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Agricultural Marketing Money (No 2)

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 22 March 1949

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Considered in Committee of the whole House under Standing Order No. 84.—[ King's Recommendation signified.]

[Major MILNER in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed:

"That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the Agricultural Marketing Acts, 1931 to 1933, and for purposes connected therewith, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any increase in the sums payable, out of moneys so provided, under subsection (5) of section sixteen of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, in respect of the remuneration of the members of, or of the expenses of, commissions or committees, which is attributable to any provision of the said Act of the present Session which applies the said section sixteen to Agricultural Marketing Re-organisation Commissions for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, for England and Northern Ireland and for Scotland and Northern Ireland or enables committees of investigation to consist of a chairman and five members (over and above any additional members appointed when the committee are considering a scheme applicable to Northern Ireland or any part of Northern Ireland)."—[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]

6.3 p.m.

Are we not to have an explanation from the Government about this Financial Resolution? It is a very curious practice that a completely new Financial Resolution, embodying a point which is altogether new, should be submitted without the presence of a Minister from the Agricultural Department to explain what the Resolution means. Neither is there any representative of the Treasury present to explain its object. I am, therefore, in a rather awkward position. Reading the Resolution as it appears on the Order Paper, and without any explanation from the Minister, it is very difficult for us to appreciate exactly what it means. The Resolution refers to a lot of previous Acts of Parliament and particularly to Northern Ireland. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury—who has just entered the Chamber—to explain the object of the Resolution, or perhaps the Committee may like me to try to give my views of its meaning and then ascertain whether my submission is correct.

I suggest that this new Resolution has become necessary because of some very loose and careless drafting by the Government. In the Second Reading Debate on the Agricultural Marketing Bill, on 19th January, the Minister, referring to the committee of investigation which is dealt with in that Measure, mentioned that:
"Many questions which the committee of investigation will have to consider will be similar to the questions dealt with by the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January, 1949; Vol. 460, c. 191.]
The Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act, 1948, however, was not in existence when the original Agricultural Marketing Acts of 1931 and 1933 were passed by the House of Commons. As I understand the new Resolution, it would not be possible under the Bill as it stands to add an additional member to the committee of investigation. The committee of investigation in the past has been, and no doubt in the future will be, very carefully balanced as to its membership. It has consisted of a legal chairman and four members a trade unionist, an accountant, an economist and a business man. I understand it is the intention of the Government to maintain that balance under the new Measure. Unfortunately, however, I am in some doubt about this. I am to some extent in the dark as to whether my supposition is correct.

If, since the passing of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act, it is the wish of the Government to add an additional member to the committee of investigation, there requires to be a new financial resolution so that the additional member may be remunerated. I believe it is the practice of this investigation committee that remuneration for services is made usually by a daily fee. Without the new Resolution it would be impossible for that additional member, if appointed, to be paid his daily fee for his work on the committee of investigation.

It is a very curious position that I, on this side of the Committee, have, on behalf of the Government, to try to explain what the Resolution is about. Even if I am correct as far as I have gone, I am still very much in doubt about the object of the final words of the Resolution:
"(over and above any additional members appointed when the committee are considering a scheme applicable to Northern Ireland or any part of Northern Ireland)."
Their meaning is extremely difficult to understand and I should be very greatful for an explanation from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

6.9 p.m.

I must apologise to the Committee that I was not in my place when the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) rose to speak on the Resolution. I must apologise also for the fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is detained elsewhere, but I understand he will shortly be here to take part in the Debate should it proceed much further. So far as I understood what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, I think that most of what he said is quite correct. What the Resolution does is to enable the remuneration and expenses of chairmen and other members of commissions and committees which may be appointed under any Act of the present Session to have their remuneration or expenses paid out of the Consolidated Fund.

As the Committee are aware, once money has gone into the Consolidated Fund it is quite impossible to get it out except by a Resolution of this House. That is why we have these Money Resolutions and why they are essential if there is any expectation whatever of moneys needed to meet any expenses which might arise under any Act of Parliament. Here, as the Committee know, under the Act contemplated by the Minister of Agriculture provision is made for committees to be set up and, possibly, from time to time for commissions of inquiry to be set up and so on. This Resolution puts any expenses or remuneration which may fall to be paid in order and permits it to be issued out of the Consolidated Fund.

The hon. and gallant Member asked me to explain the last two lines of the Resolution. I agree that on their face they appear to be slightly redundant, but they are simply there for greater clarity and to make quite certain that should extra members be needed for committees which are considering any scheme applicable to Northern Ireland, or any parts thereof, any remuneration or expenses incurred by them, or on their behalf, should be met. I hope that with that explanation the hon. and gallant Member and the Committee will feel they can now permit us to have the Resolution without further Debate.

I thought the explanation of the Financial Resolution was much clearer when given by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) than when given by the Financial Secretary. So far as I could understand the Financial Secretary's explanation, it appeared to omit any indication of the total sum likely to be involved. Could he give any indication, say to the nearest £1,000? Before passing from it we should have some idea of the sum in a similar manner to that provided in the Financial Memorandum of a Bill.

6.12 p.m.

I feel sure the Financial Secretary to the Treasury did his best, but I do not feel that we on this side of the Committee are very much more enlightened than before he spoke. In saying that, I do not speak with any disrespect for the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have considerable admiration, but his explanation did not take us very far. I hope that he, or the Minister of Agriculture, will tell us a little more about the sums of money they have in view, because it is clearly laid down in the Resolution that the Government contemplate possible increases.

It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to try to ride off and talk of the difficulties associated with the Consolidated Fund Bill. If I may say so without offence, I am quite as well aware as the right hon. Gentleman of the difficulties connected with the Consolidated Fund Bill. We shall be discussing it tomorrow and perhaps because of that, he brought it in and thought that by using long words he might impress hon. Members behind him who are new to the ways of this House and thus be able to get away with it. Hon. Members on that side of the Committee have not shown themselves to be very up-to-date, or careful custodians, or trustees, of the public purse in regard to this Financial Resolution.

I think we ought certainly to have a representative of the Scottish Office on the Government Front Bench because in Scotland agricultural matters bulk much more in the body economic proportionate to the population than they do south of the Border. Yet, in the discussion so far, we have had no representative of the Scottish Office. It is true that the Lord Advocate looked in when the Debate was beginning and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) was talking, but he went out again. He did not think it worth his while to stay, although I think he might have done so. I know he is not particularly well versed in agricultural matters, but, seeing that there was no other representative of the Scottish Office present, he could have stayed.

I should be interested to know what sums may be involved in regard to Scotland and to have an outline of what it is proposed to do north of the Tweed. Unless the Minister of Agriculture has been better briefed than was the Financial Secretary when he attempted to answer questions from the Opposition Front Bench, we shall not be carried much further. I hope the Press will take notice of the fact that not one representative of His Majesty's Government concerned with Scottish affairs—

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) interjects that he is here, but I do not think he has a special commission to represent His Majesty's Government in this Debate. From the line he has taken so often I should think he would be the last to represent the Government in regard to Scottish affairs. I am glad to see that the Lord Advocate has come back and, if the Minister of Agriculture cannot enlighten me, I hope he will be able to do so.

A point was made regarding Northern Ireland and the possibility of having more members to serve on commissions or committees there. I am the last to wish to be antagonistic to Northern Ireland, which is so near to my constituency that I can look across the water and see it sometimes, but, if that is necessary to deal with agricultural matters in Northern Ireland, it is necessary in England, Wales and Scotland because the whole of Northern Ireland is only 5,000 square miles in extent. That point ought to be answered and I hope we shall be satisfied on it. I am glad to see that the Secretary of State for Scotland has now arrived. I would much rather have an explanation from him than from the Lord Advocate on a topic such as this because, as I said earlier, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not particularly well qualified to pontificate on agricultural problems. Now that the Secretary of State is present, if the Minister of Agriculture cannot satisfy us on Scottish matters, I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to do so.

6.19 p.m.

I think the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) said something about "pontificate." I am not quite sure what he meant by it but I think I can clarify his mind—

—fairly quickly, if that is a possibility at all. This Money Resolution is for a purpose well known to hon. Members who sat on the Committee dealing with the Agricultural Marketing Bill upstairs. I said on Second Reading that it was our intention, since the functions of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission were almost identical with the duties of a committee of investigation, we should try to exchange a member so that they could pursue a common policy. The only point which has arisen is that in the past we have had a fairly balanced membership on a committee of investigation. There has been a legal chairman, a trade unionist, an accountant, an economist and a business man. Should it be the case that a member of the Restrictive Practices Commission does not fulfil one of those functions, then it would require an additional member, and that is the only object of this Money Resolution.

The hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) asked what is the likely cost. I should have thought that scarcely runs into millions, hundreds of thousands, thousands or hundreds. It is entirely contingent upon the number of occasions on which the Committee of Investigation are called upon to operate. There may be no occasion for the committee to be called in in the whole 12 months, in which case the cost would be nil. It may well be that the committee may be called in on one occasion, and the cost would be the daily fee fixed, after consultation with the Treasury, at the time of the appointment. The hon. and learned Member knows better than I can tell him what legal fees usually amount to. But in any case it is the cost of one person, assuming that he acts on a Committee of Investigation for the day or the number of days that the committee might be in session.

I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that that one person will not be either a lawyer, or a trade unionist, or an accountant, or an economist, or a business man—I think I have the order right—but it will be a person of another category; and that provision is already made for the categories he mentioned so far as their remuneration is concerned.

It may be a person with legal training, but it may not, and it is for that contingency that we are preparing.

Before we leave this Money Resolution there are one or two things which ought to be pointed out. I wish to support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie). When we are dealing with these matters, and we have a great agricultural community such as Scotland, it is only right that the Secretary of State for Scotland should not only be present but that he should explain the position of Scotland, and whether or not Scotland is getting too much. It has been known in other cases that Scotland has had too much. I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has come here to play his part although it will be rather difficult for him to follow exactly what has happened after the—I will not say muddled, because that would be an underestimate—explanation we heard from the Financial Secretary just now.

When I heard the Minister of Agriculture quite coolly lecturing the hon. Member for Galloway about being clear I thought he was not being very wise. If there is one hon. Gentleman who invariably understands these things, because of his industry in looking them up, it is the hon. Member for Galloway. I thought his speech was crystal clear, both in its meaning and object. My object is to point out that this is another of these unfortunate Money Resolutions—and we have had a fair share of them—in connection with agriculture which mean an additional number of people paid by the Government, and forced to spend their time under their contract of employment, in burdening agriculturists with unnecessary enforcements.

The particular increase in this case seems to be on the unhappy North of Ireland. In this Resolution we have a part which states:
"(over and above any additional members appointed when the Committee are considering a scheme applicable to Northern Ireland or any part of Northern Ireland)."
We ought to know—although I am not sure who is the appropriate Government official to tell us—why there should be this additional number required for Northern Ireland. Is there any complicated system to do with boundaries or anything of that sort? I cannot go into it. We have the officials and we want to know what they are doing. Is there any reason why there should be a large increase of officials in Northern Ireland? I think we are fair in asking what is the reason, because there cannot have been any great agricultural development there.

Does the hon. Member remember who used to rule very keenly on Money Resolutions?

Yes, I think that possibly I do. My trouble in regard to Money Resolutions is that the first thing they do is to take money to pay officials, and I maintain that that is thoroughly wrong and bad. Up to this moment that has been my chief complaint against the Government regarding this Money Resolution.

The second point I have to make against the Government—and I do not say I shall be satisfied if I get no answer to the point I have just raised—is that the Financial Secretary—who has now left the Chamber—again gave us his usual statement, that he could not possibly hope to know how much money will go in this Money 'Resolution. I realise that he does not know, but surely, after all the Money Resolutions we have had, he should be able by this time to find an official of the Treasury who could form some estimate of what these Resolutions are likely to cost. I see that this strikes a responsive note in the Secretary of State for Scotland and I feel sure that he must have some answer to these matters. But I do protest as strongly as possible against the ever-increasing number—

I notice the right hon. Gentleman has come back and the hon. Member for Loughborough really need not try to instruct me on what I ought to say in my speeches. This is not the Debate on spelling in which he proved that he knew little about his own Bill, less than anyone I have heard presenting a Bill, and he is not in a position—

The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) is really not entitled to indulge in these repeated personal animadversions. I must ask him to keep strictly to the point. He knows as well as anyone in the Committee that he ought to do so.

But I was interrupted by the hon. Member for Loughborough in a way which was very provocative, and I thought that I might be allowed to make some small and short answer. I should have finished by this time except for the interruptions.

I protest very strongly indeed against three main facts. First, that in these Money Resolutions the Government never try to make any proper estimate; in the second place, they are laying increased burdens on the community and in the third place, I think that this Money Resolution, apart from the burden of taxation, will add to the number of officials employed in this country. I still hope that we shall be vouchsafed an answer as to the position of Scotland, and also as to why we have this sudden increase in the amount needed for Northern Ireland.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.