HC Deb 14 February 1940 vol 357 cc789-91

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Jagger

I beg to move, in page 4, line 25, to leave out "two," and to insert "three."

Under this Clause it is proposed to set up a committee of five members of the Wheat Commission. The quorum of the committee is to be two, and the chairman of the committee is to have a casting vote. We think that the quorum should be three instead of two. We may or we may not agree about the merits of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but I think we would all agree that the dictatorship of an appointed chairman would be undesirable.

3.51 p.m.

Mr. Leslie

I desire to support the Amendment. I think it was Spurgeon, the famous preacher, who said that in his opinion the best committee was a committee of one, that one to be himself, but however highly-endowed with virtues a dictator may be, I object on principle to dictatorship, and the Clause, as it stands, would make the chairman of this committee, in certain circumstances, a dictator because it allows him a second or casting vote. This would mean that where only a quorum of two attended a meeting, the other member would be a mere cipher and the chairman would have the only say in whatever was decided. I submit that a quorum of three is small enough. In a quorum of three the chairman would still be able to exercise his casting vote in any difference of opinion which might arise.

3.53 p.m.

Mr. T. Williams

I desire to support the Amendment and at the same time to ask the Minister, for the purpose of saving time, to take this opportunity of clarifying another point. The Wheat Commission is made up of various interests, representatives being drawn from North, South, East, and West. There is now to be appointed a committee of five members of that Commission. This means that some of the interests represented on the Commission must be excluded from that committee. The Bill goes further and suggests that a quorum of two is sufficient for this committee and that the chairman, as one of those two, should have a casting vote—which really turns the chairman into the committee. Will the Minister tell us who is likely to become the chairman of this committee and which interests in the wheat world will be represented by these five members?

3.54 p.m.

Mr. Colville

We can accept this Amendment, because we realise that the proposal in the Bill that the quorum should consist of two might, in certain circumstances, present difficulties. Although the chairman has a second or casting vote, it is obvious that he might be placed in a difficult position. I therefore accept the Amendment, which I think will be an improvement on the Bill. The reason why it was decided that this committee should consist of five members was that there might be difficulty in members attending on all occasions owing to war conditions. I think that, with the Amendment which is now being made, the proposal in the Clause ought to get over any difficulty of that kind. With reference to the point which has been raised by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), I regret that I am not in a position just now to answer him fully, but I think there will be an opportunity for dealing with the matter at a later stage.

Mr. T. Williams

May I express our thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for having accepted the Amendment and our hope that, at a later stage, he will be in a position to tell us exactly whom these five members will represent?

Mr. T. Smith

What happens to the committee if the chairman cannot attend?

Mr. Colville

In that case, I presume, the vice-chairman would act for him.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.