HC Deb 27 March 1956 vol 550 cc2003-22

4.57 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 5, to leave out "Commonwealth."

It is with feelings of kindliness towards the right hon. Gentleman that I move the Amendment, because we want to give him a last opportunity—we gave him a number in Committee—of going back to his original thoughts on this matter which were better and more honourable. During the Second Reading debate he said: In the Bill, the powers we give to buy sugar extend to sugar from any source and can be applied by general directions of the Minister as well as by a specific direction."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 2025.] When he said that he seemed to be taking a certain pride in what he was doing. That was one of the parts of the Bill and one part of his speech which we welcomed and endorsed.

Now the right hon. Gentleman has gone back on that crystal clear and honourable intention and is trying to stop the Sugar Board from buying the sugar and to limit its powers, even under his control and direction, to buy certain sorts of sugar in the world. There are three sources of sugar which we can purchase. One of them is sugar which we undertake to buy under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. Another is preference sugar, that is amounts of sugar grown in the Commonwealth over and above what we buy under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, but which we buy with the advantage of Imperial Preference. Thirdly, there is what one might call free market sugar, though goodness knows there is no free market in sugar in the world today because, outside the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, sugar is very largely dumped on the market at dump prices.

Originally the right hon. Gentleman intended, and the Bill said, that the Sugar Board would have the power, under his direction, to buy all three sources of sugar. The Bill in its original form stated that absolutely clearly, but now the right hon. Gentleman has gone back on it. I hope that he will use rather less disingenuous arguments to sustain his position and to resist our Amendment, if, unhappily, that is his decision, than he used in Standing Committee, because in Committee he was really trying to say something which was quite indefensible and untenable. He was saying that it was always his intention to limit the Sugar Board to Commonwealth Agreement sugar and that all he was doing in amending the Bill was trying to clarify his intention; but he clearly contradicted his original intention.

5.0 p.m.

There cannot be a clarification if the right hon. Gentleman is restraining the Sugar Board from buying all sugar, as originally intended, and limiting it to buying Commonwealth sugar. That is no clarification but a complete withdrawal and a complete contradiction of the right hon. Gentleman's first position. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a hint on Second Reading of why he was going to make this great contradiction. It was that the sugar interests came to him and told him that he had better make the change.

It was a rather insulting suggestion. They were saying, in effect, that they did not trust the right hon. Gentleman, because the Sugar Board could not buy all sorts of sugar save under the directions of the Minister. Therefore, the sugar interests were saying, "We do not trust this safeguard that the Board cannot do this except under directions. We want an absolute assurance that the Board shall not have this power even under direction." It is a rather insulting suggestion to make to a Minister of the Crown.

The reasons which the right hon. Gentleman has so far advanced for this so-called clarification but in fact contradiction are disturbing. They give rise in our minds, and we fear in the minds of Commonwealth sugar producers, to doubts about the whole status of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. That is why we attach very great importance to our Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman, in justifying the Amendment in Committee which we are now trying to negate, in effect was saying that he was making that Amendment because heart and soul he hated State trading. He kept on saying that. He wanted the maximum of free trade. But the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement is a form of State trading. Prices are fixed by negotiations into which the State enters, and throughout the Bill the Sugar Board acts under the directions of the right hon. Gentleman.

There are all sorts of directions, sometimes denying the Board powers and sometimes compelling the Board to do certain things. The State is completely in this, and if the right hon. Gentleman advances as his main ground for resisting our Amendment the fact that he dislikes State trading, he is saying that he dislikes the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, because that is a form of State trading. It is no more State trading to allow the Board to buy other than Commonwealth Sugar Agreement sugar than it is State trading to allow the Board to buy Commonwealth sugar.

If the right hon. Gentleman goes on saying that he does not like State trading and wants free trade, he will cause concern to sugar producers in the Commonwealth, because he will be saying that he is disliking the very thing that he is doing. The sugar producers will not like to hear that. The right hon. Gentleman, in a way which will alarm Commonwealth sugar producers, went out of his way to deprecate and depreciate the Sugar Board. He kept on saying nasty things about it. In Standing Committee, in column 43 on 1st December, 1955, he said that his whole purpose was to limit its functions very narrowly, that is to say it was not going to be a board with any sort of real powers and activities. It was going to have the most extremely narrow functions.

At the second sitting of the Committee the right hon. Gentleman said something even worse: All that the Sugar Board is, in regard to negotiated Commonwealth sugar,"— and that, after all, is all that it can buy, and therefore the right hon. Gentleman's words refer to the Board in all its aspects— is an accountancy agency."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 6th December, 1955, c. 69.] To set up a Sugar Board which is to carry out the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, which the Minister keeps on saying he likes, and then to make it such a poor, feeble, almost insulting affair as it emerges from his phrases about it, is really not the right way to talk about the instrument for carrying out the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement to which not only we but Commonwealth sugar producers attach the greatest importance.

The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman does not conceal that he much prefers free commodity markets to any of these Socialist ideas of long-term purchases from the Commonwealth. He prefers commodity markets where there is no Government control, where there is absolutely free trade and where everybody can make a profit, regardless of any Commonwealth producers' interests or the interests of anybody else.

This Commonwealth Sugar Agreement is the last of the Commonwealth agreements left to us. All the others have been sacrificed on the altar of commodity markets. The right hon. Gentleman made it clear all through the sittings of the Standing Committee that he really prefers the commodity market system to this Commonwealth trading and Commonwealth agreement system. The general idea running through his arguments must alarm people who want to keep this last relic of the fine system of bulk purchase and long-term agreements with the Commonwealth markets which were produced, elaborated and established under the Labour Government and which have been destroyed one by one by the present Government.

If the right hon. Gentleman resists our Amendment, the Sugar Board and, indeed, he and the Government will not be able to do certain things which ought to be enabled to be done. The fact that he is depriving Britain of the power to do these things will alarm Commonwealth sugar producers. We ought to be able to use the purchasing power of the State to do what we can to affect the world price of Commonwealth sugar in the interests of Commonwealth sugar producers in Commonwealth countries and colonies. It is a perfectly proper thing to do and, though we might not wholly succeed, a thing which we should attempt to do; but the Minister cannot now give directions to the Sugar Board to operate in the general free market in such a way as to try and affect world prices so that they shall benefit the Commonwealth sugar producers.

As for the national interest here, leaving aside the Commonwealth for a moment, it is very difficult to see how the Government can now acquire, at any rate easily and simply, strategic reserves of sugar. It would have been very easy, of course, under the original Bill for the Government to acquire strategic reserves, because they could have given specific or general directions to the Board to buy other than Commonwealth Agreement or Commonwealth Preference sugar, but now the right hon. Gentleman, bowing before the interests, has deprived himself, or at any rate the Board, of the power to do this, which would be the natural, obvious and proper way of building up strategic reserves if his or any later Government decided to do so.

As far as I can see, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman or the Parliamentary Secretary will clarify the point, the Board cannot even buy Commonwealth Preference sugar without specific directions from the Minister. The position under the Bill is that even if the Board wanted to buy Commonwealth Preference sugar, it would need a specific direction from the Minister. The Minister, however, has made it clear that he does not like the Sugar Board. Therefore he has said, in effect, that he will not give the Board directions to do this because if he did so the Board would not be as narrowly restricted as possible but would be getting something else to do. So he has said in effect, "The Board cannot do it without my direction, and I will not give it a direction because I want to keep its activities as narrow as possible."

The right hon. Gentleman must realise that Commonwealth sugar producers are extremely apprehensive about the surplus sugar they produce, about the amount they sell under preference but for which they have not got a guaranteed market. This is the part of the Bill which fills them with alarm. It threatens the whole of their sugar economy and sugar industry. This is what will happen if the right hon. Gentleman perversely resists our Amendment, for they too realise that the Sugar Board, the instrument chosen by the Government to help the Commonwealth, is not to be allowed to buy Commonwealth preference sugar. This will really alarm them.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not mind going back on some of the things he said upstairs, because unless he does that we shall be left in the position that the producers in the Commonwealth will realise that he is not going to give this Board any wider directions than are absolutely necessary. Therefore he will not give it the directions which he is entitled to give it under this subsection. So, for their surplus sugar over and above the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement quotas, the Commonwealth countries which produce sugar will have to rely on the private importers, since they will not get any aid from the British Government until there is a Labour Government which, of course, would not be bound by the intention of the present Minister to keep the Sugar Board as narrow as possible.

A Labour Government could, and certainly would, be ready to give directions to the Sugar Board to purchase surplus sugar over and above the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, but it is clear that as long as the present right hon. Gentleman is in office, unless he contradicts what he said upstairs, this will not happen under the present Government.

The real reason why we are keen to have this Amendment made in the Bill is that we are trying to restore the Bill to its pristine stage. I do not know what the technical term is, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but this is a re-amendment of the Bill. Why we are keen about it is that we were alarmed to hear so often from the right hon. Gentleman upstairs a fundamental contradiction. Reading the reports of what the Minister said, we find two contradictory themes running through his speeches. One is, "I love the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. It is a wonderful thing. We shall go on with it in exactly the same way." The other is, "I dislike State trading."

How the right hon. Gentleman reconciles those two, I do not know, because the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement is a fine example of the right kind of State trading. However, as long as the Minister continues with that contradiction, he will create apprehension to exactly the same extent as he is trying to allay it in the minds of Commonwealth Sugar producers. They will be encouraged when they read about the Minister loving the Agreement; they will be filled with apprehension when each statement to that effect is accompanied, and undermined, by a contradictory statement that he hates all forms of State trading which, of course, means the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement.

The right hon. Gentleman gave the impression generally, and particularly over this subsection, that he regarded the Sugar Board as rather an unfortunate anomaly. In every other case he had managed to get rid of Commonwealth agreements and to substitute commodity markets. It was unfortunate that he could not do that here. He did not like this one thing he was saving, so he was going to make the Sugar Board, the instrument for guaranteeing the policy of this Bill, as narrowly restricted as unimportant, as insignificant as he could. He gave the impression that this was not only the last remnant of Commonwealth agreements, but a precarious one.

It is not so important that there are doubts in our minds, but it is important that there are doubts in the minds of Commonwealth sugar producers. The only way that the right hon. Gentleman can remove those doubts, I suggest, is to accept our Amendment. In that way he will make it clear that the Sugar Board will be able to purchase general sugar, not only Commonwealth sugar, and in that way he will go back to his first, better self.

5.15 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. D. Heathcoat Amory)

We are starting this Report stage with the intention of being as helpful and conciliatory as possible to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, as I think our future progress will show. I am sorry, therefore, that the first Amendment put down by right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite is one which I must ask the House to resist. The difference between us here really arises from our political philosophy. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they get the opportunity, like to provide for as much Government trading as possible, whereas we want to provide for as little Government trading as is necessary in the particular circumstances.

It is true that the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement is a contract between Governments, and we accept that absolutely. We are not doctrinaire about these matters. We accept it loyally, and in this case enthusiastically, and we are always prepared to consider each case on its merits. Having got that contract, however, we want to ensure that we fulfil the obligations falling on us under it in a way which will involve the least amount of Government routine trading. I think there is a distinction there between the contract itself and the trading which may follow from carrying out that contract. Here we are trying to provide that, by setting up the Sugar Board, direct Government handling of sugar and the trading arrangements will terminate.

I would say once again that to the best of our information the Commonwealth sugar producers are completely happy abut the provisions contained in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) implied that the Government have had a change of heart in this matter and he referred to a contradiction. I assure the House that there is no contradiction.

During the Second Reading debate I indicated what was provided by the Bill which I was presenting to the House. I said I considered that for greater clarification, as our intentions have never changed in this matter, we could with advantage narrow the provisions of this subsection. I proceeded straight away to indicate why I thought so and I said that in due course I would produce an Amendment to that effect.

I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said, but there is a difference between us here as to the kind of functions we wish to give the Board. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite would like the Board to have wide powers and discretion in fixing a policy. We, on the other hand, regard this Board as an executive board with narrow and clearly specified functions. I would remind the House of the purposes of the reserve powers which we are providing here when we give the Board powers, on direction of the Minister, to buy Commonwealth sugar other than Commonwealth negotiated sugar.

I said during the Second Reading debate that we thought the need for these reserve powers to be used was remote because, fortunately, the Commonwealth preference, when added to the assurances that the refiners had given—that they will always give preference to Commonwealth sugar over other sugar—those two things in themselves are likely always to ensure a ready market for all the Commonwealth sugar available in this country. However, we felt that it was right that we should provide for the possibility that events might turn out otherwise, and that is the sole purpose of the reserve powers which we are proposing to give the Board.

I should like to remind the House once more of the figures. Under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement we accept obligations to take up 1,568,000 tons of Commonwealth negotiated sugar. We also have an obligation to our own sugar beet growers for the products of the present sugar beet acreage which amounts on average to about 650,000 tons. When chose two figures are added together it will be seen that the result nearly amounts to the total required for consumption in this country, which is about 2,500,000 tons per year.

The right hon. Gentleman said that it seemed to him that the limitation which we have here put on the Sugar Board would make it impossible for it to buy sugar for the stockpile. That is not so. It will make it impossible for it to buy other sugar, as principals, for the stockpile, but the stockpile sugar is directly in Government ownership. We should envisage there that if we wished to avail ourselves of the assistance of the Sugar Board to buy sugar other than Commonwealth sugar for that purpose, we should employ it to do so as agents under the provisions of Clause 3 (2, a).

The right hon. Gentleman said that this was the last Commonwealth long-term agreement. That is not so. We still have the Australian meat agreement, which is a long-term agreement.

This is identically the ground which we covered fairly fully in Standing Committee. For the reasons which I expressed then and for the reasons which I have expressed now, we still think it is much preferable, and will lead to much greater clarification, to retain the word "Commonwealth" in the Bill.

Mr. Gordon Walker

I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that under Clause 3 (2, a) he would have power to give directions to the Sugar Board to buy other than Commonwealth sugar. Is that so?

Mr. Amory

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Then why is the right hon. Gentleman going to such immense trouble to deprive himself of the same power under the subsection with which we are dealing if lower down he takes the same power again? It is difficult to realise what he is up to.

Mr. Amory

In the case that we are discussing now the Sugar Board would normally be buying as principals.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Being specially directed?

Mr. Amory

Yes, Sir; as principals.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Or as agents?

Mr. Amory

Or as agents. Clause I would entitle the Board to buy, even when instructed as agents by the Minister, only Commonwealth sugar, I agree, but when we come to Clause 3 a wider power is given to the Board to buy any sugar, as agents, but not as principals, at the direction of the Minister.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman, although he has given us hope that he will improve as we proceed, has started off so badly.

To deal first with his last argument, surely if substantially these powers are provided in a later Clause there would be every advantage in making it clear that there is no conflict between different Clauses. I should have thought that the least the right hon. Gentleman could have done would have been to bring the subsection with which we are dealing into line with Clause 3.

Mr. Amory

We do not want to give the Board power to buy other than Commonwealth sugar as principals.

Mr. Willey

Yes, but the present provision is dealing with the Board in its capacity as either principals or agents, and in any case it has to be in accordance with the general or special direction of the Minister. I do not think the Minister could want any greater safeguard in the present provision. I should have thought that the only conclusion that we can draw from his last remark is that he is wasting our time. He is saying "Because my attention has not been called to an oversight in Clause 3, these powers there reside"—

Mr. Amory

I would remind the hon. Gentleman that we discussed the matter fairly fully on Clause 3 in Committee, and I then said, to all intents and purposes, identically the words that I have uttered today.

Mr. Willey

But we know that the Government Amendment to the Clause resulted from representations made by the trade. That confession was made by the right hon. Gentleman in the Standing Committee. It was not some self-revelation on re-reading the Bill but followed representations made by the trade.

Mr. Amory

No change of intention on the part of the Government has taken place as a result of any representation. What took place as a result of representation was that the Government agreed that the Clause could be narrowed to fit our intention.

Mr. Willey

The point I am making is that the Amendment which the Government made followed representations affecting this Clause, and it may well be that those making the representations had overlooked the significance of Clause 3. That being so, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman should be illogical merely because trade interests have been casual in their reading of the Bill. I do not want needlessly to pursue the argument but as we have previously said, it represents a major retreat, one of considerable significance, because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said, the Minister has repeatedly affirmed that the Sugar Board will be no more than an accountancy agency.

Let me approach the matter from another angle. There is another point which we have put to the right hon. Gentleman which does not affect his powers. This point was conceded after debate in the Standing Committee though it was not originally conceded. It is that the prerogative powers to buy sugar still reside with the Minister. That being so, surely there is every validity in our argument that it would be better for the Minister normally to exercise those prerogative powers through a Sugar Board which he has set up.

The Minister has failed to deal with that matter. He has conceded again today that for strategic purposes he will continue to buy sugar. That being so, I cannot see why he should go out of his way, because representations have been made to him by the trade, to preclude the Board from purchasing such sugar. I should have thought that hon. Members on both sides of the House would have said that in those circumstances there was every advantage in the Board buying the sugar.

For these narrow technical reasons, my hon. Friends and I are very disappointed with the Minister's response. We cannot help feeling that he has bound and committed himself in the consultations that he had with the trade following the publication of the Bill. That is why he is precluded from paying attention in this matter to the arguments which we have plainly put before him.

However, there are other factors which are of rather greater importance and significance. As we have argued, and as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, we are concerned not only with implementing the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, but with supporting the Agreement. For that reason again we think the Board should have wider powers, which the Minister himself originally thought that it should have.

5.30 p.m.

We realise our position under the International Sugar Agreement and the International Sugar Council, and again we think that we shall be giving expression to the fact that we are a good member of the Council if we allow the Board to take these powers and finally, that if the right hon. Gentleman sets a precedent by setting up a nationalised board in commerce, he should show confidence in it and allow it to trade, if necessary in competition with other sugar interests. But in this regard the right hon. Gentleman has proved deaf to our entreaties. He does not deal with the case in substance, but says that he has the powers and that he will deal with this under Clause 3, if he thinks it fit and proper to do so.

We feel that the best and the right thing to do is to make it clear that we have confidence in the Board which the right hon. Gentleman himself is setting up. We think there is nothing wrong in a nationalised board in commerce—if it is felt to be fit and proper to set up such a board—competing with private interests. In any case, we feel we should make it clear that we intend to take all steps necessary to reinforce and to support the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. For these reasons, I regret that we cannot accept the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman and I must

advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide on this Question.

Question put, That "Commonwealth" stand part of the Bill:

The House divided: Ayes 225, Noes 180.

Division No. 131.] AYES [5.32 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Green, A. Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)
Aitken, W. T. Gresham Cooke, R. Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Alport, C. J. M. Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Markham, Major Sir Frank
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Gurden, Harold Marlowe, A. A. H.
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Hall, John (Wycombe) Marshall, Douglas
Armstrong, C. W. Harris, Reader (Heston) Mathew, R.
Atkins, H. E. Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Mawby, R. L.
Baldwin, A. E. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Balniel, Lord Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Medlicott, Sir Frank
Banks, Col. C. Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Molson, A. H. E.
Barber, Anthony Harvie-Watt, Sir George Moore, Sir Thomas
Barlow, Sir John Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Nabarro, G. D. N.
Barter, John Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Neave, Airey
Baxter, Sir Beverley Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Nicholls, Harmar
Beamish, Maj. Tufton Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Nield, Basil (Chester)
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Hirst, Geoffrey Nugent, G. R. H.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Holland-Martin, C. J. O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Bidgood, J. C. Hope, Lord John Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Bishop, F. P. Horobin, Sir Ian Osborne, C.
Black, C. W. Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Page, R. G.
Body, R. F. Howard, John (Test) Partridge, E.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.) Pitman, I. J.
Bryan, P. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Pitt, Miss E. M.
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Pott, H. P.
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Hulbert, Sir Norman Powell, J. Enoch
Burden, F. F. A. Hurd, A. R. Price, David (Eastleigh)
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A.(Saffron Walden) Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.) Profumo, J. D.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Hutchison, Sir James Raikes, Sir Victor
Cole, Norman Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H. Rawlinson, Peter
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Redmayne, M.
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Corfield, Capt. F. V. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Rippon, A. G. F.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Robertson, Sir David
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Crouch, R. F. Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green) Roper, Sir Harold
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Joseph, Sir Keith Russell, R. S.
Currie, G. B. H. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.
Dance, J. C. G. Kaberry, D. Sharples, R. C.
Davidson, Viscountess Keegan, D. Shepherd, William
D' Avigdor- Goldsmid, Sir Henry Kerby, Capt. H. B. Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Deedes, W. F. Kerr, H. W. Soames, Capt. C.
Digby, Simon Wingfield Kershaw, J. A. Spearman, A. C. M.
Doughty, C. J. A. Kirk, P. M. Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)
Drayson, G. B. Lagden, G. W. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
du Cann, E. D. L. Lambert, Hon. G. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir Thomas (R'm'd) Lancaster, Col. C. G. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Leavey, J. A. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Duthie, W. S. Leburn, W. G. Storey, S.
Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Studholme, H. G.
Errington, Sir Eric Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Summers, G. S. (Aylesbury)
Fell, A. Lindsay, Martin (Solihull) Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Finlay, Graeme Linstead, Sir H. N. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Fisher, Nigel Llewellyn, D. T. Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Foster, John Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)
Freeth, D. K. Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G. Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.
Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Garner-Evans, E. H. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
George, J. C. (Pollok) Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Touche, Sir Gordon
Gibson-Watt, D. Macdonald, Sir Peter Turner, H. F. L.
Glover, D. McKibbin, A. J. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Godber, J. B. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Vane, W. M. F.
Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Gower, H. R. MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Vickers, Miss J. H.
Graham, Sir Fergus Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Wade, D. W.
Grant, W. (Woodside) Maddan, Martin Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Wall, Major Patrick Whitelaw, W.S.I.(Penrith & Border) Woollam, John Victor
Ward, Hon. George (Worcester) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.) Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth) Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Water house, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold Wood, Hon. R. Mr. Oakshott and Mr. Wills.
Ainsley, J. W. Greenwood, Anthony Parker, J.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Grey, C. F. Paton, J.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Pearson, A.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Hannan, W. Peart, T. F.
Anderson, Frank Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Popplewell, E.
Awbery, S. S. Hastings, S. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Bacon, Miss Alice Hayman, F. H. Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Bartley, P. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Randall, H. E.
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Hobson, C. R. Rankin, John
Bonn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.) Holmes, Horace Reeves, J.
Benson, G. Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Reid, William
Beswick, F. Howell, Denis (All Saints) Rhodes, H.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Blenkinsop, A. Hunter, A. E. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Blyton, W. R. Irving, S. (Dartford) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Boardman, H. Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Jeger, George (Goole) Ross, William
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs. S.) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Bowles, F. G. Johnson, James (Rugby) Shurmer, P. L. E.
Boyd, T. C. Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Brockway, A. F. Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Skeffington, A. M.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Burke, W. A. Kenyon, C. Sorensen, R. W.
Burton, Miss F. E. Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Steele, T.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) King, Dr. H. M. Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Callaghan, L. J. Lawson, G. M. Stones, W. (Consett)
Carmichael, J. Ledger, R. J. Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Swingler, S. T.
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Lewis, Arthur Sylvester, G. O.
Collins, V. J.(Shoreditch & Finsbury) Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Corbet, Mrs. Francis Logan, D. G. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Cove, W. G. Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Thornton, E.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) MacColl, J. E. Timmons, J.
Cronin, J. D. McGhee, H. G. Turner-Samuels, M.
Crossman, R. H. S. McGovern, J. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Cullen, Mrs. A. McInnes, J. Warbey, W. N.
Daines, P. McLeavy, Frank Watkins, T. E.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Darling, George (Hillsborough) Mahon, S. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) West, D. G.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Mann, Mrs. Jean Wheeldon, W. E.
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Delargy, H. J. Mayhew, C. P. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Dodds, N. N. Mellish, R. J. Wilkins, W. A.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch) Mikardo, Ian Willey, Frederick
Dye, S. Mitchison, G. R. Williams, David (Neath)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Monslow, W. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)
Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) Moody, A. S. Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Moss, R. Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Moyle, A. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Oliver, G. H. Winterbottom, Richard
Fernyhough, E. Oswald, T. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Finch, H. J. Owen, W. J. Woof, R. E.
Fletcher, Eric Padley, W. E. Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Forman, J. C. Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Palmer, A. M. F. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gibson, C. W. Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Mr. Deer and Mr. Short.
Gooch, E. G. Pargiter, G. A.
Mr. Amory

I beg to move, in page 2, line 22, to leave out from "The" to the end of line 26 and to insert: price at which the Sugar Board sell sugar, which they have purchased as principals, shall be such as appears to the Board to be the best price reasonably obtainable for the sugar, having regard to the date of delivery and the other terms and conditions of the sale. This Amendment refers to the price at which the Sugar Board should sell the Commonwealth negotiated price sugar that it takes over on behalf of the Government. We have tried to meet a criticism from the Opposition that the words we had included in the Bill were rather abstruse. I said in Committee upstairs that our intention was that the Sugar Board should sell at the best market price obtainable and that we would try to see whether we could find alternative words which might be more acceptable to the House. We have tried, and the Amendment contains the new words. They are, at least, slightly less abstruse, and they seem to me to explain our purpose that the Board should sell at the best price obtainable. I hope the Opposition will feel that we have done our best to meet them in this respect.

Mr. Willey

We are delighted and jubilant. This is a great success. I do not want to look a gift horse in the mouth too much, but when we appealed to the Government to withdraw these words they divided the Committee. My last words—as usual, conciliatory—were an appeal to the Government to reconsider the wording, and they have been quite right to do so.

This is a major triumph for the Opposition, because the Parliamentary Secretary, as he will remember, fought desperately for the words in the Bill. He regarded them as key words. I hope that with the withdrawal of the gabble of meaningless words, as we described them, have gone the theories which accompanied them of a floor price and of the temporary aberration of the Board. The new words are certainly a considerable improvement and justify our protracted and prolonged discussion upstairs.

Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)

While I fully appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's change of heart on subsection (6) and his desire to meet the arguments which we used upstairs, apparently without effect then but with effect now, I am glad that he has used the interval since the Committee stage to alter the words in the Bill. In reading the OFFICIAL REPORT of our proceedings in Committee, I am confirmed in my recollection that the right hon. Gentleman was adamant to the end in defending the words which he now proposes to replace. In view of our long arguments, which at the time seemed unavailing, it is only right for me to say that the right hon. Gentleman did not suggest any subsequent alteration to the wording.

5.45 p.m.

Here we come up against the difficulty of the sale by the Board of the sugar which it has purchased. The weakness that will arise throughout the Board's career will be that in times of plenty it will have difficulty in selling its sugar at a reasonable price. It is a difficulty which arises from the situation created by the Minister in refusing our previous Amendment to give the Board wider powers. The powers of the Board have been restricted to the purchase of certain sugar only, big business being left to buy cheap sugar elsewhere.

Although the Amendment represents an improvement in defining the duties of the Board in its disposal of the sugar, it does not remove the fundamental weakness in the set-up of the Board that at certain times it will have the greatest difficulty in selling its sugar. We are pleased that the Minister has seen the need for this change of wording but we wish he had gone further and given the Board wider powers so that it could act more effectively in times of trade difficulty.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

I am pleased that the Minister has at last seen the light. Having read the OFFICIAL REPORT of our proceedings in Committee to refresh my memory, I cannot find that the Minister gave any indication whatever that he might have second thoughts. Both he and the Parliamentary Secretary stood out for the original wording of the Clause and withstood our atttempts to resist it. I am glad that he has had second thoughts and that our arguments in Committee have had some effect upon him.

Mr. Amory

They have had a delayed effect.

Mr. Jeger

In that case, the Minister encourages me to suggest that if these proceedings were deferred for another few weeks, we would permit him to have delayed reactions to our other suggestions. We are pleased to see the Amendment and we can take full credit for it. When the same issue was discussed in Committee, it was one of the numerous occasions when not one Member on the Government side opened his mouth either to support or to criticise the point of view that the Minister put forward.

Mr. Gordon Walker

While I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his delayed action, I hope he realises what he is doing. In Standing Committee, as is reported in column 107 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, he was quite clear as to the effect of the Amendment that was being discussed. He said: The object of this Clause"— that was, in its earlier form— is to do exactly the opposite of what the hon. Member"— that was, my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger)— desires.…The whole object of this provision is to ensure that the Board sells the sugar at the current market price. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say: It is because we want to limit the operations of the Board that we have provided these words"— words which he is now abandoning. The right hon. Gentleman then went on to say these very significant things, and I think that they should be on the record of the House and not only on that of the Committee. He said: Were we to adopt the words of the Amendment"— that is, roughly speaking, the words which he is now adopting— it would, as the hon. Gentleman has said—and he could not have put it more succinctly—defeat our object because it would widen the scope of the operations of the Board."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 8.th December, 1955; c. 107.] We are very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has now defeated his own object, because that is what he said would be the effect of doing what he has now done. Therefore, he is really making a rather major concession.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Harmar Nicholls)

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman ought to be left with the impression that the action had been delayed too long, because if he will look at the report of the next sitting of the Committee, he will find that my right hon. Friend said: After meditating on that"— the words of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey)— we felt that we want to do everything we can to satisfy hon. Members opposite that our choice of words is the best which can be devised to define the functions which we desire, and so I shall be glad to have a look at those words again before the Report stage to see whether we can devise a simple and less ab- struse form of words. If we can, we shall substitute them; if we cannot, if we still feel that the present words are the best, we must come back and so say on the Report stage and have another shot to convince hon. Gentlemen that those words are sensible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 13th December, 1955; c. 159.]

Mr. Gordon Walker

It is to be noted that after the right hon. Gentleman had resisted our Amendment because it would defeat his object, he and his hon. Friend not only spoke but voted against the Amendment on the ground that it would defeat their object. We were, of course, quite used upstairs to both the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend contradicting themselves from time to time, but here they are contradicting themselves after making speeches and voting. But why should we worry, because this is a very important change. This is one of the points which I took up with the Minister early on when he nailed this particular flag to his mast.

The reason why I am glad that this change has been made is not because it defeats the object of the right hon. Gentleman—that was an exaggeration on his part—but because, first of all, it makes it clear that there is not a free market at all. The reason why these words were in the Bill originally was to "kid" everybody that there was a free market. Now it says simply that the Board shall sell the sugar at the price it thinks proper. There is no attempt at pretending that there is a free market.

We are glad because it makes clear that there is a concealed subsidy to the private enterprise producer. The Board is going to buy dear and sell cheap to the producer. Therefore, it is quite clear that there is a subsidy as a result of what the Government are doing, a subsidy which the State is going to arrange that the private refiners shall draw. Both those things are now clear as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's second, third or fourth thoughts—I cannot now quite make out which—and we are grateful to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.