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Clause 2—(Directions By Ministers To Boards As Respects Certain Matters)

Volume 463: debated on Monday 4 April 1949

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

I beg to move, in page 4, line 2, after "conclusions" to insert:

"and the reasons for such conclusions."
The purpose of this Amendment is to secure publication of not merely the conclusions of the committee of investigation but also the reasons for the conclusions. I have always taken the view that the proper way of dealing with these marketing boards is to treat them as any other form of monopoly under the Monopoly and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act. The Minister has at different times gone some way towards showing that he does not disagree with me very much in that. He has frequently tried to make the practice, and indeed the composition, of the investigation committee similar to if not identical with the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission.

However, there has always been one great difference between the procedure under this Bill and the procedure under the Monopoly and Restrictive Practices Act, and that is in the way in which the report of the investigating committee is dealt with. Under the Monopoly and Restrictive Practices Act the report is laid before Parliament, and by that means everybody in the country knows what the investigating committee thinks; whereas under this Bill, as at present drafted, merely the conclusions of the report are published.

During the Committee stage we tried to approximate the two procedures, and the Joint Parliamentry Secretary put forward the view that on grounds of public policy, where, for instance, some secret processes were involved, it might be inadvisable to publish the whole of the report. There is no great difference between us in this matter, and we are trying to be accommodating. We are asking merely for the reasons to be published so that the Minister can avoid giving any details he considers should not be published. I hope that the Government will be accommodating in their turn and either accept this form of words or introduce some other words they consider more suitable for this purpose. This was not a matter which divided the Committee on party lines, and there were one or two Members who support the Government who agreed with our contention. It was to avoid the Minister being faced with a Division in which some of his supporters would be found against him, that we withdrew. We withdrew, with our usual tact, so that we could have the matter out at this stage.

The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) was taxing his memory a little hard when he said that we were threatened with one or two of our supporters voting in favour of his contention. I have just looked up our proceedings on Committee and I find that apart from the hon. Member and his hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York) no one else took part in the Debate.

The hon. Member will find that one of his hon. Friends intervened at a later stage to say that he would have voted with us, although it was not on the right Amendment.

I am not sure who was on the right or wrong Amendment; perhaps the hon. Members have not got the right Amendment at this stage. There is not much difference between us on this matter. Originally, we were discussing whether we should lay the whole of the report. I took exception to that on behalf of my right hon. Friend on the ground of secret processes, and also that it might be undesirable to disclose the kind of evidence that is given in the course of these inquiries—it might put ideas into other people's heads. In the past, we have normally laid the conclusions, although on one occasion we did lay the whole report when that seemed to be in the public interest. I told the Committee that I was advised, and I have since had my advice confirmed, that nothing in this Bill prevents us from doing what we have done in the past.

The difficulty about accepting this narrower Amendment is that the report of the committee will seldom be issued in such a way that we can easily, without rewriting it, disentangle the reasons for the conclusions from the main body of the report. There will not be separate headings, such as "conclusions" and "the reasons therefore," with the evidence then given in the ordinary way. The reasons will fairly clearly emerge, however, when anyone reads the report. We think that on the whole, the public interest would be better served if we proceeded as we have proceeded in the past. As I have said, we have published in the past the whole report, as in the case of the Milk Report, but big issues of that kind are not likely to arise often, although when they do they can be dealt with in that way.

In view of that explanation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment by leave withdrawn.

5.45 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 4, line 19, to leave out subsections (5) and (6), and to insert:

"(5) The Minister may at any time, after consultation with the board concerned, by order revoke or vary any order in force under the said subsection (2) so as either—
  • (a) to withdraw the whole or any part of the directions in force thereunder; or
  • (b) to vary or add to those directions in any manner which he thinks necessary or expedient in order better to attain the purposes for which those directions were given."
  • This Amendment arises out of an intervention made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) during the Committee stage. There was apparently some confusion between these two subsections. After consideration, we felt that this Amendment was justified and that it would make the matter clearer. Under subsection (3) the only question the board may require the Minister to refer to a committee of investigation is whether a specific act or omission or intended act or omission has, or will have, certain results and whether those results will be contrary to the public interests. The committee has nothing to do with what order is actually made. It follows, therefore, that the full procedure of subsection (3) is inapplicable to an order which merely withdraws directions given under a previous order. It is also inapplicable to an order which varies or adds to those directions. This does away with the distinction made in the subsections between the power to withdraw an order made under subsection (2) and the power to vary such an order. It provides that both shall be exercisable by the Minister until after consultation with the board. I am satisfied that this is an improvement on the original subsections.

    I thank the Minister for having considered this point, although the matter is still very involved. Certainly it is clearer than it was before.

    Amendment agreed to.