HC Deb 04 April 1949 vol 463 cc1717-44

4.15 p.m.

Sir T. Dugdale

I beg to move, in page 1, to leave out lines 12 and 13.

During the Committee stage we had considerable discussion on this point. The Amendment is designed to remove the upper limit to the number of members of the marketing boards. At the end of our discussion the Minister gave an assurance that he would consider the position before the present stage. We hope that, having given this matter consideration, he will be disposed to accept the Amendment. In case he is not so inclined, however, and without repeating the argument used in Committee, I shall explain briefly the reasons why we feel that the words which we seek to delete are unnecessary.

The Lucas Committee Report contained the recommendation that the maximum number of members of a marketing board should be 16. The Agricultural Marketing Act, 1933, which governs the present position, contains no upper limit whatever. I imagine that such a matter is intended to be covered by Section 14 of that Act. In Committee, when he did not feel disposed to accept our Amendment, the Minister fell back on the argument that it would be better to adopt the practice of joint stock companies and make an upper limit of 24 unless the Minister thought otherwise. We on this side feel very strongly that there is no reason at all why there should be an upper limit in the hands of the Minister and not in the hands of any of the boards themselves. The mere fact of laying down in the statute an upper limit of 24 members might easily have the effect, which I am certain the House as a whole would not want, of making a great many of the marketing boards too large. It is much better, for the working of future marketing schemes, to leave the position as it is under the 1933 Act and, therefore, remove the upper limit altogether.

Mr. Hurd (Newbury)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. T. Williams

As I promised hon. Members opposite during the Committee stage, I have reconsidered this matter of the upper limit in the number of members to represent any particular marketing board. Whilst at that time there may have been some doubt about the wisdom of imposing an outside limit, the very latest scheme which has been submitted to my Department clearly indicates the necessity of fixing such a limit. As hon. Members are aware, the Lucas Committee recommended a limit of 16. We feel disposed to lift the limit from 16 to 24, but we hope that all marketing boards will not have 24 members merely because that is the upper limit.

If the tomato scheme had shown signs of a modest number of members, the argument of the hon. Baronet would have been quite good but, unfortunately, we find that in the first post-war scheme the suggested membership is no less than 30. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) suggested that a board of this kind required only a modest number. I think the Government are right in fixing a top limit of 24 with power to the Minister in exceptional cases—where, perhaps, there is a board for the whole of the United Kingdom, or a board dealing with a wide range of commodities—when the number of 24 could be exceeded.

There seems to be merit in the Clause as it stands and it certainly gives guidance to future marketing boards that they ought not to have large unwieldy memberships which would make their work difficult. Having reconsidered the matter, I think I should be unwise to accept the Amendment and to allow future boards to have as many members as they wished. The number of 24 is surely large enough and 24 is statutory guidance to those building up marketing schemes. They need not have 24, but may have 16, or even 10, if they feel so disposed. From the point of view of merit and statutory guidance, I prefer the Clause to be left as it is, and I hope the hon. Baronet will not press the Amendment.

Mr. York (Ripon)

I have been looking at the 1931 Act and, without that reference, on one point of the Minister's argument I was not able to make up my mind. He is basing his case on the fact that a marketing board, particularly a new board, might have too many members. But under the original Act the Minister is entitled to modify a scheme presented to him. If a modification, such as the number on a board, is required it would be very much easier for the Minister to make that modification than to lay down hard and fast rules in an amending Act of Parliament. I ask the Minister whether it is advisable to put forward certain defined limits the effect of which must be to make the board think that the proper number of members for a scheme is the upper limit mentioned in the Bill. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) said, it is most undesirable that there should be a definite upper limit. Although I agree there should be a lower limit, I do not feel that the Minister has made out a case for an upper limit.

Mr. Turton (Thursk and Malton)

I think the Minister made the case which we are putting from these benches. What we do not want to see is statutory guidance which will make the boards too large. I agree with the Lucas Committee Report that 16 should be the normal number, but if we put in a statutory provision which says that the board shall have not fewer than eight members and not more than 24, it will be assumed that 24 is to be the number, except in the case of a special trade such as the Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Board. I hope the Minister will look at this again. There is no great party difference about it. On both sides of the House we want the most efficient working so that produce is brought quickly from the producer to the consumer. If we embarrass the boards by these provisions as to upper limit, both sides will regret it. If this provision is left out, the Lucas Committee suggestion of 16 will be accepted; otherwise the number of 24 will be adopted.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Hurd

I beg to move, in page 1, line 18, to leave out from "appointment" to the end of line 20.

The effect of this Amendment would be to give the Minister a completely free choice of men or women whom he considers best suited to serve on the boards as Minister's nominees. We feel the Minister should not limit himself to people with specific qualifications or he will feel bound by the qualifications specified. There is evidence of that in the next Amendment in the name of the Minister, to insert at the end of line 20: or as being specially conversant with the interests of consumers of the regulated product. The important matter is to get a team which will work together, and when the Minister chooses his nominees he should choose men or women who will fit in with the team and strengthen it with broader experience than the producers or elected representatives have. They should not be representatives of sectional interests, although they may have experience of finance, commerce, or the organisation of workers.

It is a mistake to consider these nominees of the Minister as watchdogs of the public interest. That is where the Government are going wrong in this argument. The purpose of all marketing schemes is to serve the public interest; otherwise they would not be tolerated in a free democratic community. It is wrong to contemplate that there can be two camps within a board. We know from experience of producers' marketing boards that they themselves employ competent men with experience of commerce and finance and, indeed, of the co-operative distribution of farm produce. The Milk Marketing Board chose probably the best general manager they could in Mr. Sidney Foster. They did not leave it to the Minister to appoint someone from the Co-operative Society with experience in commerce or industry. The boards must be competent if their schemes are to be successful and they have to act in the public interest. It is not necessary to appoint such people to act in the public interest.

4.30 p.m.

The vital consideration is to allow the boards to go ahead with their job, which is to improve the efficiency and economy of home produce. We believe that they will get on better with that job if they work as a team and if there are not a set of people who are the Minister's nominees and who are really outside the spirit and experience of the rest of the team. It may well be that if the Minister persists in limiting himself to these particular nominations for his nominees, he may find himself debarred from appointing a man or woman whom he particularly wants to see on a board. I can think of some members of the Women's Institute who would be first-class members, but I doubt if they come into any high-power category of commerce, finance, administration, public affairs or the organisation of workers"; I imagine that the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) could suggest one or two competent women who would work well with a producers' board, certainly in the public interest. It is not necessary to label the Minister's nominees with these special tags, and to say that they represent commerce, finance, administration, public affairs or the organisation of workers. It is because we want these boards to go ahead as a team and not as a group of sectional interests, that we have brought this Amendment forward.

Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I feel rather strongly about this Amendment. It really must be all or nothing in this matter. I do not mind if we are quite certain that we have enough conditions laid down to ensure that every one is covered. Otherwise, it would be much safer to state no conditions at all. Political experience has always shown that it is dangerous to enumerate certain people as eligible, and people versed in the law say exactly the same; namely, that we ought not to lay down conditions.

During the Debate in the Standing Committee at least three examples were given of people who might not be included under these designations. The first was a housewife, the second an agriculturist and the third an ex-member of a marketing board. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that the housewife would be covered if she were a member of a Women's Institute. I agree with my hon. Friend that because someone is a member of a Women's Institute, it does not mean that she has particular knowledge of public affairs. I should say that the Women's Institute is more in the nature of a club and is essentially of a private character. In any event a woman might not be a member of a Women's Institute, in which case she would certainly not be covered.

An agriculturist may well have no particular knowledge or experience which fall within the definition in the subsection. The answer of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was: "We do not want agriculturists. They are on the board already. We want some one who is a watchdog for the public," as he termed it. What better watchdog for the public could we have than a poacher turned gamekeeper? That is exactly what an agriculturist serving in this capacity would be. The third person enumerated was an ex-member of a marketing board, who might well not be qualified within the definition of the subsection.

I now notice on the Order Paper an Amendment which has been put down by the Minister and which slightly widens the definition. Does that not prove that the Minister did not in the first place choose all-embracing words? He has now found that he was wrong and is proposing to add more words; by next week he might want to add a little more. For that reason we must be careful to have the definition completely all-embracing or else have nothing mentioned at all. Even in a sweepstake, a horse is sometimes overlooked and it is not unknown for a lady or gentleman who has drawn "the field" in that sweepstake to win a prize because that one horse has been forgotten. We are now running the risk that we cannot put "the field" into this Bill. I should certainly recommend the Minister to leave out this definition altogether, as the Amendment suggests.

Mr. G. Brown

We discussed this point at length in the Standing Committee and we have, as we promised to do, given it further consideration. We still find it difficult to understand why there should be this pressure about the matter. We are taking power in this Bill to add to a producers' marketing organisation some general representatives not of the producers but of what is widely called the public interest. It seems to us that it would be quite wrong to ask the producers to accept an Act of Parliament which indicated that people would be appointed in addition to their representatives to run a marketing scheme but give them no indication of the kind of people with whom they were to work. I said in Committee, and I repeat, that I am quite certain that there would have been the most vigorous pressure, and properly so, from the other side of the House if we had done that. It seems to us quite proper that we should give some general indication of the sort of people whom the Minister is to appoint.

So far, the argument has mainly been that there are certain groups who would not be included in this definition. Since the Committee stage I have looked carefully at all the examples which were mentioned, and there does not seem to be any one of them which would not be covered by the definition as it stands. The housewife has been mentioned again today. If it was intended to appoint someone whose present occupation is that of a housewife she would obviously be a housewife who had shown some competence in one or other of the spheres mentioned in the definition. One does not advertise for the ideal housewife and leave it at that. She would be competent in administration or public affairs in the Women's Institute or in some organisation which would clearly bring her within the scope of this definition. The same is true of the other categories which have been mentioned.

The man who has had experience on a marketing board, to whom the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) has referred, is quite clearly covered as having had "experience in administration." It is already open to the Minister to appoint a man of that kind. It is not for me at this stage to deal with the next Amendment, which has been invoked once or twice by hon. Members opposite. My right hon. Friend will be dealing with that Amendment. Subject to that, we feel it proper to give some indication of the kind of people for whom we are looking, and the general headings which we have put into the Bill are wide enough and clear enough to bring within the net of the Minister's choice the kind of people who would be good and useful on the boards. We do not think that anyone who is suitable will be omitted by reason of the terms of the definition which has been decided upon. We have looked at the point carefully, as I said, and in the light of that examination we cannot think that any harm will be done to the scheme or the public interest if we leave the position as it is set out in the Bill. Therefore, I ask the House not to accept the Amendment.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

I am rather disappointed at the explanation which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has attempted to give to my hon. Friends. As I listened I gained the impression that while acting under orders, I assume, in resisting the Amendment, he did not feel particularly comfortable about the way in which he endeavoured to put forward his arguments. I should have thought that he would have been well advised to see the wisdom of this Amendment and to see that it is desigend not to limit the working of the Bill in any way but to make it easier for those responsible for administering the Measure to see that the various marketing boards have available to them, by their composition, the very best skill.

No doubt the hon. Gentleman as a good Socialist always works on a strictly theoretical basis. Indeed, he gave that away by the argument he put forward in resisting the Amendment. He said that he could not conceive of anybody—male or female, I suppose he meant—who would be excluded by the Clause as drafted. He instanced in support of his argument the housewife. I thought that was a rather unhappy illustration for him to call in aid. He inferred that he would not be a party to appointing a housewife unless she had shown some considerable skill in one or other of the categories mentioned in the Clause. I hope I am not doing the hon. Gentleman any injustice in saying that. No doubt he had in mind what an excellent member the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) would be. I have no idea of the hon. Lady's skill as a housewife, but I say without disrespect, that I can conceive many housewives, who have practical skill and whose advice may be most valuable, who would not be covered by any of the headings in the Clause.

I should have thought that if the hon. Gentleman had applied his mind to this subject and tried for two or three minutes to rid himself of the obsessions of Socialist theory, he would have seen the wisdom of this Amendment. Of course, I realise that the Government may think that if they were to give way on this Amendment, they would lose the Government Amendment in line 20 which we shall consider next. But surely that Amendment shows there is considerable apprehension on the part of the Government about the way this Clause stands. Again we have an excellent example of the kind of partiality which the Socialist Government seeks to show on this as well as on nearly every other matter. I ask the hon. Gentleman to give this Amendment serious con- sideration and even at this late hour to see the wisdom of it.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. T. Williams

I beg to move, in page 1, line 20, at the end, to insert: or as being specially conversant with the interests of consumers of the regulated product. This Amendment has been put down as a result of further consideration of many points raised both on Second Reading and during the Committee stage. Complaints were made that consumer representation was not being considered even though consumers' representatives may have had a very close association with the great Co-operative movement. I explained in Committee that the purpose of Clause 1 (1, b) was to avoid sectional representation direct, but to widen the experience of the board and to safeguard the public interest. I also explained that the definition was wide enough for the Minister in appointing members to select any person with special knowledge of consumer demands or representatives even of the Co-operative movement. It is right and proper that that should be so, for many such representatives have not only a wide knowledge of the interests of consumers, but also have all-round qualifications. If there is no direct reference to consumers in Clause 1, this Amendment makes it doubly sure that they shall be considered. It refers to consumers of the regulated product. That phrase may have caused some little dismay in the minds of some hon. Members, and perhaps a brief explanation is called for. The reference to a regulated product is made because of the very wide range of products which can be covered by marketing schemes. For example, we already have a hops marketing scheme. We may shortly have a marketing scheme for wool and there may be others dealing with other commodities. It was necessary to make it clear that individuals who are considered should have a fairly wide knowledge of the interests of consumers of the regulated product.

4.45 p.m.

It might be convenient to discuss at the same time the Amendment standing in my name in page 2, line 15, at the end, to insert: (3) In this section the expression 'consumers of the regulated product' means persons who purchase the product, or commodities produced wholly or partly there-from, for their own consumption or use and not persons who purchase the product or such commodities as aforesaid, for the purpose of any trade or industry carried on by them. I believe that this Amendment has caused some misapprehension particularly in the minds of my hon. Friends who are associated with the Co-operative movement. The wording of this Amendment follows the wording of Section 9 (6) of the Act of 1931. The point is simply that a manufacturer who purchases milk for the purpose of manufacturing milk chocolate would not be regarded on that account as a milk consumer for the purpose of this Bill. Nor would the person who buys hops for manufacturing purposes be regarded as a consumer, because the man who consumes the beer is the real consumer of the regulated product.

The Amendment makes it clear that persons who have acquired knowledge of consumer interests, through association with the Co-operative movement or otherwise, would be the sort of people who would be eligible for appointment when the Minister is considering his minimum of two or maximum of five, according to the number of members there may be appointed. I hope that I have made it clear, as it was clear to me from the outset, that it was never our intention to ignore or to sidestep those with a special knowledge of consumer interests. I think the Amendment makes it transparently clear that those who have acquired such knowledge through association with the great consumers' movement will not, or could not, be ignored when appointments are made to any one of these marketing boards.

Mrs. Manning

Does this also cover the great body of housewives?

Mr. Williams

Obviously, those who have a close knowledge of the interests of the consumer, wherever that knowledge happens to have been derived, would be covered by this Amendment.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, West)

The Minister has introduced an Amendment which makes his Bill much less objectionable to those who have opposed this type of legislation. Indeed, it makes the general tenor of this legislation much more acceptable to those who have been interested in its progress from the point of view of the consumer. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on giving an opportunity for the consideration of this matter. When we are talking of a guaranteed market and fixed prices in the interests of the consumer, there is no case for not making some attempt to rationalise the fundamental differences between consumer and producer. There must be such differences and we must make attempts to bridge them. It is a good thing to accept the principle that consumers will at last meet with producers on a common basis, even though consumers may not yet be very numerous in general representation on the marketing boards.

The progress has at least commenced of the method by which we shall bring into account in this rationalised way the views of the consumer where price is involved. It is all very well for hon. Members on either side of the House to talk about providing a guaranteed market. After all, a guaranteed market is a body of buyers, and it is just as well to make it a body of willing buyers if we can do so. The success of our marketing scheme will be advanced if the buyer feels that his ideas are being taken into account in common decisions which a marketing board of this sort will endeavour to carry through. I feel that the advance which has been made is a step away from the attempt to put the consumer under a separate committee. We have had the consumer under a separate committee up to the present time. Indeed, I suppose that separate consumers committees will continue, but the fact is the consumer will now be accepted as one of those people whom the Minister will take into account in appointing special representatives on the marketing boards.

I am a little uncertain, however, about the full significance of this proposal, and I should like to put a couple of questions to the Minister about it. Under the Bill as it stands, the Minister's appointees would be representative of "commerce, finance, administration, public affairs" and so on, and we have now got to the point at which one may be a representative of the consumers of the regulated product. My two questions are these. First, does the proposal in the Amendment give to the Minister the right to consider a person who is suggested to him by the Co-operative Union because he is conversant, as the Amendment says, with the interests of the consumers? I imagine that it does, but I should like to be clearly assured that I am correct in that understanding. My second question is: Does this Amendment give the Minister the right to appoint such a person because he is a consumer, and, maybe, represents consumers, even if he is also a director or manager of a wholesale or retail Cooperative society, which, as the limiting phrase in the Second Amendment suggests, purchases the product from the Marketing Board in order to process it or still further develop it through trade or industry?

After the Minister's speech, I assume that my questions will be given an affirmative answer. I am asking the Minister whether I am correct in this assumption, because I want to be quite clear about it. I speak for many hon. Members who are very much interested not only in the Co-operative movement, but in the claim of the consumer to be considered in this type of legislation, and I think they will be very much reassured if I am correct in the assumptions which I have made on these two questions. I support the Minister's proposal.

Mr. T. Williams

With the leave of the House, I can answer both questions of my hon. Friend quite readily in the affirmative. Even if the director had less expert knowledge of the interests of the consumers than the other person, the fact that he was a director would bring him in under any one of the references appearing in the Clause—

"commerce, finance, administration, public affairs or the organisation of workers."
Sir T. Dugdale

Only a few minutes have elapsed since we dealt with the last Amendment, and the House should observe what a difficulty we are now in because the Minister did not see fit to accept our Amendment. We are now trying to extend the qualifications of these people who may be appointed to the marketing boards, and, from the last speech which we have heard, it is quite clear that the hon. Member for West Ealing (Mr. J. Hudson) was talking in terms of representation by right, whereas the whole wording of the Clause suggests that the appointees would be qualified for the appointment, and that is what the Minister means. We have already got into one difficulty about the housewife. We are very anxious, as the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) knows, that there should be representatives of the housewives, and we had a Debate upstairs on this very point. We were satisfied that the Clause as drafted did include housewives, who were covered by the phrase "experienced in administration." We were given to understand, indeed, the hon. Lady the Member for Epping was told by the Parliamentary Secretary, that housewives would be included in the Clause as it was.

Now, however, the Minister has put forward these two new Amendments, and assures the hon. Lady that her point is covered in one of the Amendments. The Minister used the words "after consideration," but it appears that the right terms would be "under pressure," in order to meet those of his own supporters who speak on behalf of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. I should like to know exactly where we stand now. If we take the two Amendments together, we arrive at this form of wording: specially conversant with the interests of consumers of the regulated product who purchase the product, or commodities produced wholly or partly therefrom, for their own consumption or use. Then, it goes on to say: and not persons who purchase the product or such commodities as aforesaid, for the purpose of any trade or industry carried on by them. The Minister went on to explain that those words were designed to leave out chocolate manufacturers, or the Hop Marketing Board, who would sell direct to the breweries, but, surely, the Whole-sale Co-operative Society engages in trade just as much as the chocolate manufacturer or anybody else? Presumably, these words are put in to include a representative of the C.W.S.; if they are not put in for that purpose, we are at a loss to understand why they are put in at all. We have expressed the view before that there must be some members of the C.W.S. who would come under the designation of people with experience in commerce, finance, administration and public affairs. Presumably, the Minister cannot find any members of the C.W.S. who would come in under that definition. They are so incompetent that he has to put in the new wording in order to bring their representatives on to the Board.

That is very unsatisfactory, and it is very difficult for us on this side of the House to understand where we are going. We think the Minister should give a little more information. Does this Amendment entitle members of the C.W.S. to be appointed by the Minister or does it not? If it does, is this the only provision entitling them to be appointed, and will it mean that, automatically, there always will be one of them appointed? Or will it only give the Government power to appoint one? Or were we right in our original submission that it might be possible to find some members of the C.W.S. who had experience and showed capacity in commerce, finance and administration, as the Bill was originally drafted. We are quite at a loss to understand the implications of these two Amendments and we hope the Minister will give us further information before we decide on our action.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Coldrick

The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) sought, I think very unwisely, to pour ridicule on certain members of the C.W.S. I would respectfully remind him that if C.W.S. directors were as incompetent as the people for whom apparently he spoke they might have been obliged to come to the Minister in order to ask him to do for them what he is being asked to do for the farmers and others I should like to be clear about the proposals which are now before the House A great many hon. Members constantly speak as though they are the representatives of the consumers of this country and they are constantly protesting that they stand for the public interest. We want it to be clearly understood that consumers' interests are only effective to the extent to which they are organised. When reference is made, as it has constantly been made in the Debate, to the housewife, I think we should say that it is abundantly clear that if the housewives were organised as effectively as the farmers, then housewives would be able to obtain more representation.

Let us be practical about this proposal. As representatives of the Cooperative movement we are not claiming any specific sectional or institutional interest. We believe that, as a Cooperative movement, we are the only body in this country which speaks effectively on behalf of the organised consumer. Within the Co-operative movement there are 10 million registered members and these, with their families, must represent over one-half of the population of this country. We are not speaking, therefore, in terms of a very small number of people. I am not clear from what the Minister has said whether he intends to accord to this vast mass of organised consumers specific representation or merely that he will take into consideration the fact that a person represents these people as one of the qualifications which would entitle him to consideration.

Let there be no ambiguity; as far as we are concerned, we press for direct representation for the consumers. If we analyse this Bill we discover that under-lying it is a belief on the part of those responsible that the consumer is not interested in production. The assumption seems to be that as consumers we are concerned merely with the final consumption of the article, but obviously there is no rational justification for any form of production unless it is for consumption, and unless the consumer is to have some say in safeguarding his interests it is fairly obvious that the producer will predominate in determining the whole of the policy to be pursued.

It has been suggested—from the other side, of course—that the producer boards must of necessity represent the public interest. I have read a great deal about these producer boards as they operated from about 1931 until about 1939 and—

Mr. Turton

From 1933.

Mr. Coldrick

I would respectfully remind hon. Members opposite, as well as my right hon. Friend, that when Lord Addison first introduced a Measure of this character in 1931 he had precisely the same intention as the present Minister, but in the event, we know perfectly well that the producers' boards deliber- ately organised scarcity in this country to raise the prices so as to satisfy the producers. When hon. Members talk about public interest let me give a classic example. Perhaps they can say whether this represents the consumers' interest or the public interest. Let us take the Bacon Marketing Board, which came into existence in 1934 and existed from 1934 until 1938.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)

The Minister's Amendment says: …conversant with the interests of consumers. Will the hon. Member indicate where his remarks have relevance to this Amendment?

Mr. Coldrick

With all respect, what I am seeking to establish is that within this particular Clause the term "public interest" can be construed in such an elastic way that nobody knows what it means. I am seeking to demonstrate that we believe the consumers should have more effective and direct representation on these boards.

I will not pursue the point, but let me respectfully remind the Parliamentary Secretary that when he spoke in the Second Reading Debate he tried to give the impression that this board, which is now being established, was itself a Co-operative society. I respectfully suggest to him that he draws his analogies in future from a field with which he is more familiar rather than trespass on the province of the Cooperative Society. Under such a definition, any group of people organising themselves for the purpose of fleecing the public would be a Co-operative Society. As one who knows something about the Co-operative movement I repudiate that definition completely as one which in no way covers what we mean by the Co-operative movement. I ask the Minister to make specific provision within this legislation for the organised consumers of this country to have representation upon these boards in order to ensure the greatest measure of efficiency in production and the greatest satisfaction so far as the community is concerned.

Mr. Hurd

I think the speech to which we have just listened was the best possible lesson to the Minister on the folly of making this exception, of adding a par- ticular class to those from whom he may select people to sit on these marketing boards. It shows how much wiser it would have been to have left himself a free field of choice.

Mr. Coldrick

Would the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) extend the interesting submission he has made that my speech was the best possible reason for the Minister not taking this action?

Mr. Hurd

Because obviously what we heard from the hon. Member is founded on complete ignorance if I may say so without being offensive. It is quite understandable. The hon. Member is not himself a producer and therefore cannot see into the minds of producers who have spent many years and a great deal of labour in trying to build up these marketing schemes for the better and more efficient marketing of their own products. I think it is understandable that he should not know.

Mr. Coldrick

I have spent a great part of my life as a producer, so perhaps the hon. Member for Newbury will withdraw that part of his statement. Will he indicate clearly how a producers' board is specially interested in the welfare of the public or of the consumer?

Mr. Hurd

I think we are getting rather wide of this Amendment, but I would say very briefly that if home produce is to stand up to the outside competition which it met before the war, and will meet again, then it has to be marketed efficiently and economically, and in the case of the Pigs Marketing Board and Milk Marketing Board producers have taken considerable and effective steps in that direction. I should be out of Order to pursue the matter any further.

I want to press the Minister for a clear explanation of the meaning of the consequential Amendment. The extra class of people he is adding to those from whom he may select in appointing the Board are to be: Specially conversant with the interests of consumers of the regulated product. It goes on to define consumers of the regulated product and it says they are: Persons who purchase the product, or commodities produced wholly or partly therefrom, for their own consumption or use and not persons who purchase the products or such com- modifies as aforesaid, for the purpose of any trade or industry carried on by them. I happen to have in my constituency a Milk Marketing Board factory, and just outside the constituency there is a C.W.S. factory which, I understand, is buying milk and selling it for its own purposes. The milk may be sold for manufacturing purposes and partly as liquid milk. It probably varies with the season. Does this mean that the C.W.S. would be debarred, under this consequential Amendment, from being among the people from whom the Minister may select the members of the board? They are certainly buying milk and trading in milk. I should like the Minister to explain, and if the answer goes in one way, then I am afraid those who have put such pressure on the Minister to have what they call "representation of the consumer" on the marketing boards will be disappointed. I reinforce what I said just now, that it is an entirely wrong idea that in a marketing board there should be two camps, one supposed to represent producers and the other supposed to represent finance, and so on. It is a hopeless way to try to run any concern. These boards can only be run as teams. I urge the Minister again not to submit to the pressure which has been put upon him to appoint representatives—and this is what has been frankly suggested by hon. Members opposite—of particular interests.

Mr. Turton

There is one question I want to ask. Who will be left out? Who will not be able to be chosen? Trade, commerce, finance, administration, organisation of workers, and now all those of us who know anything about how to eat food—all come in as candidates to be selected. Nobody is left out. This reinforces the argument made on the previous Amendment. Now, the words mean nothing. I do not know why the hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Coldrick) talked about the Cooperative Wholesale Society on this Amendment, because I should have thought that if there was an Amendment by which they could not come in, it would have been this one.

If there is a good representative of the Co-operative Societies on this body, I have no objection; but I hope also that the right hon. Gentleman will look at the interests of the Housewives' League, which, I believe, is far better as represent- ing the consumers. The housewives of the League represent their own sex. It is not a "household husbands league." Members of the League represent their sex rather better than the Co-operative Societies, which are partly mixed up in politics and partly engaged in commerce. [Interruption.] If hon. Members object to my saying "partly," I will say wholly mixed up in politics. I thought I was being as fair as I usually am, when I suggested they were partly mixed up in politics and partly engaged in commerce. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Housewives' League?"] I understand the Housewives' League is attached to no party at all. I do not know. It may be that some hon. Gentlemen have more knowledge than I of the Housewives' League. Some of its members may go to Blackpool at Whitsuntide. I do not know.

But let us get back to this Amendment. This Amendment brings in "Uncle Tom Cobley and all." Are we to make nonsense out of the Bill? As the right hon. Gentleman has drafted the definition, anyone who is partly a consumer and partly engaged in retail trade will be excluded. I should have thought it would be a wise thing to have some who are partly consumers and partly engaged in the retail or even the wholesale trade. I see the point of the hon. Member for North Bristol, and it may be wise to allow the Minister to look around amongst representatives of Co-operative Wholesale Society to see if there is one worthy to serve on the board. As the Minister has drafted the Amendment, however, I am sure he excludes them from his purview, and that seems so unfortunate for some of his supporters. We have reached a curious state of nonsense. I suggest the Minister should leave the whole thing free and unfettered, and wipe out this definition.

5.15 p.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

The Amendment interests me because of the arguments which I have heard from hon. Members opposite. It is suggested that the only representatives of the consumers of this country are the Co-operative societies—[HON. MEMBERS: "Of the organised consumers."]—and we have heard the statement made that they represent 10 million families. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I have seen it printed extensively in the publications which the Co-operative societies issue. I would repudiate the difficulty that appears to arise in the mind of the Minister. We are the consumers of this country. Where are the consumers of this country? Nothing could be simpler surely than to find a consumer. Producers may be few and far between. Active workers may be rare. But as to consumers, there need be no industrious search for them. It is quite nonsense for those who should declare their interest in supporting this special Amendment to say that the body in which they are specially interested and have specially mentioned here is the only representative of the consumers. This effrontery of the Co-operative movement, which has been marked in the last few years, since the rise of the Government with which it is associated, should be checked. It has no right to speak for the consumers of this country.

The great mass of the distribution in this country is done by the small shopkeepers. Eighty per cent. of the consumed goods are distributed—inefficiently, if hon. Member like—but distributed, according to the choice of the people, not by monopoly concerns and Co-operative societies but by small shopkeepers. I hope the Minister will not yield to those who would provide some specially devised Amendment to find a place for the political Co-operative Party. I know bargains have been made and that bargains must be kept, but this is the House of Commons speaking for all the consumers of the country, and the Co-operative movement does not represent all the consumers in the country. It is not the only body representative of the organised consumers of this country. I know something about Co-operative society organisation. It is a very loose one. It is the pride of the Co-operative movement that anyone who goes into a Co-operative shop and puts down a shilling can become a member. That is not a very elaborate method of organisation, and not a very representative one. It is merely collecting the bobs and counting the heads. Do not let us base any profound argument upon such a premise.

There are other organised bodies of which the Minister must be well aware that represent the consumers' interests. He may repudiate the Housewives' League. The only objection to the Housewives' League is that they are many, unanimous and clamorous. I know that hon. Members opposite from the Midlands feel a little irritable about the subject today. I myself was accosted in the Lobby by clamorous members of the Housewives' League. However, no doubt the right hon. Gentleman has heard of the Townswomen's Guilds, which are nonpolitical bodies, and important bodies, and run into many thousands of organised women of the working and lower middle classes. They are bodies which can, at any rate, rightly represent the views of consumers. They are organised bodies. in Scotland, at any rate—and perhaps, in the countryside of England—there are the rural institutes representing many thousands of women.

If the Minister is in serious difficulty in finding representatives of the consumers I can tell him that there are plenty of organised bodies representative of the consumers. I hope he will resist this proposal on behalf of a movement which is not representative of consumers. Indeed, we know of many complaints of unsatisfactory service as regards meat, milk and bread. Hon. Members know the difficulties which are going on in committee meetings today. I will go further, and accept the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) about the Grocers' Federation. A grocer is a retail trader, but he is, after all, also a consumer. Even on the limited diet allowed us by the Minister of Food, he does eat. So, if the Minister went to the Grocers' Federation—

Mr. Coldrick rose

Sir W. Darling

Let me just finish. After all, the criminal does not interrupt the judge.

Mr. Coldrick

The point is whether the hon. Gentleman is in favour of the consumer being represented on these boards. If so, I am in agreement with him. I am not merely asking for the Co-operative movement to be represented, and I do not want him to act on the assumption that I am opposing the particular people to whom he has referred. Will he specifically say whether he is in favour of the boards being composed almost exclusively of producers, or whether he would prefer to see a substantial number of representatives of the consumers?

Sir W. Darling

The Clause which we are discussing deals with the question of to what extent, if any, consumers will be represented. I think that the consumers should be represented, but they should not be a dominating factor. What I am rebutting and resisting is the party claim put forward by those Members of this House who are here as Co-operative Members. I resent their professing to speak for the consumers as a whole, because they have no right to do so. Their attempt to include in this Clause a special class of persons with whom they are associated and with whom their interests are attached both personally and financially, is one which we should resist. I want consumers' boards of representative consumers in this country and not selected persons whose political propensities are in favour of those who have spoken for them this afternoon.

Mrs. Ganley (Battersea, South)

I think we are entering into a wide sphere so far as the definition of consumers is concerned and whether the Co-operative organisation referred to is a consumers' organisation. I suggest to the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) that in fact the Co-operative movement is a consumers' organisation, and the only organisation of consumers as such. We have been discussing various other people who are organised. The Housewives' League is an organisation of housewives to express the point of view which they desire to express, but it is not an organisation of consumers to produce and distribute goods to the consumers. Here we have a request—if I may be allowed to refer to the speech that I made on the Second Reading of the Bill—that the interests of the consumers should be explicit in the first place, in order that the co-ordination of the producers and the consumers can be brought about.

Let me speak of grouping and packing for marketing. Some hon. Members raised the point this afternoon. The hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Coldrick) did not speak as a producer. The Cooperative movement is producing—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but she cannot go into a discussion whether the Co-operative movement is a producer or a consumer. That is only relevant so far as the representation of consumers on these boards is concerned.

Mrs. Ganley

I was trying to make reference to the importance of the person selected for consumer representation not being a producer. I want to make the point that this particular organisation which has been quoted is a producer as well as a consumer organisation. It is very definitely a producers' organisation but it is also a great consumers' organisation, and, therefore, it has a particular knowledge of the consumers' needs. Because of the fact that individual consumers have a right to control the whole of this organisation, they do express their needs perhaps more clearly than any other kind of organisation.

Reference has been made in the second Amendment to the phrase for the purpose of any trade or industry… I should like to hear a definition of that. The Minister gave us his promise that this would include a wide field of selection, and he quoted, for example, that persons who would be purchasing hops to make them into beer, would not be considered as consumers of hops under this particular Amendment. I can follow that perfectly clearly, but the question has been raised by one or two hon. Members opposite that the Co-operative Wholesale Society, because it is an organisation which is purchasing goods for processing, cannot come under this definition. We should be glad if the Minister would explain that, in that instance, it can come under this definition, because it is not only a body that is purchasing for the purpose of processing, but a body which is brought into being primarily for the purpose of supplying consumers with the goods which they have organised themselves to distribute and sell. In that respect the Co-operative movement is a consumers' movement and can come under this definition, and it can be an organisation from which the Minister can choose representatives on the marketing boards. Because of that special knowledge, such representation would be of very great use to the marketing boards and help rather than hinder the work that the boards can do.

Mr. York

I think that the House is beginning to realise the muddle in which the Minister has put us. None of us can now understand exactly what the Amendment which the Minister is moving means. We are now being led to believe that in fact the Government are doing exactly the opposite from what the Minister intends them to do. The C.W.S. point is one which we must clear up. I hope that the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary will speak again in order to get this matter straight. Where the C.W.S. is a collector of milk and subsequently uses that milk for processing for various purposes, it would appear to us that it cannot be included within this definition. We understood that the whole purpose of this part of the Clause was to make it possible for any suitable, competent persons, almost regardless of their particular jobs, not be debarred from being selected as Co-operative members on these boards. We believe that the second Amendment would in fact debar some people whom hon. Members opposite believe would be suitable persons on the boards. The more we amend, add to, and generally meddle with this Clause the worse muddle we get into.

It is becoming more and more clear as we go on, that the way in which we should deal with this problem is to cut out all these special classes unless—and this is the point which I want to put to the Minister—it is his intention that there should be a sectional representation of the Co-operative Societies. Whether we agree or disagree does not matter for the purpose of my argument. If that is his intention, let him be honest and put that into the Bill. Then we shall all know where we are, and we can vote accordingly. At the present time, there appears to me to be that alternative, or the alternative of taking all these special classes out of the Bill, such as we suggested in our Amendment. All the Minister is now doing is making it more difficult for the general public and the various organisations concerned to understand what he is getting at, and making it more and more difficult for the House of Commons itself to know what he means.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. T. Williams

I do not think I need say more than one or two sentences in reply to the Debate. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for North Bristol (Mr. Coldrick), I cannot add to the statement I made to my hon. Friend the Member for West Ealing (Mr. J. Hudson). The alleged confusion that appears to have cropped up is due to lack of knowledge of what the contents of the proposed Amendment in page 2, line 15, mean. I explained in my brief statement that that Amendment had reference to Section 9 (6) of the 1931 Act, which referred to the consumers' committee. It was and is the duty of the consumers' committee to look after the interests of the consumer. Therefore "consumer" had to be defined, and "consumer" is defined in almost identical terms in the proposed new subsection (3). It may very well be that neither the C.W.S. nor the Co-operative Union are themselves domestic consumers, but they can be conversant with the interests of the consumer of the finished article. That is the explanation, and there is really nothing confusing about it.

Several questions have been asked to which I need not reply, except to say that I regret that the hon. Member for North Bristol made a reference to the Parliamentary Secretary. After all, for the moment we are the pianists; we are trying to do our best, and hon. Members ought not to shoot too often. I think I can say for the Parliamentary Secretary that, young though he is, he has been a member of a Co-operative Society for a very long time and ought to know something of the internal machinery. For myself, I should think I am as old a member of the Co-operative Society as any hon. Member in this House, unless any members here are older than me in years. I am not sure that it could be said by every Co-operative Society member, as I can, that everything I stand up in, except a pair of cuff-links that I bought in this House for 4½d. 20 years ago, comes from the "Co-op," so that I have had some little association with the Co-operative movement for a long period of time. I do not think that there is anything more I need say, except that I hope the explanation I have given of the Amendment in page 2, line 15 is now very clear.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)

I had not intended to say anything more, but I really think that the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman has left matters just as confused as they were before. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I shall explain very briefly why I think that. I am sure we are all very sorry for him, that this surrender to Co-operative pressure should only have brought on the head of the Parliamentary Secretary an unbridled attack from the hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Coldrick). In passing, I must warn His Majesty's Government that this rift between the consumer as represented by the Co-operative societies and the Government will get wider and wider as the full implications of the Lucas Report are appreciated by Co-operative societies, and as the joint interests of Co-operative Societies with other distributive organisations gets recognised; and neither the harmony at Shanklin—when the local Co-operative society supplied the Government Front Bench with the food that is now the subject of a prosecution—nor this Parliament will remain indefinitely.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker rose

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I appreciate that I should not be in Order if I laboured that point further. I do think that the Minister Would have been well advised to leave the situation as it was. As he himself said in Committee: the Co-operative movement and consumers generally are well cared for. That should surely have been enough satisfaction to hon. Members representing the Co-operative societies. The Minister now tells us that the last words of the proposed new subsection (3) will not keep the Co-operative societies from being a body from whom a member may be nominated. He said that, though they may, in fact, use the purchase of foodstuffs for the purposes of a trade or industry carried on by them, none the less they would come in because they are thoroughly conversant with the interests of consumers. Well, there are other wholesale organisations. Shortly after the Minister made the statement in Committee which I have just quoted, he said: if we were to start limiting ourselves we should be confronted with the problem that every wholesaler grocers' body would claim some right to representation,"—

Sir W. Darling

Why not?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

—"distributors, private traders, retailers and all kinds of people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 8th February, 1949; c. 16–17.] They have equal knowledge of the interests of consumers and are very conversant with those interests Are we then to take it from his statement that, though they buy foodstuffs for the purpose of selling them in a trade or industry carried on by them, none the less they are, like the Co-operative society, to be regarded as a body from which a member may be nominated? What is fair for Cooperative societies should also be fair for wholesale grocers' organisations, or any other body. I think we are entitled to an answer on that point, because it does affect very considerable interests which have just as much right to be heard in this House as the nominees of Co-operative societies.

Finally, as there is a muddle here, and as people are not quite sure what this law will mean, and as we are now passing an Act of Parliament, would it not be better for the right hon. Gentleman—who has done this before—to look at the matter again between now and the stage in another place to find a form of words which will make quite certain that consumers' interests are properly represented without confining, as it may be this does, representation in that capacity to a particular consumer's interests, and those interests those of the Co-operative society? That would be most unfair, and as soon as there was a change of Government, would lead to a change in this Bill, which in its turn would be regrettable.

My hon. Friends and I do not propose to divide against this Amendment, because we do believe in the principle of consumer representation, but I make an earnest plea to the right hon. Gentleman to use the facilities that another place still provides, and the fact that he has another Parliamentary Secretary in that other place, to think again and to bring in an amended form of wording when this Bill reaches the other place.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 15, at end, insert: (3) In this section the expression "consumers of the regulated product" means persons who purchased the product, or commodities pro- duced wholly or partly therefrom, for their own consumption or use and not persons who purchase the product or such commodities as aforesaid, for the purpose of any trade or industry carried on by them.—[Mr. T. Williams.]