut down to 50,000.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

The hon. Member is not now considering the Clause which we are discussing, because Sub-section (3) says: No person shall he deemed to be aggrieved for the purposes of this Section where the act or omission complained of is done or omitted in exercise by the board of a dicretionary power vested in the board… In other words, the framers of this Amendment have seen that it is impossible to refer to arbitration the powers of a discretionary character vested in the board: the quota of a factory would be such a discretionary power, and in that case even if this new Clause were accepted there would be no reference to arbitration.

Mr. Turton

I do not always see eye to eye with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockport, but with regard to the conditions which this new Clause attempts to remedy I agree that some amendment is needed. Under the old bacon marketing scheme we could go to arbitration, and in fact we did set arbitration in motion although, if I remember the history of those days, we managed to get by threatening arbitration certain accommodation from the Bacon Marketing Board which made that arbitration un-necessary. But I do really suggest to the Minister that it is not right to alter the system of arbitration that has worked fairly well for a large number of years; and although I listened to what he said in justification of the abolition of the system of arbitration under the bacon marketing scheme I do not think he made out his case. I hope that if we do not have this new Clause in the form in which it is moved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockport, perhaps in another place some greater safeguard may be given to all people in the pig industry, both producers and curers, by some better system of arbitration.

7.5 P.m.

Mr. Alexander

I think the Minister has put up a fairly well reasoned legal case against the wide terms of this new Clause. The object of the scheme would be very seriously hampered and interfered with by recourse to injunction methods as a result of arbitration, and I am not inclined myself to press, as the hon. Gentleman has, quite rightly from his point of view, for the whole of this Amendment. However, I should feel very much happier myself if I could get an assurance in open House to-night from the Minister that if we do not get the full provisions of this arbitration Clause at least we might in such a very controversial matter get some arbitration provision, or some similar method of negotiating difficulties that may arise, under the new and almost unconsidered Clause introduced by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) and adopted by the House. If we could get an assurance of that kind it might be helpful to the people for whom I am speaking on this matter.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

As I said earlier, we have taken pains throughout the Bill to add a reference to arbitration in every case where we thought it was fair, and if any hon. Member in any part of the House feels that there is some provision in the Bill which should have an arbitration Clause attached to it, we would gladly consider an Amendment to meet that point of view. With regard to the specific matter which the right hon. Gentleman has raised, touching the last new Clause, "Provisions as to transport of pigs on behalf of the curers," I will gladly consider, if there is substance in what he says, whether it can be met by the introduction of an Amendment in another place.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has several Amendments on the Paper. Do they all hang together? To the proposal to leave out "four" there are two alternatives.