HC Deb 16 March 1938 vol 333 cc419-21
Major Procter

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish the powers of boards established under the Agricultural Marketing Acts, 1931 to 1933, to impose and recover monetary penalties from registered producers, to amend the said Acts, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid. This Bill seeks to amend the Agricultural Marketing Acts, 1931 and 1933. The object is to remove the increasing grievances which arise from the operation of the milk marketing scheme. I refer to the power which the Milk Marketing Board possesses, under Section 6 of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1931, to impose penalties upon registered producers for infringement of the scheme. The Acts deal with various boards, but I shall refer to the operation of the Milk Marketing Board in particular. This is an important matter, not only because of the fundamental issues which are involved, but because of the widespread application of these schemes. The operations of the board have resulted in the trial of 1,160 cases, and the Milk Marketing Board have imposed upon various offenders penalties amounting to £20,000. At the present time anyone who violates the milk marketing schemes is summoned to London from, say, Devon or the North of England, is tried by very estimable gentlemen and is penalised in a way that I shall describe hereafter.

I maintain that the procedure of the Milk Marketing Board in its judicial capacity is very inconvenient indeed, especially to poor people who have to come long distances, pay their fares, and even if they are found not guilty have no expenses whatever allowed them. Furthermore, it is a waste of energy on the part of the board itself. One day every fortnight is devoted to judicial duties, and penalties are imposed on poor men from all over the country. It is a waste of energy for the Milk Marketing Board to stop discussing the problems arising out of the milk supply and become judges in their own cause. In the second place, there is a violation of what is regarded as a very priceless treasure of our Constitution: that is the Rule of law. By that I mean a certain supremacy and uniformity of law as contrasted with mere arbitrariness or some alternative mode of determining the rights of persons. In France there is an administrative law which has its own courts and its own jurisprudence. We seem to have adopted in this country all the worst features of this French administrative system. In the Milk Marketing Board we have a judicial body which is not a Court, administering the law without rule or any uniformity, by means of a set of gentlemen who are imitation magistrates.

Let me show exactly what happens all over England to-day. An agent of the board knocks at the door and asks the householder if she has bought any milk. She replies, "Yes." He asks what price she paid for it. The agent sometimes gives the impression that the board is compiling statistics or is out to reduce the price of milk. Mrs. Jones signs a slip that she bought milk at 6d. when it should be 7d., and then the poor retailer is brought to London before this Sanhedrin which weighs the evidence and finds the poor fellow anything up to £100, and in certain other offences up to £300. There is no sworn testimony; the evidence is hearsay evidence and every principle of injustice is perpetrated. I maintain that the Court acts in a very arbitrary manner. In the Accrington Division retailers were summoned to London and fined various amounts for selling milk at 6d. when it should have been 7d. a quart. The board adjourned the cases of the little fellows and permitted the big men to sell at 4d. a quart without the imposition of any penalty whatever. There is no rule or uniformity of law in that kind of justice. Furthermore the Milk Marketing Board is open to bargaining. It inflicts a fine, say of £300, and the solicitor writes "We offer you £100." The board says "Very well, we will accept your £100." That is not justice or even common sense. Fancy bargaining with a judge in an ordinary court! I am not pleading that offenders should not be fined but I do ask that any offender under the various schemes of the Marketing Acts shall be brought before a local court where witnesses can be examined, where the testimony can be sworn to, and where the principles of British justice will be carried out by efficient people.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Major Procter, Mr. Macquisten, Mr. Lyons, Lord Willoughby de Eresby, Mr. De la Bère, Mr. Beechman, Mr. Petherick, Sir Arnold Wilson, Mr. Foot, and Mr. H. G. Williams.