HC Deb 27 March 1956 vol 550 cc2028-30

Amendments made: In page 14, line 41, after "Where," insert: at any time after the appointed day.

In page 15, line 2, leave out from "Board" to first "the" in line 4 and insert: for a period of not less than six months from that time, is likely to show a surplus."—[Mr. H. Nicholls.]

Mr. Willey

I beg to move, in page 15, line 8, to leave out "for an indefinite period or."

I would remind my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger) that it was on the discussion of this Amendment in Committee that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary made his heartrending cry, "My intentions are perfectly honourable." Whereupon, I regret to say, the OFFICIAL REPORT records that the Amendment was negatived. I hope that by giving the Joint Parliamentary Secretary a second opportunity we can assume that the Amendment will now be accepted.

We are here dealing with the distribution payments. We expressed our views in the Standing Committee that an order providing for these payments should be for a specific period. That was resisted by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, for reasons which are as obscure as his last remark on the discussion on this Clause. He said, and we do not dispute this, that distribution payments would arise in circumstances which would be generally favourable to the consumer because they would arise in circumstances in which Commonwealth sugar would be sold below world prices.

That surely has nothing to do with the case. We were not concerned about that at all. We felt it wrong that the Government should, as it were—to quote myself in Standing Committee—legislate for a permanent unbalance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 31st January, 1956; c. 386.] They should show that the matter is obviously and probably subject to review.

The other arguments of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary are set at naught by the Bill, which at present provides for an alternative. The Minister can provide in the order for a specific period or for an indefinite period. We felt that it would be better to make the order relate to a specific period in each case. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary or the right hon. Gentleman will therefore accept the Amendment. There is everything to be said for it.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will have had an opportunity to reconsider what he said in Standing Committee, and to realise that it did not really deal with the point which we put to him that it was better from every point of view to make such an order as this, mainly for distribution payments, one for a specific period. If circumstances justify a continuance of the order, that should be done for another specific period.

Mr. H. Nicholls

The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) reminded us of our "one up and one down" basis on Committee. Since hon. Gentlemen opposite have so far today had five up and only one down, I do not feel abashed at having to say that we cannot accept the Amendment which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has just moved.

As he has said, it really repeats the Amendment moved in the Standing Committee, and we did discuss it at great length there. At the time, because we did want to give some thought to the arguments which had been used, I suggested that we would look at the matter again between the Committee and Report stages. I am afraid we cannot accept it even now, after having gone into the matter very carefully and with the greatest desire to meet the proposals of the hon. Gentleman if we could.

We could not even specify a minimum period for the distribution payments, for it is conceivable that in some circumstances such a provision would put the Board in serious financial difficulties. I think the hon. Gentleman will understand that if one ties oneself up to a specific time one might well be saddling oneself with trouble, and I do not think it is fair to a Board not yet established that it should be saddled with problems like that.

Nor can we omit the words entirely, for to do so would place a dangerous restriction on the Minister's discretion. If orders relating to distribution payments or surcharge were made only for specified periods—which, I think, is what the hon. Gentleman wants, if we omit those words—then we should run the risk of dislocation in the trade and also of undesirable speculation as the specified terminal date in the order was approaching. As the hon. Gentleman knows, if there is a specified date, and things are not moving as had been anticipated when that date is approaching, then all sorts of manoeuvres could, and I have no doubt, would, take place. That would be our mistake in making it specific when we ought to have left it open to the Board to judge the position as it saw it when it took over.

I confess that I am only using arguments which I used in the Standing Committee, but they are arguments which, after a most careful examination, we have seen no reason to alter. For that reason I shall ask my hon. Friends to resist the Amendment proposed.

Amendment negatived.