HC Deb 21 March 1960 vol 620 cc11-2
19. Mr. Holt

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in view of the growing public distaste for the nature of the inquiries conducted by disciplinary committees of agricultural marketing boards into the actions of normally law-abiding citizens, whether he will repeal the provisions of the Acts under which these committees are set up.

Mr. Godber

My right hon. Friend has noted some recent criticism of these disciplinary committees. Much of this comes from critics who appear to object less to the committees as such than to the objects and principles of agricultural marketing schemes. In my right hon. Friend's view, these committees are essential for enforcing the provisions of the schemes, which have been approved by Parliament for the benefit of the great majority of the farmers concerned.

Mr. Holt

Now that there have been several years' experience of some disciplinary committees, will not the Joint Parliamentary Secretary agree that the time is perhaps ripe for a review of what has happened to see whether some suitable amendments can be made to enable them to work in a less objectionable manner?

Mr. Godber

No, I do not think that is called for. I know that one or two individuals have felt strongly about this and have protested vigorously, but by and large these committees perform a useful function and the farming community accepts them.

Mr. Stodart

Will not my hon. Friend agree that as a general principle it is right that, where a person is to be fined or sentenced to any other penalty, it should be done preferably either before a magistrate or a properly constituted court?

Mr. Godber

As a general principle, no doubt what my hon. Friend says is right. In these particular cases, these courts are provided for a special purpose under the Marketing Act. Parliament has approved them. They are held in public and everyone is able to see exactly what happens. I do not think that there need be any real fears.

Mr. de Freitas

Will not the Minister look again at the nature of these courts? It is not so much that opposition comes from people who are opposed to the principle of boards, but there is a widespread feeling that the present constitution of these courts confuses the rôles of prosecutor and judge. Would it not be a good idea to look at this subject with a view to the possibility of some independent tribunals?

Mr. Godber

I should like to think about what the hon. Gentleman says. I realise the points of view which have been expressed. I merely remind the House that they are, after all, producer-controlled marketing boards and that they are in a sense self-disciplining. In the main, I would have thought that there was no cause for concern, but I should like to consider the points which have been made from both sides.