HC Deb 01 May 1956 vol 552 cc329-46
Mr. R. Edwards

I beg to move. in page 8, line 42, at the end, to insert: Provided that where an entry is made in the special section of the register an indication to that elect shall be given in that part of the register which is open to public inspection. As the Committee will realise, this is a very simple Amendment which does not require a long explanation. Subsection (3) of this Clause deals with the maintenance of a special register which is to contain particulars of certain agreements which the President considers should not, in the public interest, be disclosed. It is to contain all particulars of these agreements, disclosure of which would be against the public interest.

The simple purpose of this Amendment is to bring out the necessity of having in the general register which is open to public inspection a reference to the special circumstances of the agreements registered in the special register. That seems a simple request to make. If there is an indication in the general register that agreements have been recorded in a special register, just leaving it at that without giving all the necessary details, that should be some guidance to interested parties that there is such a reference in the special register.

It seems to me that some, though not all, of the information contained in this special register will have to be disclosed from time to time. For instance, when there is a case presented which, it is suggested, vitally affects the public interest, some information would have to be submitted by the Board of Trade. Merely to remain silent will not do. Some aspect of the reference in the special register will surely have to be disclosed.

Unless this Clause is amended, we may find very grave difficulties. For example, how can the special agreements remain secret if their provisions are quoted during proceedings which are open to the public? Before the Court, when proceedings are open to the public, some summary of the agreements will be neces sary. On the other hand, if it is the intention that, when dealing with these aspects of the special register, the Court or board shall sit in camera, then the whole purpose of the Bill when it becomes an Act will be lost.

At every stage of the Bill the President has gone out of his way to say that the publicity arising out of registration is the most important deterrent and will create a situation in which many restrictive practices will be automatically dropped. I presume that there is no suggestion of Star Chamber proceedings and no suggestion that proceedings will be taken in camera because agreements have been registered in the special register and because the President considers that there are secret formulae which, in the interest of certain industries and firms, should not be publicly known.

I am a layman and a trade union general secretary, not a lawyer. This seems to be a question for lawyers, and I hope they will argue the pros and cons of the issue which I have raised. It seems to me that the problem may be covered in Clause 27, but I do not know, and I should like information on the subject.

May I underline the point involved in this simple Amendment? I ask that where there is an entry in the special register it should be indicated as a special registration in the general register. This will not give access to the special information, but simply knowledge that it has been registered elsewhere. That is the point of the Amendment, which seems very reasonable, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be willing to accept it.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I am in favour of the principle of publicity in these things. I think that in the great majority of cases any evils which flow from publicity are far less than those which flow from hushing things up, and I would always believe, as a matter of policy, that we should tend to the idea of the fullest publicity possible.

But if we are to put on the Statute Book a Bill, such as this Bill, embodying that kind of principle we must be scrupulously careful to see that in proper cases we do not, either deliberately or by accident, let information leak out which is secret. If we failed in that it would not be a question only of the damage in that case. It would damage the whole public appreciation of the Measure. We need only make one or two mistakes of this kind to bring the Measure into thorough disrepute. Other countries have found this to be so and their legislation has come under considerable attack. I am clear, therefore, that we must have in the Bill a provision for putting matters dealt with in Clause 9 (3) in a special register.

I think that ought to be used with discretion and I do not think the idea should get out that anybody who feels he would not like his particular arrangements to be published can be put on the special register. If I may say so, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) for having moved the Amendment, enabling me to say that that is the policy which I wish to have pursued. At the same time, it is not so easy to meet the precise point which he makes. It sounds simple enough to give an indication that there is a separate agreement which is registered, but how is that to be done without naming the parties between whom it is taking place? If, in fact, we named the parties and revealed the types of business it would rapidly become very evident what sort of arrangement was concerned.

9.45 p.m.

In the cases I am considering, incalculable harm might be done to certain sections of our export trade and we would do a very great deal of damage to the Bill and to the cause of all hon. Members, on both sides of the Committee, who want to get on and do something effective about restrictive practices. I am grateful to the hon. Member for having tabled the Amendment and given me the opportunity of saying that I really lean to the side of publicity in this matter. I feel that this special register should be used only with discretion and caution, but I hope the hon. Member will not press me to put upon it hints that there should be information here and names of parties given there. That would be almost worse than a full disclosure. There would be comment and pressure to say, "Was it this or that?" I think that the idea should be to keep the special register very small.

Mr. Hector Hughes

I am very glad the President has said what he did in indicating his leaning against secrecy in these matters, but I do not think that his speech was at all persuasive when he said that this should not be embodied in the Statute. I do not see why it should not be embodied in the Statute. If we have a principle of which we approve and it is relevant to the subject of the Statute, I do not see why we should not incorporate it in the Statute so that it may have the force which legislation can give it.

This Clause contains the embodiment of a very dangerous principle, the principle of secrecy or concealment of matters in which the public are vitally interested. That is a principle which, if implemented at all, should be implemented with the very greatest care. Therefore I support the Amendment, particularly as it is a second best to the Amendment in my name, which was not called. My Amendment was directed to page 8, line 37, to leave out from "manufacture" to "being" in line 39, and was designed to omit from this subsection (3, b) the words: … or as to the presence, absence or situation of any mineral or other deposits or as to any other similar matter … The Amendment we are discussing as a second best would add at the end of the Clause the words: Provided that where an entry is made in the special section of the register an indication to that effect shall be given in that part of the register which is open to public inspection. This raises a most important subject. It relates to the problem whether the presence, the absence or situation of minerals should be a ground—

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. H. Hynd)

Order. The hon. and learned Member is dangerously near being ruled out of order. He must not discuss the Amendment which was not called.

Mr. Hughes

I do not intend to say another word about my Amendment, Mr. Hynd. I have passed from that, but I was informing you, Mr. Hynd, and the Committee that I support this Amendment because it is second best to mine. This Amendment, proposed so well and persuasively by my hon. Friend, raises the very important question whether the existence or location of minerals should be a ground for including an agreement dealing with them in the special register, otherwise the secret register. I say it should not be so included. I say that the proviso which my hon. Friend seeks to add to this Clause has very much the effect of excluding them. Their inclusion in the special register would do much to conceal from public knowledge— the presence, absence or situation of any mineral or other deposits or as to any other similar matter, The proviso would guard against that. Is that a good thing? I say it is a bad thing. This is very important, because the proviso will guard the public against that secrecy.

I will give reasons why I say that. It is contrary to the public interest, contrary to the general trend of history in these industrial matters and it will tend to keep the public in the dark with regard to matters in which they are vitally interested. It is not irrelevant to point out that this matter was the subject of a very interesting and learned letter by a member of the Bar in The Times the other day, in which Mr. Rabagliati, Q.C., drew attention to the historical side of the arguments in favour of avoiding secrecy in matters of this sort, when he said this: Nearly 2,500 years ago, Phoenician merchants were interested in the tin mines in Cornwall and the Scilly Islands, but neither they nor their owners attempted to conceal from Pythias, who made his famous tour of exploration of Britain in 325 B.C., the existence or location of these mines. That learned gentleman in his letter went on to point out—

The Temporary Chairman

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is very cleverly using the speech which he would have used if the Amendment in his name had been called. I warn him again that he is getting out of order.

Mr. Hughes

I do not know how you can peep into my mind, Mr. Hynd, and know what speech I would have made.

Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)


Mr. Hughes

I am addressing myself to the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend, and that Amendment is designed to prevent the kind of secrecy against which I have been arguing. It is designed to prevent the kind of secrecy against which the writer of the letter which I have just quoted was also arguing against. Therefore, I support with cordiality the Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend.

Mr. J. E. S. Simon (Middlesbrough, West)

I do not propose to follow the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), because it is obvious that if I tried I should very soon find myself out of order. I should like to say how much I welcome the declaration of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to the effect that the real advantage of a register lies in bringing the broad light of publicity to bear on these agreements, and the experience of Scandinavia certainly shows that that in itself is efficacious in bringing to an end many of the restrictive practices which operate against the public interest.

I only desire to ask, because I am not quite clear myself, how this particular provision for the special section of the register will act. It is proposed that the parties to the agreement will bring the provisions of their agreement to the notice of the Registrar or of the Board of Trade? Will they themselves initiate a request that their agreement should be put into the special register?

Subsection (3) provides for regulations being made as to the register, and for the entry or filing in that section of such particulars as the Board of Trade may direct… Are these regulations to be directed towards the general type of agreement which should be put into the special section of the register, or to a particular agreement itself?

Secondly, if it is to be a general direction and is to be done by the Registrar in pursuance of a general direction, is there any provision for the Board of Trade itself examining the special section of the Register? I may have failed to find it, but I cannot find anywhere in the Bill anything which would give to the Board of Trade itself access to the special section of the register.

Mr. A. E. Oram (East Ham, South)

I was rather surprised to hear the President of the Board of Trade make such heavy weather of the Amendment when he replied. I cannot really think that the acceptance of it would be such a major blow to the Bill as he tried to represent. I agree, of course, as I think we all agree, on all sides, that in dealing with restrictive agreements publicity of registration, while perhaps not entirely effective in itself, is a very useful weapon in eliminating harmful agreements. That means, surely, that the public inspection which is provided for in subsection (4) ought to be made as straightforward as possible. That is to say, it should be possible for any member of the public to go to the office where the register is kept, pay the requisite fee and get the maximum possible information that any member of the public can get, as quickly as possible.

We on this side do not quarrel with the idea that in some cases certain parts of agreements ought not to be open to public inspection. That is in line with a similar provision of the 1948 Act regarding the publication of reports of the Monopolies Commission. It has, however, invariably been the practice of both the President himself and of his predecessors, when speaking of a report of the Monopolies Commission in the House, to indicate that there have been certain sections which have not been brought to the public notice—not to indicate what they arc, but briefly to indicate that there are certain sections which it is not in the public interest to disclose. That is all we are asking for in the Amendment.

If certain particulars of an agreement have been registered and others are kept aside in a register, that is perfectly legitimate. It means, however, that because of the gaps, the part which is in the register is likely to be nonsensical when a member of the public goes to look at it. All we are asking is that there should be a simple indication in the public register that there is a gap in the information. That would not give away any information which it was desirable to keep secret, but it would at least make the inspections a little more useful. That is all I have in mind in subscribing my name to the Amendment, and I think that is all my hon. Friends have in mind.

It is a simple, straightforward, commonsense Amendment, and I am surprised to hear the President of the Board of Trade make such heavy weather of it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will think again and consider whether he can meet our point.

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)

I suggest that the President of the Board of Trade might interpret the Amendment in a sense which might reassure us on this side of the Committee, for we are as anxious as I am sure is the right hon. Gentleman that there should be the maximum publicity. Even if the full particulars which are to be entered in the special register are not to be disclosed to the public, I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is highly desirable and will reassure those who are interested if the numbers of those entries are recorded so that we can have some idea of the proportion of those to be kept secret as compared with those to be made public.

I gather from the President that it is his intention that everything possible should be made public and that the register should be kept with the utmost stringency. Nobody doubts the right hon. Gentleman's good intentions here, but it is desirable that the public should see that his intentions are carried out. If it were found that there was a large proportion of entries in the special register, the public might get worried and might want to amend the law. The right hon. Gentleman might interpret the Amendment in that sense.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

In reply to the points made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) I have to tell the Committee that the regulations which I would contemplate would be procedural regulations. The application would be made essentially to the Registrar, because the particulars would be furnished to the Registrar and I imagine that the application would be that part of those particulars should be registered in the confidential section. That application would be referred to the Board of Trade, which would have the responsibility of seeing what should and should not go into the confidential section. My hon. and learned Friend makes a good point in saying that there is not a provision for the Board of Trade to have access to the register. It may be necessary that it should have that access because it has a responsibility for issuing directions as to the order and timing of proceedings. I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend for taking up that point.

I agree that there is a provision relating to confidential matters in the case of the Reports of the Monopolies Commission and it is a sound argument that there should be in this case some indication of omissions such as the series of dots which appear in the Monopolies Commission Reports. But this is not quite a parallel, because those are Reports in which paragraphs are left out. I believe that in this case it would be remarkably difficult to indicate that there was an agreement in existence without naming the parties to it and making it clear to everybody what it was.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) about my good intentions, which I accept, and I assure him that it is my intention to keep the special register as small as possible. I think that it would be right that the Committee should be given some indication of the number of arrangements being entered in the confidential section compared with those entered in the other section. This adjustment between the two sections will not be an easy business. While I am clear about limiting this arrangement and about not letting information leak out on the nature of the agreements, I will consider whether it will be possible from time to time to indicate the extent to which the confidential section is being used.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)

I beg to move, in page 8, line 42, at the end, to insert: or— (c) particulars containing information the publication of which would in the opinion of the Board cause a substantial reduction in the volume or earnings of the export trade of any trade or industry in the United Kingdom. This is a relatively simple, but fairly important point. It is to ensure that discretion in the matter of export business extends to the register as well as to the agreement. In connection with the Monopolies Commission, the discretion of the Board of Trade under the 1948 Act to make excisions from the Report of the Commission in the interests of the export trade obviously proved inadequate, and unless I am very wrong this fact appears to be recognised by Her Majesty's Government, because Clause 25 (2) of the Bill seeks to correct this oversight by providing wider discretion, inasmuch as it says: notwithstanding anything in section nine of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act, 1948, the Board of Trade shall not be required to lay before Parliament any report made to them by the Monopolies Commission which relates exclusively to exports of goods … or may be expected to operate against the public interest. A wider discretion is, therefore, allowed in relation to agreements, and I submit that it is desirable and appears to be logical to provide a similar discretion to the Board of Trade in connection with registration.

This Amendment assures that the interests of the export trade are specifically covered, or could be in the circumstances described in the Amendment, for special as opposed to a public registration. It may be possible to argue that the point which I am trying to make is substantially covered in paragraph (a). I would accept that assurance if it were given to me, though I do not feel that it is so covered. It might equally be argued by my right hon. Friend that there can be several decisions on this matter; that a tribunal is set up to decide some of these considerations as to whether an industry or trade is affected in its export earnings. That seems to be a reasonable argument in so far as agreements are concerned, but at this stage we are dealing with the register. What goes on the register or what does not go on the register is no part of the decision of the Court. It is the decision of the Registrar.

I cannot myself see, although I am interested in this point, how it is possible to conceive that there is any jurisdiction in this matter at this stage of the register other than what the Registrar under his appointment decides shall go on it. If it is proper in certain circumstances—and, of course, they must be special circumstances—that certain agreements shall be kept secret in the interests of the export trade or for some reason of that nature, as is provided for later in this Bill—if that is sensible, and I think it is—and it was one of the short-comings of the Monopolies Act, 1948—then that should maintain equally for the registering of the agreements referred to.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

There are several difficulties about this. I appreciate the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) that damage should not be done to the export trade. Clearly, this is one of the matters one would take into account in weighing the public interest. Indeed, I would have thought that if one took the view that public registration of the agreement was really going to cause substantial damage that would be something which any President of the Board of Trade would judge to be contrary to the public interest.

The difficulty about this Amendment is that it asks us to prejudge precisely the question which the Court may be asked to judge at a later date. It would mean if we were operating under this new paragraph (c) we should prejudge one of the criteria specifically laid down in Clause 16. There is something to be said for a Minister judging these things. There is something to be said for a Court judging them, but there is absolutely nothing to be said for both of them judging them, and perhaps in contrary senses. It is a practicable arrangement. Moreover the wording is restrictive, that is to say, it is much narrower to say that a Minister must be satisfied that there will be a substantial reduction in the volume of earnings.

I have indicated that I want to keep this confidential section small but, at the same time, I can conceive of circumstances where it would be proper to use it at a number of points where there is something less than a substantial reduction in export earnings. There are other circumstances rather less grave in which it might be possible to use subsection (4). So, on my undertaking to my hon. Friend that these are the kind of considerations which are certainly within paragraph (a), I hope he will rest content.

Mr. A. J. Irvine

It is an agreeable task to intervene to defend the President from his hon. Friends. I welcomed wholeheartedly what the right hon. Gentleman said earlier about the desirability of keeping down to the minimum the extent and importance of the special section of the register. I think that the Amendment proposed by the hon. Gentleman reveals an important difference upon this matter between the two sides of the Committee and it is encouraging that we should have the support and agreement of the President of the Board of Trade.

I should have thought it clearly desirable that this special section should be kept down to the minimum. One asks oneself why it is that the hon. Member for Shipley should want to have resort to all the furtive processes which are attendant upon a special register. The hon. Gentleman seems to regard British industry as a kind of Stilton cheese which is something different when it is closely regarded from what it appears to be at first sight.

Our view of the matter is that this procedure of registration will have as its most valuable practical effect the publicity which it will attract in its initial processes to different classes of restrictive agreements. That is one of the great merits of the Bill, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman would probably so regard it. What will happen is that as the first classes of restrictive practices are delineated and defined by being placed upon the register, there is every reason to expect and hope that there will be an immediate reaction in industry and trade, and that a series of restrictive practices which, but for the publicity in this way attracted would have continued indefinitely, will be subjected to self-correction.

Bearing that in mind, it seems to us most desirable that there should be the maximum degree of publicity attaching to the register, and not merely publicity but reference by industry and by the public to the register. It should be recognised by the Committee that it is a remarkable thing that a Measure of this kind is being introduced by a Conservative Government. Undoubtedly, this is a circumstance of great political and social importance.

10.15 p.m.

Heaven knows the extent of the tedium which nowadays envelops and engulfs our political life, but that is penetrated by a Measure of this kind in which, by its statutory power, a Conservative Government authorises the most extraordinary and heart-searching investigations into the activities of British industry. This is a very welcome and a very admirable thing, and we on this side of the Committee would strongly object to any provision which limited or diminished the publicity which it is desired should be attracted to the register.

I think it is fair to say that this Amendment is designed to reduce and limit the amount of publicity which the register is going to attract, and by so doing, of course, it is going plainly counter to the whole spirit and merits of this Bill. I cannot say too emphatically how strongly I welcome the obviously determined disposition of the President to resist the arguments of his hon. Friends.

Mr. Hirst

I really cannot accept the arguments of the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine). There is far more at stake than the sort of parochial outlook which he is bringing into the matter. We are referring to the export trade of the country which is far more important that whether an agreement is in this or that section of the register. All I was arguing was that if it was thought wise in the interest of our export business that certain details should not be published for all and sundry to see and to snoop into, then it should be done in the interests of the export trade, and I apologise to no one for so arguing.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he said, but I must take him up quite briefly on one point. I do not think it is true to suggest that I was asking for the matter to be prejudged, because whether it were in the special or the normal section of the register would not alter the fact that it would, in turn, be judged on its merits. I was only saying that in certain instances it might be to the advantage of our overseas trade that certain agreements should be registered in that special section. However, on the assurance of my right hon. Friend that he is seized of this point and believes that a great deal of what I have in mind would be covered by paragraph (a), I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sir L. Joynson-Hicks

I beg to move, in page 8, line 42, at the end, to insert: (4) Parties to an agreement may make application to the Board of Trade that the whole or any part of an agreement should be included in the special section of the Register. (5) If an application under the last subsection is refused by the Board of Trade the parties to an agreement may appeal to the High Court against the Board's refusal and the decision of the court shall be final. It would be a little more original to move this Amendment if my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) had not already made a speech upon it in opposition to the Amendment before last which I should very much have welcomed in my own support. But the point of this Amendment is quite a short one.

It seemed to some of us that Clause 9 was incomplete in that it provided in subsection (3) that regulations would be made for the maintenance of a special section of the register, and for the entry or filing in that section of such particulars as the Board of Trade may direct. But it did not make any provision concerning how the entries were to get on the Register and how the President was to decide what entries should be contained in the Register. Consequently, the first part of this Amendment provides that: Parties to an agreement may make application to the Board of Trade that the whole or any part of an agreement should be included in the special section of the Register. As I understood my right hon. Friend the President, when he was replying to an entirely different Amendment, he indicated that there would be procedural regulations which would result in a party to an agreement making an application to the Registrar for leave to have the agreement, or any part of it, contained in the special section. If that is so, I should be quite prepared to accept my right hon. Friend's assurance.

But that does not entirely meet the second part of the Amendment. The Board of Trade may fail to see the point of the party to the agreement who desires that it shall be in the special section. I entirely share my right hon. Friend's desire to keep this special section as short and as strictly defined as possible, but there is very grave room for doubt between the views of the business man and the views of the administrative departmental official whether or not the contents of an agreement, if disclosed, are likely to affect our export trade.

The second part of the Amendment therefore provides for a right of appeal in the event of a decision going against the applicant. It may seem a little odd to make the right of appeal to the High Court, from the President, but in the circumstances of the Bill it is the logical action. Applicants already have the right of appeal to the High Court from the Registrar in certain circumstances. Although my right hon. Friend has the onus of deciding whether or not an agreement shall go into the special section, nevertheless the application is made to the Registrar, and if we are to have any appeal from the Board of Trade it can go only to the High Court. I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept that part of the Amendment, or, if he has difficulty in accepting the possibility that he may be over-ruled by the High Court, will suggest an alternative which will cause him no difficulty.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having put down the Amendment. It helps me to clarify two points. He is quite right in saying that I have covered the first part of the Amendment in my answer to a previous one. It does not really need a provision in the Bill—we cannot prevent anyone applying to the Board of Trade—but in fact regulations will be made to lay down the procedure under which applications to put an agreement into the special section of the register are to be framed.

I am less happy about the second part of the Amendment. What has to be decided here is essentially a matter of the public interest, upon such matters as foreign policy, defence, or our external commercial relations, and it seems to me that these are essentially matters for Ministerial decision. That is what Ministers are for. I do not want to press the argument too far and have it turned against me because it reflects some wider discussions that we had on Clause 1.

Assuming that I can carry the Committee so far as to say that the initial decision upon matters of foreign policy and the public interest generally, in its widest sense, is a matter for Ministers, I do not think that it would be right to give an appeal from that Ministerial decision to the High Court. I agree that it is difficult to see where else it could go, but the answer is not to have an appeal, but to leave the matter with the Minister, who is charged with making decisions in the public interest.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

On this side of the Committee we welcome with open arms the statement made by the President of the Board of Trade because it supports our fundamental objection to the Bill. We appreciate the terrible difficulty he is in.

There is an additional reason, which from one lawyer to another, may appeal to the hon. Member for Chichester (Sir L. Joynson-Hicks), relating to what would be the subject of the appeal to the High Court. It would be not merely that of the Public interest or the damage to the business interests of any person, but what the intention of the Board of Trade would be. That is an impossibility. Therefore, the Clause as it stands cannot possibly be accepted. For the substantial reason I mentioned in the first case, and for the rather legalistic reason which I mentioned in the second place, we are in complete agreement with the President of the Board of Trade.

Mr. Philip Bell

Let me try to rescue the President of the Board of Trade. Here we have the words "public interest," and they appear in Clause 16. Then we have the special court which is to consider the public interest. We have here the President of the Board of Trade making a decision on the matter.

Think how it will work out in practice. Manufacturers will say, "We want to make an agreement about this matter, but it concerns a secret process. We will not make an agreement at all if it is to be disclosed. Shall we make that agreement? If we make it, it may receive publicity." Perhaps the President of the Board of Trade may consider making some provision in the rule for the opinion of the Board of Trade to be consulted before an agreement is registered. People who want to make an agreement may be in a very difficult position, because it may all be on the secret register.

The persons concerned may go to the President of the Board of Trade, but he cannot take the matter any further. They would say, "If we are to have publicity we will not make the agreement and if we make the agreement there is no stopping the thing. We may give away valuable secrets." It is a vital matter to some trades whether they will have secrecy or not. Secrecy is sometimes the beginning of everything. It will be very hard for the President of the Board of Trade to say, "We must ask you to abide by our decision". It might have disastrous consequences to the trade, which would have no recourse to the courts.

I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will mitigate the blow by saying that he will consider adjusting the rules to provide that application can be made to him before the secret is revealed to the world, and that the parties may take the advice of the Board of Trade before making an agreement to know whether it will come on to the secret register or not.

Mr. Hirst

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Sir L. Joynson-Hicks) in this matter. In my experience I have known of agreements in which there have been absolutely secret processes and it has been essential that the secret should be kept. I quite agree with my hon. Friend, and others who have had experience of these matters in the courts, that it may be vital to the firms concerned that secrecy should be maintained. The President of the Board of Trade has not met the point of this argument, which is on a fundamental matter, and I am determined to see that the point is met, because it is very important.

It is a matter on which I have a right to speak after experience of agreements by trade associations over about twenty years. It would be absolutely shattering if, in fact, under the Clause as it now stands, certain processes which are of a secret nature had to be disclosed. In the past, it would have meant that no agreement could have been made and that, in the export trade, would have been highly detrimental to the country. This is a technical matter, and I ask my right hon. Friend, who has plenty of people to advise him, to take advice from others than the legally-minded gentlemen at the Board of Trade. I ask him to look at this matter again, because, otherwise, I must say that I am not prepared to support him.

10.30 p.m.

Sir L. Joynson-Hicks

I must say that I think some of the arguments have gone rather beyond my Amendment. I was disappointed with my right hon. Friend's reply, but I appreciate his difficulty and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Hon. Members


Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. P. Thorneyeroft

I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

We have got to Clause 9, and I would remind the Committee that we have a very long way yet to go. There is no question here of anyone in any quarter of the Committee seeking to obstruct the progress of the Bill but, at the same time, in the days ahead we should, I think, concentrate on making rather faster progress.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.