HC Deb 24 February 1960 vol 618 cc378-83
Mr. J. Hare

I beg to move, in page 3, line 28, after "for" to insert "encouraging or".

This Amendment stems from a suggestion made by hon. Members opposite in Committee. I think that it was the hon. Members for Sheffield. Hillsborough (Mr. Darling), East Ham, South (Mr. Oram) and Bradford, South (Mr. George Craddock) who suggested that we ought to include the word "encouraging" in the Bill as well as the word "facilitating". They felt that grants should be paid to central bodies for the promotion and encouragement of co-operation as such. The Bill, as drafted, provides only for grant by central bodies to co-operatives or groups of growers proposing to set up co-operatives.

3.45 p.m.

I should make it clear that I feel, as I did when we discussed the matter in Committee—the hon. Member for Hillsborough will remember that I was not unsympathetic in this matter—that the prime object of grants under Clause 4 must be of the latter sort to which I have referred. In the first place, the central co-operative bodies in England, Scotland and Wales already receive block grants towards the general services which they provide, including the encouragement of co-operation among farmers and growers. I think that it would be wrong to duplicate these grants. In administering this Clause, we must continue to give priority to programmes designed to assist existing or embryo co-operatives.

Having said that, I must remind the Committee that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) also joined in the fray in Committee and pointed out that there might be possibly a function at some time which we would need to assist under this Clause and which, as the hon. Member's hon. Friends pointed out, might not be covered by the word "facilitating". I can see that the hon. Member may be right. This may lead to anomalies.

I suppose that it could, for instance, be said that we should be allowed to make grants towards the cost of getting speakers to talk to growers if the growers have expressed an intention to set up a co-operative. But speakers would not be allowed if the object of the exercise was to try to get them to make up their mind to become members of a co-operative. I therefore think that it would be unreasonable to expect that central bodies should be tied in this niggling fashion. We tabled this Amendment to enable us to avoid the sort of anomaly which I had in mind and which, I think, hon. Members opposite had in mind.

I should like to re-emphasise that it is not our intention, under the Bill, to provide money purely for propaganda purposes. I do not think that the Opposition wish that either. I am sure that Parliament would not wish us to use for propaganda purposes money which is primarily devoted to the improvement of efficiency in horticultural marketing. It was to meet the views which were very sincerely and sensibly put forward in Committee that we tabled the Amendment.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

I do not want to be niggling about the words that my hon. Friend has proposed, but I should like to ask him why he wishes to insert the words "encouraging or" rather than the words "encouraging and".

Mr. Hare

I am told on the best legal advice that the words "encouraging or" serve the purpose better than the words "encouraging and".

Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

We welcome the Amendment. The Minister has explained the Amendment with much greater clarity than we were able to explain the point in Committee. He has clearly brought out the difficult point of defining the word "facilitating" and propaganda. We agree that we do not want money to be used for the purposes of pure propaganda which ought to be undertaken in a more voluntary fashion without Government assistance, but, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it may happen on many occasions that the encouragement of co-operative organisations will be done when the organisation is not in embryo, but may be set up next week.

We seized on this point when we put forward our Amendment, and to clear up the matter we thought that by inserting these words we should be assisting the purpose of the Clause. We are, therefore, very glad that the Minister has accepted our suggestion. We, in turn, accept the limiting factor which he associates with the word "encouraging". I point out to the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) that because of this difficulty there might be a case where the word "facilitating" would adequately describe what was being done for the promotion of a horticultural co-operative, but, at the same time, there might be an activity that would not come under the limited definition of "facilitating". We do not want to stop organisations encouraging the idea of a co-operative, even though it may be facilitated next week.

Mr. Fell

Surely, in this context, to encourage is somewhat negative. To facilitate is positive, or can be construed as such.

Mr. Darling

That may be true. I do not, however, want to prolong the debate. I suggest that the hon. Member, if he has not done so, should read the proceedings of Standing Committee when we dealt with this matter. We got down to it and as the Minister has said, four or five speeches were made from this side alone. We were seized of the point that we must have some kind of definition so that the part to be played by public money will not be confused with the job that should be done voluntarily by the co-operative organisations themselves.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

The Committee knows that the Bill is not very dear to my heart. If, however, we have to accept it anyway, I would like to see it made as effective as possible. My right hon. Friend will agree that the Clause hangs together closely with the ensuing one in that Clause 5 mentions that the aggregate amount of grants for the purpose we are now considering—in other words, the encouragement or facilitating of co-operatives—should be limited to £100,000 Subsection (4) of Clause 5 contains the proviso that a grant shall not be made unless the programme was submitted to the appropriate Minister before the expiration of six years from the coming into operation of that section. This is causing me a little misgiving. I suppose that of all forms of encouragement, financial is the most likely to be persuasive. Some of those who are anxious to promote co-operation in marketing feel that it is the early incidence of financial encouragement that is most important. To me, it would seem that it is merely quibbling with words to say that encouragement can be negative. The only context in which that might be at all relevant is in photography. To say that encouragement is negative seems to me to be a self-destroying argument. It is right that encouragement should be given, and I believe that financial encouragement is the appropriate way.

It is no use writing encouragement into a Bill unless the encouragement that the Minister visualises using is likely to be effective. Perhaps, in reply to this short debate on the Amendment, my right hon. Friend will tell us what form the encouragement is to take. I hope that if it is to be real encouragement its incidence will be heaviest in the early stages, because that is the most persuasive factor that will lead to the setting up of co-operatives.

Mr. Fell

I am still a little worried. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) has said that I have quibbled and he cannot see that encouragement can take any other form than financial encouragement. I still say that if we use the words "encouraging or facilitating", we use them in the literal sense. We either encourage or facilitate. If "encouraging" means encouraging and using money to encourage, or whatever it may be, it means facilitating. Therefore, I would like to know the meaning of the legal advice that my right hon. Friend the Minister has received. If we say "encouraging or facilitating", we mean either one or the other and not both. It may well be that the whole thing is nonsense. How we encourage unless we facilitate, I simply do not know.

What interpretation is put upon the word "encouraging"? What does it mean if it does not mean facilitating? If it means facilitating, what is the argument against having "encouraging and facilitating" rather than, in the exclusive sense of one or the other, "encouraging or facilitating"? With the word "or" that is how it must be interpreted; it means either one or the other. With "and", it would mean both. It is as simple as that.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland. North)

The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) should have considered the matter in time and tabled an Amendment to his right hon. Friend's Amendment. There is, however, a point of substance involved. As I hope the Clause will now be amended, the Minister will be able to do one or all of three things: to promote efficiency within the co-operatives; to facilitate co-operatives—in other words, to assist them; and to stimulate, encourage and exhort the idea of co-operatives. All three are necessary. There was no difference between the Minister and the members of the Committee when we discussed the matter. The only point was whether it was necessary to write it into the Bill. I am satisfied that, on the whole, it is better to put it in.

Mr. J. Hare

My hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) need not be too worried. I do not want to be pedantic, nor, I am sure, does my hon. Friend. Let me put it this way. We can encourage something to start which has not been created and then we can facilitate something which is already on the way. It was to try to help in that direction that I listened to the arguments that were put forward and drafted the Amendment as I have done. My hon. Friend will, I think, agree that what I have done at least enlarges the scope of the operation, even though it might not do it in quite as perfect English as he would like. I will certainly see whether my advice is perfect. If necessary, it may be that in another place the wording could be slightly altered as long as the objective which I have explained remains unchanged. I will try to meet my hon. Friend in that way.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) has expressed eloquently the fact that he is not too happy at many of the principles behind the Bill. In that, he and I fundamentally disagree. I would, however, point out that in relating the Amendment to the provisions in the following Clause, the Amendment merely applies to the assistance which is given to the central body of the co-operatives and does not concern the total sum available for grants under the Bill to growers as a whole. Therefore, the point is rather narrower than my hon. and gallant Friend indicated.

Having said that, I will certainly see whether there is substance in what my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth has said. If there is, I will see whether anything can be done about it.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.