HC Deb 17 July 1964 vol 698 cc1648-65
Mr. Ross

I beg to move, in page 2, line 20, at end to insert: (2) On the coming into force of a control order no member of a river purification board who has an interest in an application to that board for a licence under section 3(1) of this Act or in an objection lodged under section 3(5) of this Act shall be eligible to sit on that board when it is exercising its licensing function under section 3 of this Act. Clause 2 deals with the regulation by licence of spray irrigation in the control area. These licences are to be handed out by the local river purification board. These will be valuable rights. If one can get a licence, one will be able to use expensive equipment. Many people have the equipment already and we must ensure fairness in the allocation of licences.

Earlier, I asked whether we should not put in an Amendment asking that each board place before the Secretary of State a scheme on which it would determine and adjudicate between one application and another. Let us not underestimate this. If 20 people apply for licences and only 10 are granted in a particular area, there will be some trouble over who got them and who did not and why. We must be absolutely sure that we are being fair and also that there is the appearance of being fair.

We are already putting on these boards a considerable number of people with an agricultural interest, but people interested in agriculture are also to be found among the representatives of local authorities. The present set-up among the boards is that between three-fifths and two-thirds of the members have to be from local authorities and between two-fifths and one-third are added members appointed by the Secretary of State. One thing we must ensure is that, in the allocation of licences and the decisions on conditions, no one takes part who is himself personally interested. That is why my Amendment is worded as it is.

This is in no sense an implication that the members of the boards are unable to exercise their functions. It arises from the belief that we should not put them into such a position. We do not ask a publican to sit on the licensing bench and decide whether he himself should get a licence.

This situation arises because the Minister of State in another place said that he would, as a matter of policy, put more agriculturists on the boards. This was terribly wrong. It is one thing that he should not have done, because I am perfectly sure that it is our desire to enable these boards to treat fairly all applications. In the circumstances envisaged in the three rivers—and I think that nine rivers have purification boards—however desirable it may be considered for a member of a board himself to get a licence, there will be difficulties in respect of people who do not get licences. That is why we get the buildup in the Schedule to the appeals to the Secretary of State. I notice that there is a Government Amendment later on to strengthen the appeal provisions.

We shall get more and more appeals if it is discovered that people on the board are adjudicating on their own applications or in respect of applications to which they themselves have raised objections. This is not the way we usually conduct our quasi-judicial functions in respect of public boards. In this case, we must not make it far more difficult for the purification boards by laying them open to public criticism if such a situation were to arise, as it conceivably could.

The hon. Member may consider that I have drawn the Amendment fairly widely because I have put in the words "has an interest in". These words can relate not only to an application but to someone who has an interest, such as the land superior. It is equally important from the point of view of allocation or objection. We do not want serving on the boards at that time when it is exercising these functions people who may have axes to grind and who may bring the system into disrepute. We know already that, of many of these organisations where jobs or houses are concerned, people are apt to say, "It is all a carve up. It all depends on who you know." This is, therefore, an important principle.

It is a pity that I cannot give the Under-Secretary of State more time to think about this. If we had been upstairs in Committee, under our normal procedure, I could have asked him to think about it before Report stage. The hon. Gentleman hopes, however, to get the Bill finished in another two hours. He has a hope. But if he acts sensibly it might well be possible.

2.0 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate our difficulty. He has denied himself the opportunity to think about these things by this steam-rollering of legislation and by this reluctant rush of the Tories to get something on the Statute Book for Scotland. We are quite willing to continue this discussion on Tuesday night. Let the Government forget the Divorce (Scotland) Bill. This is much more important to Scotland in the long run than a change in the divorce law. However, the hon. Gentleman has a com-partmented mind. He has nothing to do with the Divorce Bill and is very glad not to be concerned with it.

I hope that he will regard this as an Amendment moved with the best of intentions and not because we do not trust anybody. The members of a river purification board will be placed in an impossible position if, because of our failure to include some such provision as this, they find themselves adjudicating on their own applications, or their own objections.

Mr. G. Campbell

It may be convenient if I simply explain the position at this stage, because there may be a genuine misunderstanding. The Orders made by the Secretary of State under which river purification boards are set up apply to the boards certain of the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1947. Under Section 73 of that Act, a member of a board who has an interest in a case being considered by the board is required to disclose his own interest and to take no further part in the consideration of that case, or to vote upon it. That goes very far to meet what the hon. Gentleman has in mind. A member of a board could not take part in a discussion of his own application, or vote upon it. He would have to disclose his interest if he were objecting to someone else's application and to be dissociated from the discussion.

As I understand the Amendment, it looks as though someone who had an interest in an individual case, that is, who was himself an applicant or an objector, would be ruled out from sitting as a member of the board on any case, including that, if it was concerned with spray irrigation. I am not sure whether that was intended.

Mr. Ross

It was.

Mr. Campbell

Then I understand it correctly. It is that part which is not acceptable. It would mean that any farmer who himself did spray irrigation and who was a member of the board could not take part in the consideration of any case in which he was involved and also that the board would be without his knowledge and advice on every other case in which he was not interested. The knowledge and experience of the board would be greater and other members of the board would be assisted if one of the agricultural members was someone who himself did spray irrigation. If there were such a member, not only would he have to declare his interest and not take part in cases in which he was concerned, but he would be unable to take part in any case concerning spray irrigation in which he was not personally concerned. That is what the Amendment seeks to provide.

Mr. Ross

We are thinking in terms of shortages. That is why we have the Bill. In some districts there may be applications for more water than there is water available. Although the agricultural member of the board may have a licence himself, he will be concerned about other licences. A board will have considerable power about laying down conditions as to the amount of water to be extracted. From that point of view, he will have a continuing interest—quite apart from his own personal interest—in the granting of licences to other people and in the conditions to be laid down in periods of shortage.

In fairness and for the appearance of fairness, he should not take part in such considerations. Would the hon. Gentleman think it right for a publican who had a licence to be a member of a licensing committee adjudicating on whether a possible competitor should get a licence? We must remember that by the nature of things, and especially as a result of what was said by the Minister of State and repeated by the Under-Secretary about the intention to include more agriculturists on the boards for this specific purpose, it is more essential than ever that there should be this overall restriction and not just a limited restriction.

Mr. Campbell

I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument, but there is not a direct parallel with licensing in which there is only one interest involved and where a number of people might be competing for a licence for a particular purpose.

Mr. Ross

As a member of a temperance association, I would be interested in the number of licences as well.

Mr. Campbell

Representatives of various interests will be on these boards. The boards will be specifically composed of people representing bodies or interests. We have followed the line of the present law because that would mean that someone with a direct interest in a case could not take part in its consideration. If we extended the principle advocated by the hon. Gentleman, if there were a member of a board who represented angling interests, if he fished in the river concerned he would no longer be able to take part in the consideration of cases, because he would have a personal interest in the angling in that river. He would be able to fish in other rivers, but not in the one under consideration.

Mr. Ross

If he were an angler, he personally would not be objecting. The objection would probably come from an angling club.

Mr. Campbell

That illustrates my argument very well. If the farmer had no direct interest, he would then be acting as a representative of the agricultural community. We spoke about this position on Second Reading. For example, if there were two farming representative members on a board, if one happened to be ill, the other could not take part in any of the spray irrigation considerations, so that both representatives of farming would not be able to give the board their knowledge and advice.

After all, the whole problem has arisen because of the new technique in farming. Surely the boards will need the experience, knowledge and advice of members of the farming community when considering spray irrigation. We feel that the Clause as drafted is correct and that no member of the board should be able to consider a case in which he is personally involved, but should not be debarred from considering all other cases of spray irrigation.

Mr. W. Hamilton

I was not clear what the hon. Gentleman meant when he referred to Section 73 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act. Is it not the case that under that Act the Secretary of State has the power of dispensation? If so, would that equally apply in this case, so that the Secretary of State could say, "I have power to allow the vested interest to vote and to take part in the decision being arrived at "?

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman is right. There is this dispensation in these provisions for declaring an interest and members not taking part, but, although the dispensation is there, I assure the hon. Gentleman that where a member of the Board is a farmer, or is involved directly in a case of this kind, it will not be normal practice for the Secretary of State to give a dispensation. For some exceptional reasons the Secretary of State has this dispensation power which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is accepted in other spheres of local government.

Mr. Hamilton

That is not very satisfactory. It is not sufficient for the hon. Gentleman to say that the Secretary of State will not exercise this power. The fact Is that he has it, and that it may be exercised. Not all Secretaries of State are equally reasonable about these things, and we ought to make it abundantly clear in the Bill that this power of dispensation does not apply here. It might apply in the case of council house tenants, but it ought not to apply in a case like this.

The hon. Gentleman is aware, as we all are, that this practice of spray irrigation will increase, and that therefore the granting of these licences will be of increasing value to those who get them. The danger of nepotism will increase as a result, and we ought to take all the precautions that we can by writing into the Bill the kind of provision which my hon. Friend has in mind.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will treat this matter seriously. The dispensation which the Secretary of State has under the Local Government Act ought not to apply in this case.

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman referred to the classical case of tenants of council houses. As he knows, in that case it is not the practice of my right hon. Friend to make dispensations in individual cases.

Mr. Hamilton

But he has the power to do so.

Mr. Campbell

I agree. It is more a question whether it is a large number of persons affected, and much wider considerations of that kind. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise that this dispensation will not be used in individual cases, which this will be, because, of the membership of a board, which may be anything from 15 to 21, possibly only three will represent agricultural interests. It will therefore be very much a matter of individual cases, and it is unlikely that there will be circumstances in which this dispensation will be given.

I think, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman has the assurance that Section 73 of the Local Government Act will have the effect that he wishes in this matter.

2.15 p.m.

Mr. Neil Carmichael (Glasgow, Woodside)

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman has not accepted the Amendment. I can see this part of the Bill causing more trouble in river boards and in farming and horticultural areas bordering on these streams than any other part of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) put the matter very clearly when he said that we had to remember that this provision would operate in a period of scarcity, and that the members of the river board would be required to make a judgment in the matter. It is unfair to put members of these boards in the position of having to make a decision which would benefit themselves directly, or benefit them negatively by disabling some other farmers in the locality.

It is not fair to base an argument on the provisions of the 1947 Act. In the case of local authorities, there are perhaps a few councillors representing thousands of people. In this case there is a direct confrontation of farming interests on a board deciding whether one man's crops should be better than another's. This is an invidious position in which to put anyone Some of the decisions will cause great animosity and antagonism in the farming community.

I would have been willing to accept the hon. Gentleman's assurance if he had been willing to give us some idea of the basis on which the decisions would be made. I would have been willing to accept it if there was some type of specification, some sort of background understanding, as to who should be given the power to pump water from streams. It is intolerable that people who are directly involved should be asked to make a decision on whether A should be allowed to do something and B should not.

Mr. G. Campbell

I may be able to help the hon. Gentleman. Section 73 of the 1947 Act says: In any case in which the number of members of a local authority disabled by the provisions of this section at any one time would be so great a proportion of the whole as to impede the transaction of any particular item of business …". I was saying to the hon. Gentleman for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) that this is a matter of the number of persons affected being large enough in proportion to affect the body as a whole. Where this affects a local authority, and council houses, those concerned could represent a half, or a third, of the total number, but that cannot be so in this case, because under the terms under which the river purification boards are to be set up, perhaps two or three out of the total of 15 or 20 will represent the farming interests.

The possibility that they will all be spray irrigators is something that we have to bear in mind, but if we exclude from the purification boards any farmer in the area who might in future be a spray irrigator, or might at the moment be one, we shall exclude an important section of the farming community. Given that farming representatives are on these boards, it would be a pity to exclude them from considering questions of spray irrigation, which is a farming technique.

I hope that I have helped the hon. Gentleman by saying that this dispensation by the Secretary of State is there, but that it seems virtually impossible that it will be effective in respect of these boards.

Mr. Carmichael

I am not at all satisfied with the hon. Gentleman's reply. The hon. Gentleman has implied that the work and opinions of these farmers on the board are more important than the fact that they are individuals.

Mr. Campbell

I did not mean to give that impression. It is their knowledge of farming and the technique of spray irrigation which is important. Other interests concerned with the conservation of water, and the purification of the rivers will be represented on the boards, and will greatly outnumber the farming interests.

Mr. Carmichael

I do not want to be intransigent, but it seems that the hon. Gentleman is still concerned that farmers with experience of spray irrigation should be on these boards. I would assume that anyone would conclude that their knowledge in these matters and their authority would mean slightly more than their ability to vote. In the deliberations of the board their words would obviously carry slightly more weight than the words of the others.

Mr. Campbell

It is not that they would have more influence or carry more weight: it is that they would be helpful to the board. When the board was considering these matters the farmers would know the technical answers to some of the questions that cropped up. They would be expected to be able to advise the board, and the board would feel itself deprived of technical advice if farmers were excluded

Mr. Ross

There is not a farmer on this side of the Committee, and there is nobody at all on the other side. I can assure the hon. Member that we are not unaware of the techniques and effects of spray irrigation. But is the hon. Member going to tell me that within the area covered by a board all the farmers are spray irrigators? If so, he knows that that is nonsense. The only persons who can obtain a licence for spray irrigation are the occupiers of land contiguous to a stream. Many farmers are nowhere near a stream. The way in which spray irrigation works, and its effects, are not mysterious matters. The Minister has been far too suspicious about this. It is essential that the members of the board should not be placed in the invidious position of being judges in their own cases, or of judging other cases which may have some effect on their own.

The more people who obtain licences the greater the likelihood of restriction, and the greater the likelihood that that restriction will lead to the ultimate suspension of licences in areas of shortage. Obviously, it would be to somebody's advantage to oppose other applications if he already had a licence. I do not say that that will happen, but that is what people will say will happen. We ought not to allow people to be put into this position where, inevitably, somebody will be refused a licence. Obviously, if nobody is to be refused we would not need this power. But what will a person say if he is refused a licence and he knows that a person on the board has a licence?

The Government may feel that this is not important, but it will be very important if people apply for licences and do not get them when other people on the board, who are supposed to be adjudicating impartially, have licences. I am surprised that the Government's advisers have not seen the advisability of going beyond the position merely of councillors on a housing committee. This is not a local council; this is not a democratically elected body. The people who are appointed to the boards are not responsible to anybody. They cannot be readily removed, except by the Secretary of State, and then only on the terms of his order in relation to their appointment.

If this question had been debated in the normal way we could have given the hon. Member two or three days, or a week, to think about it. But now he has only two or three minutes. Our whole discussion is truncated. Indeed, the Government have made up their mind what can be accepted, and they are not prepared to be persuaded. This is the worst way of legislating. This is not an unimportant Bill. Although we agree on the principle, we think that its details leave a great deal to be desired.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. W. Hamilton

I beg to move, in page 2, line 23, at the end to add: if in possession of a valid licence, and to a fine not exceeding £200 otherwise ". Subsection (1) of the Clause assumes that a control order has come into force in a control area, that water supplies in that area need to be controlled because they are limited, and that if they are drawn on substantially in an uncontrolled way there will be a danger of pollution of the river or stream. Because of that, licences to extract water from a stream will have to be obtained, and provisions are laid down about the amount of water to be extracted.

If the situation is sufficiently serious to warrant the declaration of a control order and the imposition of a licensing system it must, by inference, be a very serious anti-social action to contravene the attempt by the board to protect the overall interests of the community. The licence fee is not a deterrent, at £5 a year. Although farmers tell us that they find it difficult to make ends meet they should not find any difficulty in paying a £5 fee, more particularly because the extraction of water from the rivers and spray irrigation leads to substantial increases in the production of crops.

Under the terms of the Bill, however, the maximum fine which can be imposed upon a farmer who contravenes a control order and seeks to extract water without paying his £5, or who contravenes the terms of his licence, is £50. That does not seem to me to be sufficient deterrent. I recall that when some of the Mods and Rockers went to Brighton last Whitsun they were fined £75 because of their behaviour. I am not complaining about that. I think that they were justifiable fines. But the conduct which is envisaged in the Clause is much more anti-social than the activities of these young people in Brighton.

The figure which I am suggesting is a maximum of £200, and the effect of the Amendment will be to give the courts greater discretion. Where they feel that the extraction of the water is sufficiently anti-social, they can adjust the figure of the fine accordingly.

In view of the Government's record in failing to maintain the purchasing power of the £, it also behoves us to write into legislation figures which take account of the inflationary tendencies which have been injected into the economy in the last 12 years by the Government. The £ is today worth about one-third less than it was 12 years ago, and if we are writing into legislation figures for this purpose, we ought to take account of these inflationary tendencies.

For all those reasons, it seems desirable that we should err on the high side rather than on what I think is the low side, for the figure in the Bill is only £50.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. Bence

I wholeheartedly support the Amendment, and I regard this Clause as very important. It proposes to give an inalienable right to certain individuals in what are the natural resources of the country. We are giving people the power to take something which is a common inheritance of everybody. We are giving them the power to use this pure, clean water for their own purposes. We want it to be used, but it is a natural asset for all to use, and we are, therefore, giving a very important right in granting a licence to an individual to appropriate for his individual needs and purposes resources which belong to everybody else.

The water is a natural asset at the disposal of all living in the area—the riparian owners, those who live on the land, those who work the land and the forests, and those who use the rivers. These are the common inheritors of this resource, and by a system of licence, for a modest payment of £5 a year we are giving certain individuals a right to it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) spoke of the extra cost to the farmer. I have no doubt that the N.F.U. will deal with this point. This extra cost of the licence for water will be included in the costs put forward at the Annual Price Review. Through some marginal grant or ploughing grant or other grant, the farmer will recover the cost from the taxpayer, through the Price Review or through the subsidy system.

I therefore do not worry about that extra cost, which I think means nothing in this respect. I do not think that the farmer would recover the fine in this way. If he were fined for contravening the provisions, I doubt whether he could include the fine in his agricultural costs and recover it from the taxpayer.

There may be a number of landowners or farmers who are granted a licence to extract water under control. The degree to which they extract that water may affect other users of water resources. These may not be immediate users; they may be future users. The water which is extracted may be important to other people. When the river board fixes the licences and grants permission for water abstraction under control, all these matters will be taken into consideration.

I am confident that the people who sit on these boards, who will be farmers, other connected with the land, and people who know about irrigation and rainfall, will grant licences for the abstraction of water only to the degree that no one else's interests are damaged by it.

Anyone who contravened the licence provisions might do so over three or four months and could do irreparable damage to some other riparian owner or other section of the community. If someone lowers the water table or takes an action liable to change the fauna of the area, the livelihood of other people may be seriously affected. Sometimes the damage which is done cannot be restored. We know cases in which fertile land has been turned into a desert by a mistaken system of agriculture. I do not suggest for a moment that that would happen here, but we are dealing with a very serious matter.

Let us assume that a farmer is granted a licence to extract 1,000 gallons of water a week for irrigation and, unknown to the licensing authority, takes out 10,000 gallons a week. When there is a drought another farmer in another area discovers that the water on which he is dependent has been used by someone else. That is a very serious offence.

I may, for example, not be a riparian owner, but I may have a farm in the area. Let us assume that through drainage into my land I have some water which is used to water cattle. I may have a couple of ponds and a couple of streams. If someone is given a licence to extract so many thousands of gallons per week for spray irrigation, the river board, before granting the licence, will have considered what effect this rate of extraction will have all over the land, including my farm. If the person with the licence exceeds the licensed amount, he is not creating an extra benefit for himself, but he is denying a benefit to me; he is denying my right to this water.

Mr. G. Campbell

We are all in agreement with what the hon. Member says, but the Amendment does not affect this issue. The penalty would remain the same for someone who contravenes the licence provisions. The Amendment deals with the person who is not licensed at all.

Mr. Bence

What I have said applies whether one has a licence or not. The offence is worse if one has a licence than if one has not. If a person is granted a licence and then contravenes its terms, his offence is worse than that of a man who has not applied for a licence.

Five pounds a year is neither here nor there. Some people pay £5 a year for licences and cannot recover it, because they get no subsidies or grants. When burdens are laid on the farming community by the State, ways and means are found, through the Annual Price Review, of recovering the cost. This is part of the set-up of subsidising the farming fraternity. That is not under discussion, but the £5 licence fee is neither here nor there.

I have in mind a small farmer who does not extract any water for an irrigation scheme, and does not want to, because his farm is suitably irrigated. He has a small supply of water. Others, having licences but exceeding them, may take water from the area, thus reducing the small farmer's natural supply. As they have reduced his natural supply, he takes action to recover it. I take it from the Amendment that the small farmer who does that is liable to a fine of £200.

The farmers, if there are any, who have exceeded the amount of water conceded them under their licences are the real criminals. They have caused the trouble. They should be heavily fined for exceeding the right given to them under their licences, because they have denuded the small farmer of his water supply. This is a possible situation. I do not suppose there are many farms left where the water is drawn from wells. I was reared on a farm with no tap supply. We drew our water from a well. The water from the well could easily have been taken by a scheme such as this, through drainage. This is not uncommon. Anyone who watches pictorial representations of what happened in the west of the United States knows that one of the techniques of driving people from their farms was to undermine their water supplies, to dam the rivers, to dig tunnels and to extract the water. This was one of the romantic episodes of building the glorious West. There are possibilities of people with licences and people without licences destroying the water supply of many small farmers.

I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment so that the penalty for an infringement by those holding licences, and even by those not holding licences, if they act on their own without coming to the board or the Secretary of State and reporting a changed situation or requiring action to be taken to protect them, can be made heavy, because they are interfering with an amenity which is the common inheritance of us all. It is not theirs, although they pay £5 a year. They are still enjoying the right to use, not to appropriate for themselves, a natural common amenity.

Mr. W. Hamilton

My hon. Friend is under a misapprehension. He has argued against the Amendment, I fear. The Amendment, as it is drafted, leaves the fine at £50 for an offence by someone in possession of a licence. The £200 would apply, if the Amendment were accepted, to someone who has not a licence.

Mr. Bence

I thank my hon. Friend. I made that point consciously, because I think that the one offence is as serious as the other.

2.45 p.m.

Mr. G. Campbell

The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) has most eloquently spoken of our general feeling that someone who contravenes a licence, and takes too much water and tries to deceive the board, commits a serious offence. The Amendment and the Bill are together in condemning that and proposing a penalty of £50. There is the additional penalty of revocation of licence. That is important in considering the £50. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) has put forward the case of someone who has not got a valid licence—for our purpose, someone who has not got a licence at all—who is trying to poach water by some sort of smuggling methods because he has not a licence to use. The second part of the penalty does not apply in his case. I entirely sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's reason for tabling the Amendment.

It is virtually impossible for someone to take water in this way either economically or without being discovered. The equipment for spray irrigation is pretty expensive. Even the smallest piece of equipment costs about £1,000. It is obvious. It would be extremely difficult for someone to carry out spray irrigation and incur this kind of expense without being spotted. The risk of someone trying to do this without a licence is small. I must point that out immediately, otherwise the hon. Member for Fife, West will wonder why we have not given more consideration to the point.

Secondly—this is the point which will reassure the hon. Gentleman more than anything else—someone who tried to do this would be open to imprisonment, which is even worse than the fine the hon. Gentleman suggests. A person committing this kind of offence would be open to interdict, which, if granted by the court, could lead to imprisonment for such a breach.

I have shown, I hope, to both hon. Members that there is a penalty which is waiting for anybody who tries to do this, but that it seems extremely improbable that anybody would be so unwise as to buy the equipment and start taking water without a licence and think that he could get away with it. Although I understand the reason why the hon. Gentleman put this point forward—discussion on the point has been useful—I do not think that the Amendment would be a useful addition to the Bill.

Mr. W. Hamilton

This is another example of the difficulty we are in when Report and Third Reading are to follow immediately after Committee stage. The Under-Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) made a powerful case against the man who has a valid licence and then misuses it. Had I heard the Under-Secretary's explanation before I tabled the Amendment, I would certainly have sought to alter the £50. If the Chair is prepared to accept a manuscript Amendment to that effect on Report to alter the £50 in the Bill as it stands, I should be happy about it.

Mr. Campbell

I hope that the hon. Gentleman took the point that someone who contravenes a licence is subject to revocation of the licence. To someone who has bought extensive equipment and embarked upon spray irrigation, that is probably a much worse penalty than the fine.

Mr. Hamilton

That may well be. It is an arguable proposition. Precisely because it is an arguable proposition, I should like to take an Amendment on Report. At the moment, unless the Chair is prepared to accept a manuscript Amendment—indeed, Sir William, you said that you were not in a position to rule on this—

The Chairman

As the hon. Member and the Committee are well aware, the matter of Amendments, either manuscript or otherwise, being selected on Report is for Mr. Speaker and not for the Chairman of Ways and Means.

Mr. Hamilton

I am obliged, Sir William. This emphasises the difficulty we are in. The Under-Secretary has been very reasonable. I hope that I am not unreasonable about this. I appreciate that revocation might be a sufficient deterrent. On the other hand, it might not be. To put up the amount to £50 would not necessarily increase the deterrent. It would simply give the courts more discretion. A court might think an offence sufficiently serious to impose a fine but not to revoke the licence.

If the figure is too low, as I think it is, the courts could use discretion either to impose what might be thought an insufficient fine or to invoke the much too serious penalty of revoking the licence. If they are given wider discretion the courts may say that a fine of £200 is a serious penalty but not so serious as revocation of a licence and therefore sterilisation of expensive equipment. Because of that, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reconsider the position between now and Report stage.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.