HC Deb 18 July 1944 vol 402 cc14-5
31. Mr. E. P. Smith

asked the President of the Board of Trade why he prosecuted a firm of wholesale grocers in Ashford, Kent, for an alleged overcharge of 4½d., representing ¼d. per 1b. on 18 1bs. of candles; why his Order No. 1458, of 1943, which fixes the price of whole cases of candles should have made no reference to split cases; and whether he is aware that to charge ¼d. per 1b. for splitting a case is an old-established trade custom.

Mr. Dalton

This case was considered by the local and central price regulation committees who both recommended prosecution. The defendants were convicted and fined £4. The Order fixes a maximum price for wholesalers which, the Central Price Regulation Committee advise me, is sufficient to cover such services as splitting a case.

Mr. Smith

Is the Minister aware that the wording of the Order is so ambiguous that it is highly improbable that the offences were committed at all? Does he not think, moreover, that these fourpenny-halfpenny prosecutions are deplorable and bring the law into contempt? Why is he not content in these cases simply to issue a warning?

Mr. Dalton

I am advised in these matters by a statutory body, the Central Price Regulation Committee, which is representative of a number of different sections of the community, and they in turn are advised by local price regulation committees. In the great majority of cases I follow the advice of the Committee, which has been set up by Parliament to assist the Board of Trade. The view taken by the magistrates was not the view taken by the hon. Member.

Mr. W. J. Brown

Are we to understand that when the Minister gets advice he never applies his own formidable powers of criticism, but automatically acts upon the advice given him? If he does that, what is the point of having a Minister?

Mr. Dalton

I do my best to combine the application of my own intelligence, with respect for that of those who are appointed to advise me. There is a very large number of cases and, if I were to apply my intelligence to reversing the advice I receive, this in every case would be a full-time job in itself.