Skip to main content

Clause 6—(Provisions As To Independent Members Of The Commission)

Volume 436: debated on Friday 18 April 1947

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move, in page 6, line 9, to leave out "one year," and to insert "six months."

This Amendment refers to the independent members of the Commission. There are to be three independent members, who virtually give their services whole-time, to whom there is reserved a special responsibility for price-fixing and other important functions of the Commission. These decisions it might be inappropriate and unwise to divulge to the part-time members, who will be drawn from the ranks of the employers, merchants and workers in the industry. These whole-time independent members will thus be in a situation where, in the course of the discharge of their duties, they obtain confidential information about the policy of the Commission, and particularly about forward-buying contracts into which the Commission may decide to enter. It was proposed in the Bill that there be a requirement that on ceasing to be an independent member such a person, for a period of one year, should not enter into a similar business where he might be able to use to his advantage the information he had gained in the course of his work as a member of the Commission.

The whole question depends upon what time one considers is sufficient. If we make the period very long, we ensure that the person who ceases to be an independent member cannot go into private trade thereafter and use his special knowledge to his own advantage. On the other hand, if we make it a very long period, we lessen the ability to secure the best possible people for the Commission. If we offer a job for no more than five years, at the end of which there is to be a long period when the person cannot enter into the cotton business, we shall find it very difficult to get the best possible people to serve. The balance of time has, therefore, to be struck. Hon. Members opposite during the Committee stage thought that the period should be three months, whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) went so far as to say it should be three years.

2.30 p.m.

We had to strike a balance of advantage somewhere between the two. It is a matter of degree and not of principle that separates us. After listening to what hon. Members opposite said, I undertook to bring forward this Amendment on Report. I gave that undertaking after having had advice from those who now conduct the business of the Cotton Control and who have been engaged all their lives in the cotton business and are fully aware of the way in which the control is conducted, how much confidential information is obtained, and how valuable it is over a period. When considering our attitude to the Amendment in Committee, we came to the conclusion that if hon. Members opposite made out a very good case, we would be prepared to compromise at a period of six months. I want to make it clear to my hon. Friends on this side that I did not give the undertaking to move this Amendment without having consulted my advisers. I have now consulted them again, and they assure me they are satisfied that the period of six months will be long enough. It will be a gain on the original period of 12 months by way of extending our ability to persuade the kind of people we hope to persuade to become members of this Commission, and it will limit the disadvantages to them.

I wish to thank the Government for having accepted our point of view in this matter. If they continue to divide by six what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) contends, and what we contend by two, they will get very near to the right balance in these matters.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) thinks that I have any influence on these matters, even so negative as that which he suggests. I feel that the Government are not treating their supporters very fairly in this matter. I do not pretend that the difference between six months and 12 months is a matter of fundamental principle, for it is not, but even if one concedes that the assessment of the exact period is a matter of fine balance between one consideration and another, one must remember that 12 months was the period originally in the Bill, which the Minister defended at first in the Committèe, which we defended, and on which we supported him, acting on the basis that the proper advice had been taken and that the proper time limit had been worked out with those best qualified to advice.

It now looks as if that was not so. My hon. Friend asks us to say that it was not so and to say that those who advised him did so wrongly, and that when they advised 12 months they were making a mistake. The Government are a little too inclined to do that, and to embarrass their supporters in the country in this way. They make a proposal, they defend it vigorously and eloquently, with facts and arguments, and we loyally back them up, incurring such unpopularity as is involved in the country; and when we have involved ourselves up to our necks, lo and behold, the Minister in charge of the Bill says, "Sorry, boys, the Opposition were right, and we were wrong, so you must go back and convince those in the country whom you asked to support us that you ought not to have done so." We do our best, but it is a little difficult.

My hon. Friend will admit that in this case I did not say the Opposition were right.

The Minister said six months, the Opposition said three months; the period is now six months. The Minister says that they were more right than he was. What are the facts? My hon. Friend said that he gave an undertaking in Committee, but if he will look at what he said, he will find that he did not quite give an undertaking. Many of us said to him at the time that he was right not to go so far as to give an undertaking, and that we hoped he would look at it very carefully. I do not agree that there was anything wrong with 12 months. The period of assessment for many of the purposes under the Bill is 12 months. If a man takes an appointment under this Commission and makes himself acquainted with the long-range views and knowledge and information collected in many parts of the world for the purposes of the Commission and then decides to give up his appointment and go into private practice, it is not too much to ask him to wait for a sufficient period so as to make sure that the knowledge and information which he derived as a public servant shall not be used in private trade to his own advantage and to the disadvantage of his compatriots. If he has to wait 12 months, it is not a very long period. As I said in Committee, in most private firms the period of restrictive covenant would be very much longer. I do not propose to vote against the Amendment, but I think that, for the first time in his skilful handling of this highly technical Measure, my hon. Friend has let us down.

When I find that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) opposes a view which I hold, I am always fortified in believing that my view is right. The hon. Member always attempts to push his own doctrine irrespective of the true merits of the case, and on this occasion he is pronouncing a new faith—"My Socialism, right or wrong." He commends that view to the Government. Whatever mistakes we make, he says, however ill-considered a phrase or a period of time in a Bill may be, however pressing may be the demands of reason to alter it, in no circumstances must we depart from what was originally decided upon. That is not a very sound view to press upon the Government.

I moved an Amendment on this matter in Committee because I felt this was a peculiar circumstance. Here we are not dealing with a man who is coming out of semi-Government service to indulge in private, trade on his own behalf in the same business. This Bill is designed to see that he does not do that. A man coming out of the Commission's service cannot himself set up in the same business, because the business is the monopoly of the Commission. Therefore, it was a very special circumstance. Although I should like to have seen a period of three months, rather than the original 12 months, I am grateful to the Government for making this very reasonable alteration, and I am glad that they have at last seen the wisdom of it.

Amendment agreed to.