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Schedule—(Section 22 Of Principal Act As Amended By This Act)

Volume 400: debated on Tuesday 13 June 1944

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I beg to move, in page 7, line 5, after "Fisheries," to insert:

"that the regulations will not be or are not being complied with or."
The local authority can refuse or cancel registration where the public health is being or is likely to be endangered. The local authority, I submit, should not be burdened. This danger to health is a matter upon which medical and other opinion might differ very strongly and judgment in such a case should not be based upon opinion but upon fact. Compliance or non-compliance with regulations is a matter of fact and the local authority should be enabled, just as the Minister is enabled, to exercise its powers simply on the ground that the regulations will not be or are not being complied with. If we do not have these words inserted, local authorities may be subjected to further criticisms on future occasions, as they have been in the past, to the effect that they have not supervised milk distribution adequately. Unless the Bill is amended on this line, it will be impossible for them to do so.

I hope the hon. Member will not press this Amendment. I hope he will realise that, in this Schedule, we are dealing with the policy of the Food and Drugs Act of which we have had experience and which I think has worked well. I realise that the hon. Gentleman thinks it will be improved by the admission of those words but I do not think so, and the points he has put to the Committee can be borne in mind without adding the words. I hope that with that assurance he will agree not to press it; if we were to find that we thought it would make some improvement, we could deal with it at a further stage. My advice at the present moment is that it will not improve the Schedule.

If a record is made of that promise, I should be prepared to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 7, line 11, to leave out, "seven," and to insert "fourteen."

It seems to me that seven days is very short notice in which a defaulter may make representations, and I hope my right hon. Friend will see his way to make the term longer in view of the concession which he made earlier in the proceedings.

Again we are dealing with a scheme we have worked in the Food and Drugs Act, 1938. Local authorities have worked these provisions and we have not had any complaints. I ask my hon. Friend not to press for 14 days instead of seven, because we think that there should be as little delay as possible if there is a complaint.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move, in page 7, line 29, to leave out "court of sumary jurisdiction," and to insert "county court."

This subject was discussed for a time earlier to-day and for that reason I hope it will not be necessary to detain the Committee very long at this stage. I do not desire to appear to cast any aspersions upon courts of summary jurisdiction. Such courts, doing their own work, are very good tribunals indeed. But they are not suitable tribunals to hear appeals from the decisions of local authorities in their various administrative capacities. In the first place the arrangements of a court of summary jurisdiction are not suitable for hearing cases of this type.

These courts are normally concerned with small cases which can be heard fairly quickly. They have a large number of cases to deal with and a great quantity of business to get through in the course of a day. This type of case involves the evidence of technical witnesses and frequently the consideration of sections of Acts of Parliament and usually occupies a considerable time. It is most inconvenient for a court of summary jurisdiction to break off from its normal work to deal with a case of that kind. I can assure the Committee that I have some experience of cases of this nature. I rather deprecate hon. Members drawing on their own personal experiences, but this happens to be a subject on which I can speak with some personal knowledge. I know of the great inconvenience which is caused both to tribunals and to the parties themselves by this practice of providing an appeal to a court of summary jurisdiction from a local authority. The Parliamentary Secretary will probably say that this has been done on a great many occasions. It is perfectly true that the hon. Lady can point to innumerable precedents where this House has provided for an appeal of this nature; but the answer to that argument is that the experience of the working of these Acts has shown that these courts are not suitable tribunals in this class of work.

There is another reason why it is desirable that a change should be made. These cases will already have been heard by a body which hears it informally—the committee of the local authority or whoever determines it in the first instance—and after that it is desirable that the case should go to a fully judicial body presided over by a county court judge who is accustomed to construe Acts of Parliament, listen to expert witnesses and form his conclusions upon evidence of that sort. It is a much more satisfactory type of appeal than an appeal to a court of summary jurisdiction. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to lay aside the argument of what has been done in the past and consider the matter afresh and see whether the Minister cannot agree to making a change in this practice, which frankly I regard as undesirable. I hope the Minister will be able to break away from the fetters of tradition and consent to these appeals being heard by a tribunal which is the most competent and convenient tribunal to deal with them.

I am sorry that my hon. and learned Friend thinks that I am fettered by tradition and has warned me against the horrors of such a condition, because we have tried to look at this Schedule from the point of view of the best possible way of working the scheme and of helping local authorities and those with whom they have to deal My hon. and learned Friend asks us to make a change, but the difficulty is that in the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, local authorities have powers to deal with other licences and registrations. For these there is the right of appeal to a court of summary jurisdiction, and I think the matter will be tangled if we do as he suggests. I noted that during the discussion on Clause 1 hon. Members said that so long as they could go to a court of law they did not mind whether it was a court of summary jurisdiction or a county court. That gave me encouragement, as I knew that I would have to reply to this Amendment later. I am not fettered by tradition, and I think I have put up a fairly good case for leaving the matter where it is.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move, in page 7, line 34, at the end, to insert:

"and if such a court does not cancel his registration the Minister of Health may not subsequently cancel his registration on account of the same offence for which he was convicted."
If it had been possible to insert earlier in the Bill the part of the Schedule on which the Amendment is based, I should have felt compelled, in default of an adequate explanation, to carry on the Debate for some time because it represents a rather important point. Sub-section (4) says that a court which convicts a dairyman of an offence can, in addition to any other penalties it sees fit to inflict upon him, cancel his registration. The words that I wish to insert, make it clear that the Minister could not over-ride the decision of the court, supposing the court failed to consider that cancellation of the registration was necessary. The decision of the court ought to be final. If it cancels the registration, that should be final. If it fails to cancel the registration, that should be final, too. Certainly the Minister should not at a later stage have power to rake up what he might think was a faulty decision of the court and seek to over-ride it.

My hon. Friend need have no fear of any over-riding by the Minister of Health. He has no power in this Bill to cancel any registration.

Amendment negatived.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.