HL Deb 12 May 1936 vol 100 cc901-30

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl De La Warr.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF ON SLOW in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2:

Staff, expenses, and procedure, of Commission.

(6) The Commission may hold such inquiries as they consider necessary or desirable for the discharge of their functions under this Act; and if the Minister is satisfied that for the purposes of an inquiry into any definite matter it is necessary so to do, he may by order, specifying the matter to be inquired into, direct that in respect of any meeting of the Commission at which not less than three of the commissioners are present for the purpose of inquiring into that matter, the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921 (other than paragraph (a) of Section two thereof), shall apply to the Commission as if they were a tribunal established in manner provided by that Act and as if that Act had been applied to them in the manner thereby provided.

LORD ROCHE moved, in subsection (1), to leave out all words after the second "necessary" and insert "to appoint a special tribunal he shall have the power of a Secretary of State under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921." The noble and learned Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name. I desire to make it clear to your Lordships that this Amendment does not affect the substance or the business of the Bill. It is an Amendment to a machinery clause. On the substance of the Bill I desire to express no view. I live in an agricultural county where some beet sugar is grown and it certainly employs people. My only complaint is that that interesting bird the partridge does not like sugar beet as much as he likes the crops which preceded it.

With regard to this clause, if your Lordships would turn to subsection (6), on page 3, you will find that provision is made for certain inquiries, and, over the page, you will see an allusion to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921. That is an Act under which an inquiry is at this moment proceeding. It is an Act which gives to a Tribunal very wide and extensive powers; in effect it makes the President of the Tribunal equivalent in power to a High Court Judge in this country or a Court of Session Judge in Scotland. It gives him the widest power of administering the oath, of compelling evidence, the production of bankers books and everything of that sort. It gives him everything except the power of committal for contempt of court. That is done, and may be done, on the Resolution of both Houses of Parliament in a matter of urgent public importance, and upon an Order of the Secretary of State. This subsection enables the Minister to do those things without any vote of either House of Parliament, leaving out the words "in a matter of urgent public importance." What is perhaps more important, if your Lordships will turn over the page to the words "other than paragraph (a) of Section two thereof," you will see words which look innocent but which amount to this. Under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act itself the inquiry must be held in public unless it is detrimental that any part of it should be heard in public; then there may be closed doors. This Bill omits altogether the provision about inquiries in public, therefore they may be held in private. The inquiry may be held without any vote of either House of Parliament, and it may be held for any purpose as the Minister thinks fit.

I submit that that is not right. If the Minister wishes to hold an important inquiry then he can ask for no more than that, and that is what this Amendment gives him. He would then be put in the same position as the Secretary of State under the original Act. That is what this Amendment does. If, on the other hand, the Minister wants merely some machinery for other and less import inquiries, then he ought to seek it in some other way than this. There are precedents, I believe, by which, under Local Government Acts, inquiries may be held under some other Acts. I cannot help thinking that those who framed this Bill, quite inadvertently no doubt, have taken much greater powers than are needed, and have assumed for the Minister inquisitorial powers which they neither intended nor desired. If that is the true state of the facts, and they would like a better machinery, it can be provided quite simply in the words of the Bill itself for conducting the ordinary inquiries at the Department. If they were to say that they desired that that should be done, and that they would bring this matter up on Report with provisions to that effect, then, speaking for myself, I should be quite satisfied, but if it is desired to take and persist in these wide powers of holding secret inquiries then I object. I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 43, leave out from ("necessary") to the end of the subsection and insert ("to appoint a special tribunal he shall have the power of a Secretary of State under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921)."—(Lord Roche.)


My Lords, it is quite true, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Roche, said, that this is only a matter of machinery, but I think all of us will agree with him that it is a most important piece of machinery. In working out this new technique of endeavouring to control certain sections of industry it is important, while taking powers that are necessary and adequate for making any schemes we may set up effective, that we nevertheless do not take powers that are unnecessarily severe. I take it that the two points that are really in the noble and learned Lord's mind are these. The first is that it is wrong to entrust the Sugar Commission with powers that are really equivalent to the powers of a High Court Judge; that that is a step so serious that it should not be taken except by direction of Parliament in each particular case. The second point is that under the machinery he proposes all proceedings should be held in public unless the public interest should dictate otherwise.


Under the proceedings ordered by the Act.


Yes; whereas in the procedure that is proposed here that provision is omitted. Taking the first point, the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act does not confer all the powers of a High Court Judge. It confers only such powers as compelling the attendance of witnesses, the production of documents and the administration of oaths or affirmations. The power of enforcing obedience is not given. That, under the Act, can only be given by reporting a defaulter to the High Court, and it is then for the High Court itself to determine whether, and if so how, he is to be punished. The application of this Act is, I think, not a new one. It has been applied repeatedly before. It has been applied, for example, to inquiries held by the Coal Mines (Reorganisation) Commission, by Section 12 of the Coal Mines Act, 1930; to inquiries under the Public Works Facilities Act, 1930; to inquiries by the Agricultural Marketing (Reorganisation) Commission under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931—your Lordships will notice that all these are of comparatively recent dates—to inquiries held under the Wheat Act of 1932; and to inquiries held by the Sea Fish Commission under the Sea Fishing Industry Act, 1933. Your Lordships will agree that there are very considerable precedents for this.

I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I deal with this matter at some length, but I think it is important. The real answer to both Lord Roche's points lies in the nature of the functions entrusted to the Commission under the Bill. The Commission is charged with the duties of keeping under review the growing of sugar beet and the manufacture, refining, marketing and consumption of sugar in the United Kingdom, and of advising and assisting the Minister and the Treasury in such matters relating to the sugar industry as he or they may require of them ". They have a great number of specific duties conferred upon them by the Bill, such as the determination of the terms and conditions of purchase of sugar beet, the annual approval of arrangements for the production and marketing of sugar, and the approval of sugar refining agreements.

With regard to Lord Roche's point about the privacy of the procedure, the section to which the noble and learned Lord refers deals with matters of public interest in relation to which it may or may not be desirable for proceedings to be made public. In this case the bulk of the inquiries for gathering information by the Commission will not be dealing with matters of exclusive public interest. The Commission will be taking evidence from private companies, companies that might very well be most unwilling to give information unless the proceedings are held in camera. For these reasons I would ask the noble and learned Lord not to press the point. I can assure him that the Government throughout have had his considerations very much in mind. It is their view that if we are to make this machinery effective and carry out these inquiries with full justice to private interests it is necessary to maintain the present form of the inquiries.


My noble friend who has been supporting the clause by a reference to certain previous Acts cannot be completely aware, I think, of the contents of those Acts. One to which he referred was the Wheat Act of 1932. It so happens that I have that Act in my hand. It is not accurate to say that the clause to which this Amendment is moved is in pari materia with what was contained in the Wheat Act. What was done there was something different and, I think your Lordships will see, something much less objectionable than that which is proposed now. By Clause 12 (1) of the Wheat Act, the Minister was permitted to make, regulations for, amongst other things, applying the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, which is an Act giving all sorts of powers to Tribunals, to the Committee to be appointed under Section 2 (3) of the Wheat Act as if the Committee were a Tribunal established in manner provided by that Act. So far so good, but then the Act provided something which is very germane to the present question.

By Section 18 it was provided that: All orders, regulations and by-laws made under this Act shall be laid before Parliament as soon as may be after they are made, and if either House, within the next subsequent twenty-eight days…resolves that the Order, regulation or by-law be annulled, it shall forthwith be void. If the Government will insert something of that sort in the present Bill the objections to it—I do not know what view my noble and learned friend Lord Roche will take—would, so far as I am concerned, be removed. The objection which I can see is that, without the authority of Parliament and without any information to the public, in what I think may be not unfairly described as a hole-and-corner way, a tribunal may be set up with powers not quite so extensive indeed as those of the High Court but still very extensive—with powers, for instance, to administer oaths and summon witnesses to their great inconvenience, and in fact to compel answers to questions and thus to interfere with the liberty of the subject, a thing which in my judgment ought not to be sanctioned by this House unless some knowledge is given to the members of the Legislature before they come into force. If Section 18 of the Wheat Act, 1932, or some reasonable modification of it, were incorporated in the present Bill I think the objection would largely be met.


In response to the invitation extended to me may I say that if the noble Earl will put into the Bill on Report the same provision as there is in the Wheat Act I should be abundantly content, but I am bound to tell him that it is entirely different from this clause. It applies all the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act except that it makes the Commission the Tribunal. That I conceive is a fair offer, because it is appealing to his own precedent and asking him to adopt it.


I think the noble and learned Lord is entitled to the gratitude of the House for drawing attention to this matter. I am bound to say, however, that if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Roche, had the same not altogether satisfactory experience which has fallen to many of us of what happens on Report, he would not be quite so willing to withdraw the Amendment now. The noble and learned Lord has put before the Committee in a most lucid manner exactly what is intended to be done by the clause which is under discussion. It would be quite out of place for me even to endeavour to elaborate what has fallen from the noble and learned Lord, but I should like to say a word or two if I may upon the answer given by the noble Earl. The noble Earl's answer to my mind did not in any way meet the point which had been raised by Lord Roche. It was the kind of formal answer which one would expect to get from an overweening bureaucracy which was reaching out for as much power as it could possibly get. My lack of sympathy for that kind of answer has been voiced more than once in this House, and I voice it again now.

The attempt which is made in this Bill is to give to the Minister power which at the present moment is only vested in a Secretary of State. The safeguard by which a Secretary of State, as has been pointed out by Lord Roche, must move Parliament before he can obtain the authority which he desires, is sought to be shortheaded by this Bill. The noble Earl gives as a reason for that proposal a certain number of precedents. I am painfully aware that those precedents which he gave are correct, but two wrongs never make a right, and the fact that Parliament has in error permitted this kind of thing to slip through in the past is surely all the more reason why your Lordships should prevent it from again slipping through in the future. From the point of view of the beet sugar industry, is it not wise to keep a sense of proportion? This is, after all, nothing more nor less than a trade inquiry. Is it necessary to set up all this machinery for holding what is nothing but a trade inquiry? I hope that your Lordships are not going to have anything of the kind. There are quite enough Jacks-in-office at present for us not to want any more, and that is the intention of this Bill. Now that it has been exposed by the noble and learned Lord I cannot see how any noble Lord in this House can wish to support it, and I hope that the noble and learned Lord will take his Amendment to a Division.


The noble Lord spoke of a sense of proportion. I hope that the framers of this Bill have shown a great deal more sense of proportion than has the noble Lord. If it is really to be suggested that Parliament is going to give these enormous Exchequer subsidies to different sections of our industries and then take no adequate powers whatever to see that those subsidies are to be rightly and properly administered, then, if the noble Lord attempts to persuade Parliament not to ask for adequate powers, I think he will find that he has taken on a very heavy responsibility and the effect may well be to the great disadvantage of those industries which he is expressing his desire to help. If I might deal with the point which is now before your Lordships, the proposal of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Roche, which is that we should consider bringing this Bill into conformity with, for instance, the Wheat Act between now and Report, I most willingly give him that undertaking.


Might I just understand what the undertaking is? I did not quite catch what the noble Earl said.


I speak with some diffidence here, because I am speaking as a layman to a lawyer on a question of law, but I should like to say that I will most certainly ask my noble friend to give this whole matter his consideration with a view to incorporating what I think was his proposal—that we should incorporate the words from Section 18 of the Wheat Act, which virtually make the order an affirmative order. Do I misunderstand the noble and learned Lord?


Section 18 of the Wheat Act, as I read it, enables the Minister to do what the Secretary of State can do but also enables him to make his Committee or Commissioners a Tribunal. Otherwise he has to comply with the Act. That is what the Wheat Act does. They could not make rules which did not comply with the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, and if they did, the rules in my humble opinion would be ultra vires. If the noble Lord wants the inquiries, he does not require this sledge hammer. I submit that the proper course is to make milder provisions—for instance, that the Commission should have power to summon witnesses—and put them into the Bill itself.


I cannot go further than to give the noble and learned Lord the undertaking to go into this question between now and Report. It is a complicated legal matter and it would be most unwise for any of us to try to draft a new clause on our feet. In saying that, however, may I assure the noble and learned Lord that it is a genuine undertaking.


If the noble and learned Lord makes it quite clear to the House, that he is going to reserve to himself the full right to put down this same Amendment again, then I think perhaps it would be courteous to give an opportunity to the Ministry of Agriculture to redraft that proposal, if they feel disposed to make any change at all. On that condition, although I am in no way entitled to advise or anything of that kind, I would personally refrain from pressing the noble and learned Lord to go to a Division.


I am extremely obliged because, to be quite frank, I did not know what my proper course or my rights were. I should be very glad—while making it perfectly plain that I reserve my rights in that regard—to leave the matter as suggested.


A perfectly normal course would be for His Majesty's Government to consider the matter and enter into discussions with the noble and learned Lord, if he would be willing, and then they would be perfectly free to take what action they thought fit.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clauses 3 and I agreed to.

Clause 5:

Functions of Corporation as to purchase of home-grown beet.

5.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this section it shall be the duty of the Corporation to enter into contracts for the purchase by the Corporation of home-grown beet upon such terms and conditions as may be determined by an agreement made, after consultation with the Commission, between the Corporation and a Sugar Beet Marketing Board, or, where there is no such board, any body which in the opinion of the Commission is substantially representative of: the growers of home-grown beet or, where there is no such agreement, upon such terms and conditions as may be determined by an order made by the Commission:

Provided that, with a view to securing that the quantity of sugar manufactured by the Corporation in Great Britain from home-grown beet received by it in every year will be, as nearly as may be, the standard quantity, the Commission shall for every year determine the acreage of land in respect of the produce of which such contracts as aforesaid may be entered into by the Corporation for delivery in that year, and the Corporation shall not enter into such contracts in respect of beet grown for delivery in that year on more than that acreage.

(2) With a view to securing that the acreage in respect of which such contracts as aforesaid may be entered into by the Corporation for delivery in any year is not exceeded, provision for the determination from time to time of the quantity of home-grown beet that may be acquired from any person by the Corporation shall be made with the approval of the Commission; and such provision as aforesaid shall be made either by a scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Acts, 1931 to 1933, limiting the quantity of home-grown beet that may be sold by any person to the Corporation, or by arrange-merits made by the Corporation limiting the quantity of home-grown beet that may be purchased by the Corporation from any person.

LORD PHILLIMORE moved to leave out the proviso in subsection (1). The noble Lord said: Mine is also an attempt to knock another shackle off the fetters that are going to surround the liberties of the subject. I wish I thought I could do it with the same authority as the legal profession properly can. It might be convenient if I dealt with all my Amendments relating to Clause 5. The first seeks to do away with the restriction on acreage and therefore the restriction on output, and the whole of the case for not putting this limitation on production was far more ably and convincingly put by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, than I could hope to put it, during the debate on the Second Reading.

What is the position? We are told that there shall be a fixed subsidy; no more than that shall be spent. I gather there may even be economies. I am not asking for a penny more of public money to be spent on the beet sugar industry; therefore I take it that the question of Privilege, amongst other things, does not arise. In any case I am really anxious that no more money should be spent on the beet sugar industry. All I am asking for is that there should not be a permanent limitation of production and a restriction on cropping against the farmer. In other words, I want to see both the total restriction of acreage, which it is proposed should be enforced through the Sugar Commission, and the basic acreage per farm done away with. To my mind, to take that second point first, it is an absurdity that there should be attached to an individual grower what amounts to a monopoly; as the noble Earl in charge of the Bill was very quick to point out on Second Reading, the same kind of monopoly that the brewer may have on his licensed public-house. The brewers go on for ever. Farmers and farms are constantly changing, and it does not in the least follow that because a farmer may have a good title to sow fifty acres of sugar beet in the year 1936, when possibly his family is at its prime of capacity, he will have the same capacity to sow fifty acres in 1946, but so far as you can see from the Bill, having once established a right to a given acreage he will always, subject to the Sugar Commission, retain that right for ever.

Here, again, may I cite the Wheat Act? As your Lordships are aware there is a definite limit to the amount of money that goes out in subsidies on the growing of wheat, and if farmers like to grow more wheat than last year they know well that they will receive a lower price per quarter for it and yet they have so decided, and the history of wheat growing since the Wheat Act is that the acreage of wheat has very much gone up. It has fluctuated considerably from year to year, and with it the price per quarter has fluctuated by a narrow margin—a few shillings per quarter. I submit that exactly the same thing would happen in the case of sugar beet. Whereas the proposed subsidy will result to the farmers this year in a price of 4s. 9d. per cwt, it may well, if the Amendment be accepted, result in a price of 4s. 8d. or 4s. 7d. or 4s. 6d. in succeeding years, but that is not going to kill the sugar-beet industry. It is not going to prevent a man, who finds that it is the best way of resting his land, from growing sugar beet, merely because he will get a smaller price per cwt. for his sugar beet.

As I have said, Lord Hastings has already developed on Second Reading lines the arguments against restriction, but there was one point which I believe was not mentioned. Under the structure of the Bill it is highly improbable, and indeed almost impossible, that additional sugar factories should be set up. If there are not additional sugar factories the transport from distant places to existing sugar factories will decide to a large extent how much sugar beet is grown, and it is highly unlikely that there will be any large increase in the acreage put down to sugar beet. I do not think, therefore, there is anything to be frightened of in that respect. One other point. In the long run the Sugar Commission, which has already nineteen separate functions, will have to decide every single year, successively, what will be the acreage allowed for sugar beet growing in this country. Further, I think I am right in saying that the Sugar Beet Commission will have to decide the basic acreage per farmer. Is it right that we should place in the hands of the Board such a very onerous, difficult and technical duty, for no apparent gain that I can find whatsoever.

What I have said so far refers to my first Amendment to Clause 5. As to the second Amendment—to insert a new proviso—that deals only with the small holder, or the man at any rate who is prepared to grow less than one acre of sugar beet on his farm. I speak with a great deal of feeling about small holders. They are a body whom I think we all on both sides of the House are most anxious to encourage. They are a body which the Government themselves take steps to encourage, and which the county councils have also encouraged to a large extent. There are a considerable number of beet growers who are already small holders, but when I was speaking on the Second Reading—I am not sure that the noble Earl quite appreciated this—I was referring then more to such persons who want to become small holders and growers of sugar beet. You are inviting people in hundreds to go on the land as small holders. When they have got there you tell them: You must not grow hops, you must not grow potatoes, or you will have to pay a fine of £5 per acre, and now you must not grow sugar beet. Very soon they will not be allowed to grow geraniums.

How are you going to encourage small holders if you restrict them in that way? Is it not wise to use our soil to the best advantage? Is it not necessary that we should get our men, who are competent but unemployed, at work on the land, where they can produce wealth? Surely, the arguments for striking out the small holder from this opportunity are not worth while. On the other hand, the concession which I am asking the Government to give me on this Amendment is so triflingly small, as compared with the additional acreage, that it cannot affect the whole structure of the Bill. If you take a thousand small holders with one acre each it would not have much effect on the sugar beet industry, and for that reason I do not think the Government should resist the Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Clause 5, page 6, leave out lines 29 to 38.—(Lord Phillimore.)


My Lords, I find myself in great difficulty in dealing with this important series of Amendments put down by Lord Phillimore. The Committee will remember, perhaps, that on the Second Reading I ventured to develop strong arguments against the whole principle of the limitation of production, but that I felt myself compelled, by reason of the structure of the Bill, to admit the necessity of such limitation, although I was in principle very strongly opposed to it, and I ventured to put it to the House that the structure of the Bill was wrong. I am glad to see that, speaking with much greater authority, Lord Bledisloe drew attention to the alternative, the alternative being to have no subsidy and to eliminate the Excise. I know that that is not a practical proposition to suggest now, on the Committee stage of the Bill, but it is enough to remind your Lordships and the country that the effective subsidy in this first year—and that is confirmed by the noble Earl—will be no more than 4s. 9d. per cwt., and the Excise 4s. 7d. It does seem, therefore, unfortunate, to put it no more strongly, that a Bill creating machinery of the magnitude which is set up by this Bill should form an Act of Parliament for the sake of 2d. I saw Lord Rhayader smile. He would not admit that the difference is only 2d. If time and place were appropriate I should be prepared to argue it with him, but not now. I have found myself, as I have said, in the great difficulty of having to swallow principle or vote against the Second Reading of the Bill, which I am very un-desirous of doing, and perhaps now, though trying to avoid a Second Beading speech, I might give one or two reasons why the Amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, are in fact incontrovertible and yet are most difficult of acceptance.

The Bill as drawn provides for a limitation of subsidy, and simultaneously a limitation of tonnage upon which that subsidy shall be paid, and it is of course perfectly clear that if the tonnage were to increase and the subsidy did not increase, each ton would receive a smaller subsidy than is proposed in the Bill. As my noble friend pointed out, that is the same principle as is applied to the Wheat Act, but the restriction of production which is applied in this Bill and not in the Wheat Act has not in fact militated against the success of the Wheat Act. My noble friend went on to say that, in so far as his later Amendments are concerned, the withdrawal of limitation from growers of less than one acre would be likely to affect the scheme to-as small an extent as has been the case in the Wheat Act. It is a fact that sugar beet growing is a highly developed industry in certain parts of the Fens which have become more and more settled by small holding communities, and it is, I think, quite certain that if no limitation were imposed upon the growing of sugar beet by those communities, the tonnage produced would be vastly larger than is anticipated by my noble friend, and that consequently the value of the subsidy to previous growers would be watered down to a figure which would make sugar beet growing no longer a practical proposition.

That brings us up against a very big social question. Small holders have now in many of the lighter Fen areas only two alternative crops. One is potatoes and the other is sugar beet. We have to bear in mind that potatoes are now grown upon restricted acreage and that the small holder has not the alternative of going back to potato growing, be is faced with sugar beet as practically the only crop which he can profitably grow. Now if you limit production in the way that the Bill does limit it, and absolutely forbid, as you do, the small holder to develop sugar beet cultivation, you instantly put a complete stop to the increase of small holdings. That is where the big social question comes in. The case that I am making is perfectly well known to the Ministry of Agriculture, because I know of at least one county small holding committee which has, and quite properly, already given facts and figures to the Ministry of Agriculture in connection with this Bill. But you will not be able to have it both ways. You either have to insist upon the Bill as it stands, and with it limit the expansion of small holdings, or you have to admit unlimited production for holders of under one acre of land and admit of the expansion of small holdings.

I have felt when considering this matter that it is really not the business of a Back Bencher to outline and lay down a policy for the Government. If the Government realise that the policy embodied in this Bill must militate against any big scheme of land settlement which they chance to have in mind, and decide that the policy of the Bill is the one they are going to stick to, then it is the Government's responsibility and not ours. At the moment I think all that I can possibly do is to take the Bill as it stands, apply it to the interests of the sugar beet growers as they are, and come to the inevitable conclusion that it is impossible to allow of the inclusion of the unlimited small holder, if I may use that term, because the detriment to the existing grower would be too great. It goes very much against the grain to have to come to that conclusion, and it is an argument, I think, stronger than any other that could be adduced, that really the structure of the Bill is wrong. It ought to have been approached from a different angle. But, things being what they are, it would be extraordinarily difficult to insist upon the inclusion of these Amendments in the Bill without really destroying the industry for those who now live by it, and therefore I am bound, I repeat, most reluctantly to come to the conclusion that the Amendments, though drawn with the best intentions, are not altogether practicable.

I would like very much if I could to leave some loophole in the Bill for the expansion of the sugar beet and the sugar industry which I think will be necessary when the whole relation of agriculture to defence comes into perspective, and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Rhayader himself, whose courteous appreciation of my poor efforts is always very much greater than those efforts could possibly deserve, might perhaps be inclined to view with less antagonism—I will not put it any stronger than that—an attempt to provide for the foodstuffs of the people, as I feel that a Bill of this character really ought to provide. But I will not attempt to commit the noble Lord to any opinions of any kind. I apologise for having held the Committee so long on this subject, but there is some excuse, for really it is at the bottom of the Bill. This question of the limitation of production is the most important point in the whole Bill. I said on the Second Reading that I regard it as a cardinal sin to limit production while there still remains a market, and I do so regard it, but the Government compel me, much against my will, to take the narrow view and to protect the interests of the sugar beet grower, when I know that the broad view is the right one, and that the small holder is the man who ought to be first considered. I shall be most interested to hear what the noble Earl has to say about this particular point, and I would like to reserve judgment as to what we finally do upon the basis of his speech. If that speech gives me the opportunity of forming a different view while this debate proceeds, I shall be only too delighted to be able to do so.


I feel bound, coming from the West of England as I do, and particularly in view of the apparent mental tangle in which my noble friend finds himself, hailing from the East of England, to say that if the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, goes into the Lobby on this Amendment I for my part, not only as representing myself, but a very large number of fellow sugar producers in the West of England, will most certainly support him. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has pointed out, we in this House are in considerable difficulties in dealing with the important matter of principle as to whether this subsidy is really necessary, at any rate under existing conditions. If only Excise could be dealt with on an equitable basis it would be a different matter. I may say quite frankly that we in the West of England have for at least ten years been looking forward to the prospects of a factory being established within our area. We grow beet quite successfully, at any rate on our lighter or not too heavy soils—beating in mind that our beet is of a very high quality and that we have learnt by experience how best to grow it—and we do feel that the time has arrived when we are entitled to have a factory established, particularly when the Government make it part of their business to safeguard the production of sugar in this country. We feel we are entitled to have a factory, or at least not to have to pay such heavy transport charges as we shall have to pay if this Bill becomes law for the transport of our sugar beets to a distant factory in some other part of England.

I feel very strongly that it is a little bit unfair to us who farm to the best of our power, and achieve good cultivation, incidentally, by the adoption of this crop on our farms in the West of England, that this proviso will in fact have the effect of limiting the beet factories already in existence and thereby place us under a very severe handicap which we would not have to face if private enterprise were given the free play which it enjoyed in less socialistic days. This handicap possibly, and I think probably, would have been overcome in the early future as the result of individual enterprise. I for my part shall support the noble Lord if he thinks it worth while to go into the Lobby.


This Amendment strikes at the root principle of the Bill, but before dealing with the specific points in the Amendment I would like to make it quite clear that we are not discussing the question of restriction of production. We are discussing the question of the limitation of Government assistance, and if those who are responsible for the beet sugar industry care to say to-morrow that in their view it is such an economic industry that they can carry on without Government assistance, and that the extra tonnage will not cost the taxpayer any money, there would be no question whatever of limiting their acreage. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has really replied to the demand for this Amendment, and said exactly what I would have said. I do not think it would be proper for me on the Committee stage, in dealing with a specific Amendment, to discuss the whole question of whether the Bill ought to have been fundamentally redrafted. I consider there are extraordinarily good reasons why that should not be done, but I shall not weary your Lordships with these reasons at this moment. The noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, has said that he does not want an increased subsidy, but how are you going to get that increased acreage without increasing the subsidy or doing, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has said—namely, so radically decreasing the per capita subsidy that it becomes virtually valueless?


As in the Wheat Act.


Why, the noble Lord asks, do you not do as in the Wheat Act? The Wheat Act was a very much simpler proposition. The Wheat Act dealt simply with the question of subsidy, but here you are dealing with a commodity assisted in two ways—by subsidy and by duty preference. That is why this Amendment is really dealing with a point of privilege, because for every extra ton of beet that is grown, even though no additional subsidy is paid, there is to be an increased duty preference, and to that extent it is going to result in a heavy loss to the Exchequer. I have worked it out rather hurriedly, and I shall not answer for the figure to a penny, but if the noble Lord will assume that ten tons of beet are grown to the acre, I think he will find that in duty preference alone an extra acre of sugar beet will cost the Exchequer something like £7. Therefore you are up against this point: unless you are going to increase the assistance you must maintain the limitation of acreage and quantity grown.

The noble Lord who moved this Amendment referred to the following Amendment in the same speech, and therefore, if noble Lords will permit me, I shall deal with the next Amendment also. His point—and it is a point that it is extraordinarily difficult not to sympathise with—is that here we are, we want to see small holdings increased in this country: beet sugar is essentially a small holder's crop, and therefore it is most desirable that the small holder growing less than one acre should be excepted from the limitation. But if the small holder growing an acre or less thereby comes into cultivation, that means that somebody else has got to go out of cultivation unless you cut at the whole principle of the Bill. I suggested to the noble Lord on the Second Reading that by far the best way of dealing with this question would be to leave it to the Sugar Commission. We all recognise that it is desirable that small holders should be admitted to the production of sugar beet as far as possible, but there is a very clear principle at stake. Having admitted that it is desirable that something should be done, we have got to decide whether we are going to deal with it from Whitehall or Parliament, or set up a responsible body within the structure of self-government in the industry, and say: "It is for you to settle these matters of detail." I think this is the main question of principle which divides this side of the House from the other. Whereas they would try to reconstruct industry according to set formulas laid down in Whitehall, we say we are going to provide the machinery of self-government whereby the industry will be able to solve these problems for itself. That is really the principle which is at stake in the second Amendment. For that reason I suggest to your Lordships that you should not pass the Amendment and I hope the noble Lord will not move it.


There are really, of course, two Amendments. The first one deals with the general question of restriction, and the second one with the very small holders, the people for whom I only ask leave to grow half an acre of sugar beet a year. I am disappointed to find that, at any rate in the second case, the noble Earl can do nothing better than refer me to the Sugar Commission, whose hands will be already tied. I know they will not be tied in so many words, but they will be tied by the whole structure of this Bill, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has pointed out, leaves a good deal to be desired. I am not sure that it is any use dividing the Committee on this question, but I do beg everybody on this side of the House, at any rate, to consider whether there are going to be any crops left which anybody engaged in agriculture will be allowed to grow.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clauses 6 to 20 agreed to.

Clause 21:

Provisions as to the making, approval, and revocation, of licensing schemes.

(3) For the purposes of paragraph (e) of subsection (1) of this section and for the purposes of the last foregoing subsection the necessary majorities of registered refiners are—

  1. (a) the registered refiners who, in the opinion of the Minister, are capable of producing more than one-half of the quantity of refined sugar that all the registered refiners are capable of producing;
  2. (b) more than one-half of the number of registered refiners.

LORD PHILLIMORE moved, in paragraph (a) of subsection (3), to substitute "two-thirds" for "one-half". The noble Lord said: This is a totally different subject. I do not know whether I am right in supposing that this is the first Bill which has passed or which may pass your Lordships' House that says, in so many words, that it intends its provisos to work notwithstanding any rule of law relating to agreement in restraint of trade. I must say that to see those words used in a Bill of this nature gave me rather a shock, and when I went on to find that it was proposed in certain circumstances to force on the whole of the sugar refining industry an agreement by which their freedom of trade would be restricted, and that the only proviso for their safeguard demanded a bare majority of votes of the members of the registered sugar refiners, then I really did think that the noble Earl was on his way to that dictatorship which we are all expecting him to assume. Surely, if you are going to cramp an industry within so narrow a framework as that, it is right that you should have at any rate a substantial majority of the trade to agree with you before they submit to it. One small disgruntled sugar refiner may turn the scale against half the wiser heads of the trade, and the whole of this enormous industry may be confined within the limits proposed for it in this Bill. I am not going to make a long speech. The subject has been before your Lordships in other cases, but I submit that it is only reasonable to say that at least three-quarters of the licensed sugar refiners should vote in favour of these proposals before they are sanctioned on either basis.

Amendment moved— Clause 21, page 23, line 35, leave out ("one-half") and insert ("two-thirds").—(Lord Phillimore.)


As I gathered, the effect of this Amendment would be to require a two-thirds majority of the registered refiners instead of a 50 per cent. approval. No doubt the object of the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, is to bring this Bill into conformity with the Marketing Acts, which lay down the need for a two-thirds majority before a marketing scheme can come into effective operation. But I do not think that the noble Lord, on further examination, would be prepared to contend that a refiners' licensing scheme is completely analogous to a marketing scheme. Actually, the licensing scheme will be prepared not by an interested body of producers but by an independent body, the Sugar Commission, and, further, the safeguards provided for interested parties are very much greater in the case of procedure for the approval of a licensing scheme than they are under the Marketing Acts.

There is, I think, another point, and one of some importance, and it is this. Those who will be called upon to vote for these schemes will be business firms of very considerable standing, and it can be presumed that they will understand what they are voting for; whereas it is necessary to be particularly careful in the case of farmers, who are very numerous and spread all about the country and have some difficulty in really keeping in touch with what is happening. In such a state of affairs as that there is a great obligation on us to ensure that a scheme is not carried just by a bare majority consisting possibly of considerable numbers who do not really understand the scheme. But there is no danger of that in regard to the provisions of this Bill. There is a further proposal contained in the noble Lord's Amendment, and that is that there should be the same two-thirds majority required for the revocation of the scheme. That, I think the noble Lord would agree, would take it completely out of touch and contact with the Marketing Acts where 50 per cent. is sufficient for a revocation. Therefore, whilst on the one hand increasing the protection to registered refiners, the noble Lord, on the other hand, is proposing to decrease that protection. I would point out to the noble Lord that under this scheme—I do not lay too much stress on this—it is not sufficient for outside bodies to discuss the matter and settle it. The whole of this scheme in fact has been very carefully discussed with interested parties who will be most affected by it. I would, therefore, ask your Lordships not to agree to the Amendment of the noble, Lord.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clauses 22 to 24 agreed to.

Clause 25:

Penalties for false statements.

25.—(1) If for the purpose of obtaining any payment by way of assistance, supplementary payment, apportionment of supplementary payment, or allowance, either for himself or for any other person any person makes any untrue statement or untrue representation, he shall he guilty of an offence under this Act and shall, in respect of each offence, be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to both such fine and imprisonment, unless he proves that he did not know, and could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained, that the statement or representation was untrue.

LORD MAUGHAM moved, in sub-section (1), after the second "person," to insert "knowingly or recklessly." The noble and learned Lord said: I hope not to occupy your Lordships very long in explaining the reasons for what I regard as a somewhat important Amendment. Clause 25 of this Bill provides for what appears to me to be a new crime. There are to be a number of statements made by farmers who require payment and allowances of various kinds, and the clause provides that if the farmer makes an untrue statement, which to a lawyer means a statement that is not accurate, whether he has made this statement innocently or otherwise, he is to be guilty of an offence and to be liable to a fine or imprisonment not exceeding three months, or both, unless he proves—the onus being thrown on him—that he did not know—then come very remarkable words: and could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained, that the statement or representation was untrue. That is a wide departure from the practice of the Legislature with regard to statements, returns, and other documents which have to be signed by various citizens.

It amounts to this, that if, by lack of some inquiry or by lack of being able to understand the forms which are sent out by officials, a man has made a statement which turns out to be not true, he is liable to fine and imprisonment. It is not the course which the Legislature has generally adopted. I hope your Lordships are accustomed to use reasonable diligence in making Income Tax returns. You get a form which is known as Form 12. It lies on the tables of many of us. It is a document I think of some 16 pages or thereabouts, including in the middle a lot of small-print statements of instruction or assistance for the purpose of filling up the form. I do not know if your Lordships have ever been able to read to the end of that form, but if you have you will find on the last page, and at the bottom of the last page, a little paragraph beginning with the word "Penalty," and if you read it you will see that this is the way in which the Legislature has dealt with the matter for a hundred years. You will find that if the Income Tax payer or a person who desires any abatement makes a misstatement, he is liable on conviction by a court of summary jurisdiction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months with hard labour. But the condition of his being so liable is that he has knowingly made a false statement or a false representation. That is the form which has almost uniformly been adopted by the Legislature in cases of this kind.

If you are going to accuse a man of having committed a crime it is for the Crown in the normal way to prove the case. It is in my submission ridiculous, and if there is any precedent it is following an unsound precedent, to impose on him the obligation of showing that he did not know, and that he could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained, the untruth of the statement. Reasonable diligence is a thing which, if used, will enable a man to discover everything. I do not know how the Courts are going to deal with an unfortunate man who has not been able to understand a form sent out by some Commissioners or other people engaged in working this measure, when he comes forward and says that he really could not read to the end of that particular form or that he did not understand it or that he made some statement or other by pure error—because errors are excluded by this clause. I would add that if your Lordships engage, happily or unhappily, in the cultivation of sugar beet you will all be-asked to sign forms which have been made out by bailiffs or people of that kind, and you will be probably quite unable to take the time necessary to satisfy yourselves—even with "reasonable diligence," to use the words in the Bill-that the statements made on your behalf are true. Everybody knows that you have to rely on servants, officials, employees in matters of this sort, and this Bill will make you liable, I am afraid, to a fine not exceeding £50 for each offence and imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months if you rely on the inaccurate information of some third party.

Every Amendment so far has referred to the Wheat Act. The Wheat Act is a very good example of how this ought to be done. As late as the year 1932 the Legislature in dealing with penalties dealt with them in this way. Section 16 (1) provides that if any person "with intent to deceive "—you see in the present Bill that the words "intent to deceive" come out—and (mark what follows) "knowingly makes any false statement"—"knowingly" has been taken out—or "withholds any material information for the purpose of obtaining for himself or any other person any such certificate, receipt or other document or any payment," then is he liable to fine or imprisonment or both. That, I venture to think, is the proper way in which a clause of this kind should be drafted. To refer to another matter, with which many of your Lordships may be concerned—namely, the issuing of a prospectus for the purpose of a company inviting subscriptions—the matter is there made perfectly clear. Section 227 of the Act of 1918 provides that a director or any other person is liable with regard to his statement in the prospectus or other document or account if he wilfully makes a statement false in any material particular knowing it to be false. That again is a good example of the way in which the Legislature ought to deal with false statements which are of the nature of the false statements considered in Clause 25.

When I ask myself why the British farmer should be singled out for the creation of an offence—and I venture to think a new offence—I really am at a loss to find an answer. I do not know that farmers are a class particularly liable to make false statements, nor do I know that the growing of sugar beet is particularly demoralising to the character. I should have thought that if anybody was a person who could fairly claim the sympathy of this House it was the farmer who is engaged in endeavouring to make a difficult living under very arduous circumstances, beset with all sorts of restrictions, and constantly bombarded with forms which he has great difficulty in filling up. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 27, line 10, after the second ("person") insert ("knowingly or recklessly").—(Lord Maugham.)


I should like to say a word or two on this Amendment, because I have come here specially with reference to it, having no great knowledge of—I do not say interest in—sugar beet. This is a matter which far transcends in importance any question about sugar or sugar beet production, because it is, I venture to say, a very serious invasion of a thoroughly well known principle of the Criminal Law which has existed as long as the English Criminal Law—that is, that it is the duty of the prosecution to prove that the alleged offender committed the crime. This is not the first time that it has become an offence to obtain money from the Government or from any other person by making a false statement. It is one of the commonest offences known to the law, obtaining money by false pretences, and in all cases it is for the prosecution to prove that the man made the false pretence knowing that it was false and with intent to deceive. Now why should any difference be made, and why should the onus of proof be thrown in these particular cases upon the person who makes the report?

I can quite conceive that it is very convenient for persons who have to pay money to be able to hold in terrorem over those who make these statements that unless their statement is absolutely correct they will go to prison. That is what it really comes to, because for the first time—I think it is for the first time, though the noble Earl may be able to show some precedents in some of the similar Acts; if so, they are very bad precedents—the onus is upon the defendant to show not only that he did not know the statement was untrue, but also that he could not with due diligence have discovered that it was untrue. I venture to say that that is a most improper burden to put upon anybody accused of a criminal offence. Have any of your Lordships come across pig-headed farmers who believe in what they say without there being due grounds for their belief? As long as they honestly believe in what they say they are not going to make inquiries into whether it is true. They go by their thoroughly well formed but no doubt wrong opinions and are justified in doing so. The essence of crime consists in honesty or dishonesty, and this provision will expose a man to fine and imprisonment although he is really as honest as the day. It concerns, moreover, a class of people who have quite enough difficulty in filling up forms already and might quite easily make a mistake. This is a very serious and important principle, and I hope the Government will sec their way to accept the Amendment.


We are discussing, as those noble Lords who are supporting this Amendment have said, a very important principle, and a principle which, I say very clearly and very strongly, His Majesty's Government would be just as anxious, and are just as anxious, to defend as anybody else in your Lordships' House. This principle is that the onus of proving the guilt of a person charged with an offence should rest with the prosecution. But I think that your Lordships would fully admit another principle, and that is that it is necessary to sec that, where offences are created by a Statute, the language employed is not such as to add to the proper burden of the prosecution such extra weight as may render that Statute in effective. This Amendment is, in the view of His Majesty's Government, a drafting Amendment, because we consider that the point is dealt with in the wording of the proposed clause. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has complained considerably that one who is not connected with the Ministry of Agriculture should be answering in your Lordships' House on behalf of agriculture, but I can assure him that I would far rather discuss agricultural questions with him, after ten years during which I had never been near the Ministry of Agriculture, than I would discuss legal questions with a Lord of Appeal. If asked what is worse than one Lord of Appeal, I should say three Lords of Appeal.

As I am advised, however, under the clause as presented to the House the prosecution will have to prove, first, that the defendant made a statement that was untrue. But they will have to do more than that. If your Lordships will turn to the wording of the clause, you will see that they will also have to prove that he did so for the purpose of obtaining a payment either for himself or for some other person. This, of course, involves proving that the untrue statement or representation was made on purpose—that is, knowingly. Not only so, but the wording also makes it necessary to prove the actual purpose for which the statement or representation was made. The full onus of proof will therefore be on the prosecution under the clause as drawn, notwithstanding that the word "knowingly" does not occur in it. I see noble and learned Lords who are much more fitted to discuss matters of law than myself shaking their heads, and I can therefore only say that that is the view of His Majesty's Government and their legal advisers. But if noble Lords are not satisfied with that, I am perfectly prepared to undertake to discuss these matters with my colleagues and with noble and learned Lords in order to see whether before the next stage we cannot arrive at some agreement on this difficult point. I can assure noble and learned Lords that on the principles we are in complete agreement, and that nothing is further from the desire of His Majesty's Government than "knowingly" to destroy this great principle that it is for the prosecution to prove that a man is guilty.


If I may tell the Minister of Agriculture where he is quite wrong, it is that he has not observed the last three lines of this subsection. A person is held to have made an untrue statement and to be liable to a fine unless he proves that he could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained that the statement was untrue. That differentiates this clause entirely from all the clauses to which I have shortly referred the Committee and a great many more, and it is for that reason that the clause should be altered—unless His Majesty's Government are creating a new crime.


If I might answer that specific point: the contention which I have had made to me is that the process is, as I have said, firstly, that the man should be proved to be guilty; secondly, that he should be proved to have made the statement on purpose; and then in the last three lines of the clause he is given the further concession that, even if those two points are proved, he has the right to come back and endeavour to make his point that he did it not knowing. But I bow to noble and learned Lords, and willingly undertake on behalf of His Majesty's Government to discuss this point before the next stage.


I trust that the noble and learned Lords who have been good enough to take the interest that they have taken in the protection of the farmer against what I have previously described as an overweening bureaucracy, will not give way. After all, common justice should not be made the subject of discussion between the Ministry and even the most distinguished Law Lords outside this House. When the Ministry in their Bill have desired that a certain phraseology should persist, it is on the floor of this House that that phraseology should be either accepted or rejected. There is another and a purely technical reason why this Amendment should be insisted upon, and that is that we shall, many of us, for various reasons require a Report stage, and there will be no Report stage if no Amendment is now pressed upon the Committee. That is not an argument, naturally, which would weigh with your Lordships in comparison with the infinitely weightier ones which have been advanced, but at the same time, the practice of politics being what it is, we cannot entirely afford to ignore it. I hope very much that, only in the interests of justice, the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken to this Amendment will proceed to a Division.


My noble friend who has just sat down is quite right: unless some Amendment is put in at this stage there will be no Report stage. That means that this matter, in which your Lordships are practically at one with the noble and learned Lord in thinking that something will have to be done, will be left over to the Third Reading. Those of us who have sat in this House for a long time know how difficult it is to amend a Bill properly on Third Reading. By the Rules of the House Notice must be given of an Amendment on Third Reading; it cannot be moved in the course of the debate in any form whatever, because that would be contrary to the Rules, and you are therefore very much hampered in arriving at a reasonable solution. I hope that in the circumstances the Government will consent to put this Amendment into the Bill; then there will be a Report stage and they will be in a position to adjust it as they think best. That is much the best plan.


After that appeal, I do not see how I can do otherwise than accept the proposal, but I would say this. I have on behalf of His Majesty's Government given two definite assurances The first is that we are in complete agreement on principle. There is no question of bargaining, because we are in agreement on principle. Secondly, I have given a definite undertaking to discuss this matter, and when I say discuss it I mean a bona fide discussion, with a real desire to arrive at agreement. Therefore I venture once more to appeal to your Lordships to allow this Amendment to go. I would not think of dividing the Committee. If I may take your Lordships into the confidence of the Government I would say that this Bill is already very much overdue. At the moment a very great deal of business is being carried on, and contracts are being made on trust. I have not put this to your Lordships before, because I did not think it would be a proper suggestion to make, but now that a question of time has arisen I would point out that this would mean another day, and intervening days, and returning the Bill to the House of Commons, and further time wasted. There is no question of dividing the Committee, but still I appeal to the Committee to accept my suggestion.


May I venture to endorse the appeal of the noble Marquess? I have stood in exactly the same position as the noble Earl stands in to-day. You have a most distinguished legal authority in this House pointing out that a particular clause is contrary to the principles oil British law, and it is perfectly clear that if the words which Lord Maugham proposes are inserted they will not only do justice but be in accord with the principles of British Law. There is only one other point which I wish to make. A statement may be untrue, that is, inaccurate, and at the same time infer no guilty intention on the part of the person who makes it. That being so, I venture to support the appeal of the noble Marquess, and I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment.


It is quite obvious what the Committee desires, and therefore I will accept it.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My second Amendment is consequential.

Amendment moved— Page 27, line 16, leave out from ("imprisonment") to end of the subsection.—(Lord Maugham.)


I must make it quite clear in regard to this Amendment and the previous one that the Government are not accepting the Amendments, but merely agreeing to their insertion.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 25, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedules agreed to.