HC Deb 09 October 1946 vol 427 cc250-3
Mr. Baldwin

I beg to move, in page 12, line 8, at the end, to insert: (c) include in any schemes under paragraphs (a) and (b) of this Subsection provision for the constitution of a tribunal to which any person aggrieved by any determination or decision of the appropriate Minister under this and the two following Sections of this Act may make representations and having power to make such recommendations to the appropriate Minister upon such representations as it considers expedient. After the heat of the Debate on the tied cottages, I hope we may get the Minister in a reasonable state of mind in regard to this Amendment. The object of it is to give the individual the right of appeal from any decision by the appropriate Minister. I do not propose to put many arguments forward with regard to this because the arguments used upstairs in Committee on Clause 8 apply to this Amendment. Then the Minister, who was feeling, possibly, more reasonable on that occasion, accepted the Amendment, and gave the right of appeal from the decisions of the Minister. I hope that in this case he will again agree that the final decision should not rest with him, and that he should not be in an arbitrary position. In this country, so far, we have avoided dictatorship, and we have given, and hope to give, the right of appeal to any individual. I do hope, therefore, that the Minister will feel that in this case he can accept the Amendment and give the right of appeal to anyone who feels he is not satisfied with the decision taken by the Minister.

Mr. Snadden

I beg to second the Amendment.

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman opposite wants this Bill to work as smoothly as possible with the cooperation of all concerned. There has been very little trouble in Scotland in regard to the payment of these subsidies. In the part of the country I know best I have investigated many claims where injustice had been alleged. I am bound to say that during the war there were few, if any, occasions where injustice was done; but there were some cases on the borderline; and as we know that such cases were very small in number, it would not seem to me to be a difficult thing to grant the right of appeal to the small number who will be affected under this Bill, so that we may get the maximum amount of cooperation from everyone, and so that the farmer will feel satisfied, if he has a grievance, that someone is to hear it.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)

This question is one on which there was a sharp conflict of opinion upstairs. Hon. Members opposite took the view that, when a farmer is aggrieved by the decision of the appropriate Minister on any question of subsidy payment, the farmer with the grievance ought to have the right of appeal to an independent tribunal. We take the view that these subsidies, as I argued before, are, indeed, discretionary payments made by the Minister. The Minister is responsible. The Minister is fully responsible, and he has no right whatever to abdicate his responsibility and pass it on to any tribunal whatever. We took that view upstairs. We have considered the thing further since then. We are still of the view that to accept this proposal to set up a tribunal would be to abandon an established principle, which would involve reconsideration of the method of payment of all Government subsidies. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite share that view, but that is our view. We do not think, in the circumstances, that those who would not insist on tribunals being set up to consider aggrieved persons wanting every and any form of Government subsidy, would want to insist on acceptance in this case. We of the Government cannot accept it, I fear; and, for the reasons I adduced just now, and the rather longer arguments made upstairs, I hope that hon. Members opposite will not feel disposed to press their Amendment

Mr. York

I am sorry that the Undersecretary has refused to consider this at all, because this is rather a different case from the normal Government subsidy. In the case of the housing subsidy, for instance, the facts are entirely on the table, and a very large section of the community can judge the rights and wrongs of those facts. But when one is considering whether or not hill sheep subsidies should be given, one is relating the subsidy to a decision on quite a different level: for this reason—that there is only a handful of men in each locality competent to make that decision. I doubt whether there is any hon. Member on the opposite side of the House who would come up to my constituency and decide this question. There is no blame to them. They have not that experience. It is purely a practical matter. Moreover, it goes further than that, because it deals with livestock. Again, when the war agricultural committee is discussing dispossessing a farmer, it is actual experience in the handling of men which leads the committee to their decision. But there, in a case of that kind of practical experience, there is an appeal. Here, we have the servants of the Minister, agents of the Minister, making a decision upon their personal opinion—I underline the word "opinion" —on a practical matter, and I submit to the Under-Secretary that that is an entirely different type of subsidy, from the normal subsidies given by the Government for other purposes.

It is for these reasons that I think he is failing to distinguish between subsidies paid on an opinion and subsidies paid on easily ascertainable facts.

Lieut. - Commander Joynson - Hicks (Chichester)

I wish to join in supporting this Amendment, not only for those reasons but on the question of principle. With increasing frequency during the past few years it has become the habit to insert in Bills this particular principle, whereby a Government Department under a Minister becomes the maker of the law, the judge of the law and the jury of the law, and it is a bad principle which I will continue to oppose wherever possible. In this particular case it is worse than usual. It is a case of which, I believe, the House should really take cognisance. As I understand the Under-Secretary, he based his opposition to this Amendment on the ground that what he was doing was interpreting the principles of the Ministry's decision, but that is not so. What he is really seeking to do is to have the right of interpreting the facts—whether or not the facts of any particular case come within the principles laid down by the Minister governing the grant or not of a subsidy. I urge upon the House that questions in which a decision has to be taken upon the facts are primarily and essentially a matter for the courts of jurisdiction of this country. From time immemorial it is the duty of the jury to ascertain questions of fact, allowing the judge to deal with questions of law. Here the Government are seeking to grant the right of ascertaining facts to the Minister. They are putting into the hands of the Minister power to decide the facts of the case and to interpret the law as well. I maintain that that is a bad principle, and is carried to the worst possible length in this proposal.

Mr. T. Williams

I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken has read the Amendment. If he has he will have noticed that there is no reference an it to judges. There is only a reference to a tribunal, which has no relation, necessarily, to either the courts or the judges. What I wanted to say to the House, however, is this: The hill cattle subsidy scheme has been in existence for three years, and there has been no demand for any such tribunal. The sheep subsidy has been in existence for five years, and there has been no appeal for a tribunal. It seems to me, therefore, that while there may have been an odd difference of opinion here and there between an applicant and those who made the recommendation to the Minister, the two schemes have run so smoothly as to warrant a continuation of the same methods in the Hill Farming Bill. I hope that no hon. Member will feel that there is any necessity in this case for a special tribunal for what after all has been a very smooth working scheme, actually since 1941.

Amendment negatived.