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Clause 4—(Temporary Directions By Ministers)

Volume 463: debated on Monday 4 April 1949

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I beg to move, in page 5, line 24, after "Act," to insert:

"and (b) the relevant act or omission or intended act or omission of the Board relates to, or to a commodity produced from, a commodity for the time being specified in the first Schedule to the Agriculture Act, 1947."
This is really the controversial clause in the Bill, and we spent a long time in Committee trying to persuade the Government to delete it. So far we have failed in our attempt to get it deleted, and as a result we are trying to limit its effect by this Amendment. The Clause empowers the Minister to make a temporary order while a matter is being examined by a committee of investigation. This Amendment provides that such temporary orders shall be given only in respect of commodities for which a price and market are guaranteed under the Agriculture Act, 1947, as specified in the First Schedule. Since the 1931 and 1933 Acts, we have accepted the fact that a new set of circumstances have been created owing to the guaranteed markets and assured prices for commodities.

Although we have criticised in detail certain provisions in this Bill, when we came to Clause 4, which gives the Minister very extensive powers, we felt that there might be less objection to the Minister making a temporary order in respect of commodities coming under the First Schedule if he considered the matter was too urgent to wait even for the period of 28 days under Clause 2. As far as these commodities are concerned, the producers are guaranteed against any specific loss under their price and market guarantee. On the other hand we believe there is every objection to temporary orders being made in respect of non-guaranteed commodities, such as horticultural products. In such cases a board might well suffer grievous loss as a result of an injudicious temporary order. The committee of investigation might report not in favour of, but against, the Minister. We argued in Committee about the various commodities in respect of which harm might result to producers, particularly soft fruits.

After very careful consideration we are still unconvinced that the Clause is necessary for the efficient working of this Bill. It gives rise to possibilities of serious loss and injury to producers, and gives powers to the Minister which are absolutely unnecessary to make the work of the marketing boards a success. We equally feel that the powers are unnecessary not only from the producers' point of view, but also from the consumers' point of view. Something might be referred to the committee of investigation and they might report against the interests of the consumers. We believe that that should be done under Clause 2, and that the procedure adopted in this Clause is unnecessary. Nothing which the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary have so far said has convinced us to the contrary. Producers certainly do not want this Clause and we do not believe that consumers want it either, and it is in the hope that the Minister may still be ready to meet our point of view that I have moved the Amendment.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has travelled widely on this Amendment and it will be open to hon. Members to cover the three succeeding Amendments to this Clause in the same way, should they so desire.

I beg to second the Amendment.

I should like to remind the House that if non-scheduled commodities are included in the Bill, it might well bring ruin to farmers whose whole livelihood is in perishable crops such as strawberries and raspberries, which are not included in the Schedule. If the Minister gives directions which may alter the prices of these commodities, the producer of fresh fruit may well be ruined. I particularly request the right hon. Gentleman to consider the Amendment carefully, because otherwise I believe the effect may be to kill the boards. If soft fruit growers realise that the Minister may give a temporary direction, they may be frightened off altogether; they may not vote for the board in the first place or, if they do, they may then refuse to continue growing their crops. The exact opposite of what the Minister desires will be the result. Unless the right hon. Gentleman accepts the Amendment, he may well prevent the birth or subsequent progress of these boards. Further, the Amendment will protect the Minister. All Ministers are human, and the right hon. Gentleman may make a mistake. The committee of investigation may well find that his decision was wrong, but by then the damage will have been done. The Minister may feel very small about it, and might even have to resign his office.

On the other hand, I can see that the Minister wants to protect the public from being exploited by a board laying down an extravagant price for a particular commodity. I believe that could be overcome, however, by the right hon. Gentleman saying that prices must be fixed early, say, in February. If they are not to his exact taste, then he can give his direction, and the matter can go before the committee of investigation, to be settled before the fruit is picked. As the right hon. Gentleman will not take the Clause out of the Bill altogether, I appeal to him to limit it to scheduled commodities. This would safeguard consumers and help producers as well.

I wish to support the Amendment. As the Clause is drafted, it affects only market gardeners and certain other specialised growers. The House may not be aware that market gardeners have three enemies today. First, there is the weather; second, there is the Minister of Food, who is deliberately going out of his way to smash them; third, and to add to these two formidable enemies, we now see the Minister of Agriculture, of all people, coming in to make their lives more difficult and their future less certain. That is a heavy blow. We expected the Minister of Agriculture at least to stand forth as a champion for the market gardeners. We know that he is not quite so powerful as his colleague the Minister of Food, but if the Clause were devoted entirely to scheduled commodities, then his hands would be clean so far as market gardeners are concerned.

6.0 p.m.

Does anybody in this House really believe that it would now be possible, after the machinations of the Ministry of Food, for a board covering the onion industry ever to be set up? Of course it would not. That is impossible today. There will be no market in this country in the future for home-grown onions, so there cannot be a marketing board. [Interruption.] If hon. Members opposite will look into the facts, they will find that the market belongs to the foreigners, and not to the British growers. If this power in Clause 4 is used, it is quite obvious that the board against whom it is used will be voted out of power and out of existence by the producers at the next annual meeting—and that will be the end of that board. I cannot believe that the Minister of Agriculture could ever use these powers, and if he cannot use them, why is he demanding them? Is it for political purposes, in order to quieten criticism from his own back benchers, or does he believe that it will be necessary on occasions to use them?

The hon. Member says "Yes," but I will leave it to the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary to say so. What is perhaps more difficult is what happens if and when the Minister does slip up and make a mistake in this matter? If he issues an order, the effect of which is to prevent producers from selling their crops at a proper price, and subsequently he is found to have made an error of judgment, the only persons who can suffer are the producers. The Minister cannot suffer, the taxpayers cannot suffer; the only persons who will have to bear the whole burden of the Minister's mistake are the growers. That is not justice, whatever else it is. For all these reasons, I ask the House to support this Amendment. This is an unjust and unreasonable power to give to any Government.

It might be convenient if at this stage I were to say a word about the Amendment. There is some reason for suggesting that to some extent hon. Members are still missing the significance of lines 30 to 32 on page 5. In Committee I made an attempt, in which I was learnedly led by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), to get the full significance of these lines fully implanted in the minds of hon. Members opposite.

The hon. Member invites me to have another try, which I will do, but only to the point of reminding the House that under this Clause the Minister has no power to direct a board to make a change. He cannot use the procedure of a temporary order under Clause 4 to direct a board to reduce the price of a product. The purpose of this provision is to meet the position if the Minister

"considers it necessary to take immediate action for the purpose of preventing injury to the public interest from any change made or intended to be made by the board in their course of action."

Could the Parliamentary Secretary make it quite clear whether the fixing of the season's prices at the beginning is a change within the meaning of this Bill, or not?

Certainly. If it were proposed to increase the price over that which hitherto prevailed, that would, in fact, be a change. If it were intended to say "We will now levy a price which is fourpence more than the price which has prevailed up to now," that would seem to us to be a change which the Minister would have to consider to see whether it infringed the provisions of the Clause and was against the public interest.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman says that I have given it away, but the point is that what we have tried to get firmly established all along is that when a price is increased a change is involved. I want the Opposition to see what the effect would be if we were to accept their advice and limit this Clause to scheduled commodities. The mere fact is that if we took horticultural products out of the Clause 4 procedure it could not absolve any Minister of Agriculture, no matter from which side of the House he was drawn, from considering matters of public interest. He would still have to see to it that the board did not do something which was damaging to the general public interest. If, for instance, the board increased the price at the beginning of a season, limited the class of producers from whom a product would be bought or limited the amount of produce that could be sold other than by a certain process, the Minister would have to decide whether it was against the public interest. If he thought so and if he could not use the Clause 4 procedure because.we had limited it to scheduled commodities, he would have to take the line of revoking the board's scheme because, in fact, there would be no other provisions.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Minister could not himself reduce the price. Suppose he objected to the price arranged at the beginning of the season and the board put it down, could the Minister not further push it down?

I think not. The position is that we would have to feel that the change made was against the public interest, and that there was some damage to the public interest arising from the change. One hon. Gentleman opposite has told us that if Clause 4 did not apply to horticultural products, the Minister could use Clause 2. The position remains that he could not issue an order under Clause 2 to hold the position while the matter was being investigated. The whole point of Clause 4 is to prevent a continuing public mischief during the time a committee of investigation is inquiring into the whole thing. The hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) said that this power might actually kill the board. It is more likely that if we did not have this power, we might kill the board, when it was a responsible board which, over a long period of time, had built up public confidence, because, without this power, to kill it would be the only way of preventing a gross act of public mischief taking place.

I now come to the terms of the Amendment, which seeks to omit horticulture from this particular Clause, and I want to make one or two points on it. The first thing is that the Minister's powers to give temporary directions is subject to three major limitations. He must satisfy himself in accordance with Clause 2 (2), he must take immediate action to prevent injury to the public interest, and he, may only direct the board not to make a change, because he cannot direct it to do something new. The board could avoid the need for a temporary direction by giving the Minister adequate notice of any intention to make a change.

The hon. Member for Tonbridge dealt with the question of price. We rather tend to concentrate on it, but that is not the only issue that might be damaging to the public interest. The hon. Member said that the Minister would be meeting this point if he said that the board must fix the price by a certain time. The hon. Gentleman and I had some little correspondence about this matter. For practical reasons the Government found it impossible to say in a Bill that that must be done. The fact remains that it must always lie with the board to say whether Clause 2 procedure only shall operate, if the board will fix its prices or make its changes sufficiently far ahead to give time for Clause 2 procedure to operate, before the actual operation takes place.

We are invited to exclude horticultural products alone, as non-scheduled products. The position must be faced quite clearly. If it is reasonable, as we think it is and as I believe the House as a whole thinks it is, for the Minister to have reserve powers of this kind in order to avoid damage to the public interest, there is no reason to say that such powers are less likely to be needed for horticultural products than for other products. There is as much—there may not be very much—likelihood of damage being done to the public interest because a change is made in that direction, and we cannot hold the position for horticultural products as for any other products. If the Minister had no power to make a temporary direction there might be an unscrupulous board or reckless, to use a kinder term—

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks that the Co-operative member would be a "non-reckless" member of the board, we may take it that that member would be the only one. So far as perishable crops are concerned, the kind of board of which I am thinking might very well exploit the public, knowing full well that the whole crop would be sold before the committee of investigation reported. I have several times said that it would be rather foolish for us to talk as though the producer part of the population were greater than the whole. We want producers to have full opportunity for organisation and development in order to uphold their own position, but there must be in any scheme of this kind adequate power in the hands of the Minister to protect the public interest and to see to it that grave damage is not done while the committee of investigation is looking into a matter.

As we see it, there is no more to this point than that the Minister will not operate this Clause, and cannot operate it, to secure or to bring about a change in a board's practice. He can operate it only to prevent the practice from being changed at such short notice that that change does public damage. It will almost always be for the board itself to decide: "We will suspend the change until the committee of investigation has inquired into it," in which case there is no need for a temporary order; or to make the change sufficiently far ahead so that the Clause 2 procedure can always operate. After that explanation, I hope that hon. Members will see their way to withdraw the Amendment.

6.15 p.m.

I intervene to ask one or two questions and for the sake of putting forward an example. Suppose a situation arises in which, owing to marketing circumstances, such as the weather or factors relating to the flow of horticultural products from a European country, or for one reason or another, there is a sudden and considerable scarcity of a particular commodity. A few days later it becomes apparent that we are to have a moderate supply of this horticultural product arising here in Britain from British growers. That is exactly the situation in which a British grower can gain an enormous advantage. There is a little scarcity, and the British grower has the goods to sell, yet not too much of them. That is exactly the situation in which the grower in a free market can expect to get a pleasant increase in price which will reward him for the losses he has made on other products and which would balance his economy for him. Perhaps it would give him a reasonable return, and it may be a modest percentage of profit on his year's activity as a whole.

It is only by taking the swings and the roundabouts together that farmers can live, in any event. It is not as though all their activities were so abundantly profitable that they must never be allowed to make a shilling on anything with a bit of good luck. [Laughter.] If any hon. Gentleman opposite has been a farmer or a horticultural grower he knows that it is the slice of luck that comes along now and then, on the carnations or on the onions or whatever it may be, that keeps him from going "down the drain."

What is the purpose of these powers? Are they primarily to protect the consumer from being exploited, as was constantly said to be the case from the other side? Are they for the purpose of trying to get a fair deal for the farmer and the grower? Or are the Government just going to escape from that dilemma by saying, "Of course, they are for both"? If we are not to allow a board to adjust prices at short notice in order—I say this advisedly—to take advantage of a sudden shortage that appears and in order to enable the horticultural grower to get a better price and to get it from the consumer, and moreover to get it before the foreigner comes in, I cannot see the use of the board to the horticulturist, and I would try to scrap the boards. I want the Minister to explain whether the boards are for the purpose of preventing a producer taking advantage of a given market situation to make a reasonable profit on one commodity, and whether the Government are so afraid of anybody making a profit on anything that they are deliberately making sure that that cannot happen?

I should like to add a word on this matter from the Scottish point of view, because this is a very important part of the Bill. I was astonished in the Committee proceedings to hear it suggested that this part of the Bill would not affect the producers. From the point of view of Scotland this is the one Clause to which our producers take exception. I shall not go through all the arguments, many of which have already been repeated here, but I would say that we are forgetting that the Minister may be wrong.

He may take a decision and serve a temporary direction upon a board, and it may be wrong, and there will be no redress for the producers. The Parliamentary Secretary made out a case about consumer interest and prices. We are very concerned about prices. If prices had been taken properly into account we should not be in the meat muddle that we are in today. It is because we have not looked far enough ahead in that sphere that we find ourselves in the present position.

I agree straight away on the first count, which is that if the right hon. Gentleman is responsible in regard to prices under the Schedule of the Act of 1947, by all means let him take those powers into the Bill, because he has that responsibility. I cannot think how it can be maintained that where the Government run away from the responsibility in regard to prices they should still be able to impose upon a board other prices, against the calculations of a board who were elected because they are experts in their own sphere. I cannot imagine any producers' marketing board of the type pictured by the Parliamentary Secretary. He threw up a picture of an organisation of people who were expert in their own particular line, and he led us to believe that they might do some wild thing that would cause the Minister to step in. If we are going to get that, heaven help us, but from my knowledge of these boards we can be safe in assuming that we shall have on them people who know their job.

I am concerned here with the loss which will fall upon the producer because of a decision taken by the Minister which is found by a committee of investigation to be wrong. Unless we can be given some assurance that in such an event compensation will be payable to the producer in respect of such loss, we are bound to vote for the Amendment. We are not voting against the other Clause for the simple reason that the Minister has taken the responsibility of guaranteeing the price to the consumer. However, I do not see how the Minister can make out a case for serving a direction which may cause serious loss to the producer when in the end it may be found that the Minister was wrong in taking such a decision.

The hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I Fraser) exposed the Opposition's case, rather unfortunately for them. The important point which he stressed was that in the event of a shortage of a commodity some body should have the sole right to send the prices rocketing at the expense of the consumer. All hon. Members, and particularly hon. Members on this side of the House, wish to be fair to both producers and consumers. I believe that the object of the Clause to be as stated in the following passage:

"Where…the Minister, if he considers it necessary to take immediate action for the purpose of preventing injury to the public interest."
What is wrong with giving the Minister power to do this if after due consideration he is convinced that injury is being done to the general public by a decision of a board?

If it is a case of a willing buyer paying a price for the commodity he wants, where is the injury?

If the hon. Member is referring to a national interest, I am not concerned about willing buyers, but I am concerned about fair play to the consumer, and the willing buyer who buys at a high price has to pass that price on to the consumer, which may create great injustice. What is the idea behind the proposed rejection of this Clause? It can only be that in the event of an injustice being done by a board to any section of the public, the board shall be allowed to get away with it. I believe that any Minister will only use this Clause in an emergency, when he believes that an injustice is being done. Because of that, I ask the Minister to reject the Amendment. The general public have a right to be protected like anybody else. All sections of the general public will regard these provisions in a common-sense manner because they ensure that justice will be done to both the consumer and the producer.

I want to refute the statement of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Tolley) that the idea behind the Amendment is that we want to exploit the public. That is not at all what we want to do. All the boards which have been formed have protected the consumers on all occasions. The only times when prices rocket sky high is when the consumers send them sky high; it is not the producer who sends them sky high. If there is a "short" season, the consumers send prices sky high. We are satisfied that with a marketing board, prices should not go rocketing sky high. At the same time, we want to see that when prices get "on the floor" the producer and his workers shall have a right to live. That is all we want. As to prices going sky high, as a producer I have no interest in selling a few hundredweights of a commodity when I have a very short supply. No matter what the price is, the return will not be worth while. What I am interested in is a reasonable price when the crop is worth while, and that is where the marketing board can see that the producer and the consumer get fair play.

I am obliged to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary because on three occasions now he has tried to clear my simple mind about the operation of Clause 4. I hope that the Minister will agree with me on this point. When I talk about the operation of an Act I like to apply it to a commodity with which the Act deals. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that price was not the only thing which could be dealt with under Clause 4. I quite agree that it is not, but it is the important thing which has to be dealt with under Clause 4, important to both consumer and producer. The producers would have no quarrel with the Minister if at a time of short supply he directed that a commodity was to be sold on the consumers' market rather than to be sold for processing. There would not be any quarrel if the Minister directed that a commodity should be sent to a part of the country which was short of that commodity. Therefore, there is nothing which is likely to cause a quarrel, except price.

It has been reiterated that under Clause 4 the Minister has no right to alter a price unless it is a price which is going to be changed. I want the Minister to take this illustration. We will assume that a marketing board for soft fruits has been in existence for two years. We will take one commodity, plums. In the season of 1947, owing to a very short crop the price of plums was fixed at, say, 6d. a pound. No change had been made. At the start of the 1948 season the prospects are that there will be a good crop of plums. The marketing board make no alteration in the price. Does the Minister suggest that he has no power to say to that board, "Look here, 6d. a pound was all right on a short crop but you must put the price down to something less than 6d. now that you have a big crop"?

The hon. Gentleman has had his attention drawn to lines 30 to 34 of page 5 of the Bill on two or three occasions. If he will be good enough to look at those lines again, he will see that it is transparently clear that the Minister has no power to make a direction to any board unless a change is being made. He has no power to direct the board what to do; he can only tell the board what not to do.

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman; that clears the air. I want to ask the consumers on the other side of the House, who have made a big fuss about the producers exploiting the consumers, what they have to say about that. That is a case where, if the board is not prepared to lower the price when a crop is abundant, it should be compelled to do so in the interests of the consumers. The Minister says he has no power to do it. Then he should take power to do it.

30 p.m.

May I point out that the consumers have the power in their own hands to prevent that? They need not buy. [HON. MEMBERS: "They always have had it."] Yes, but particularly when plums are plentiful, if any board tried to charge 6d. a lb. for them they would soon find in the normal way that the consumer would not buy them.

Then we are coming to the law of supply and demand. Is that what the House wants to operate? Because that is what hon. Members opposite have been trying to stop throughout the whole of their tenure of office. We want this quite clear. As a producer, I do not want to exploit the consumer, but I do not want the consumer to exploit me and my men—because our workers are in this as well as ourselves—and if the Minister has not the power under Clause 4 to put down the price when there is a big crop, and the board refuses to do so, then power should be given to the Minister. I am prepared to argue that later when we discuss the question of consumers' councils.

I am obliged to the Minister for having made that clear, and I hope consumers on that side of the House, who are always quite prepared to make a fuss when the price of anything goes sky-high and are never prepared to say anything when it comes down, will remember that.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Tolley) made a defence of this Clause. The fairest way to answer him is to quote the speech made by his own colleague, the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) who, curiously enough, is not here tonight—

The hon. Member had better hear first and then he can answer. The hon. Member for South West Norfolk said:

"What is the real effect which this Clause will have on the harmonious working of a board? Will people serve on a board if they are not entirely trusted to do the work?…I see the danger in the Minister taking these particular powers…It seems to me that once the boards start to work…a Clause of this description will become a dead letter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 10th February, 1949, c. 71.
] That really is the case against this Clause. It is condemned by every body of producers in the country, and I believe that if the consumers see what is in the Clause they will regard it as an insufficient and unfair way of dealing with their problems. If a board is out to exploit the public, then the best thing the Minister can do is to sweep that board away, because the intention of having the board is not to do that. The board should be the link drawing the producers and the consumers closer together. When the Joint Parliamentary Secretary says, "After all, Clause 4 is a great concession for it will stop the board being wiped out by an angry Minister," surely he is forgetting the purpose of this Agricultural Marketing Act? An exploiting board should be swept away, but not hamstrung, so that it has no value.

If a price is fixed that, in the Minister's view, is unreasonable, there is already the procedure under Clause 2, where the committee of investigation will examine that price. The Minister told us at an earlier stage that a matter of price could be dealt with quickly by the committee of investigation in certain cases. This Clause gives him power to prejudge an issue while a committee of investigation are considering the problem, and that is something quite foreign to the system of monopolies and restrictive practices legislation that we have passed in this House. No other commodity is subject to this power of the Minister to prejudge the issue. In the whole gamut of commodities dealt with by the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Act, there is no case that, while a committee of investigation is examining whether something is right or wrong, a Minister can prejudge the issue. That is quite foreign to our system of Parliamentary government and administration.

Now it has come to the defence made by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who said, "It is not quite so bad as the Opposition are painting the picture. If there is no change in price, then we are not able to interfere." He tried, I thought rather unsuccessfully, to argue that he was only interested if the change in price was upwards. Quite clearly the wording of this Clause would also include a downward change in price. Therefore in a season of glut following a season of scarcity, the board will only be immune from interference by the Minister if they fail to reduce the price; if they keep to the same price as last season. which was a season of scarcity, then the Minister cannot make this temporary stop order. Surely that makes absolute nonsense of this procedure. Knowing the ability of the Parliamentary Secretary, I feel sure he would not mislead the House in this, either intentionally or unintentionally, and if that is so then surely the Minister will take this Clause back and redraft it.

I am a producer of guaranteed price commodities. This Clause is unfair to the producers of non-guaranteed price commodities. The large fanner today who is getting his guaranteed price is in a far better position than the smallholders who are producing the unguaranteed price commodities. The vegetable grower, the fruit grower, these men who have no protection, and unfortunately at present are subjected to unreasonable imports put in by the Minister of Food, have not sufficient security. It is that type of case which the Government are hitting under Clause 4. It is the commodities of the small men, who have high costs in labour, material and the price of land, who are being hit especially by Clause 4. I ask hon. Members not to jeer at these men. Hon. Members on the other side have jeered—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—Oh, yes. Mr. Speaker, if you had been here at the time, you would have heard the defence put up by the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). It aroused the jeers and sneers of hon. Gentlemen opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I believe that the men in the horticultural industry need proper protection, and so I hope that the House will accept the Amendment.

I want to remove the belief of hon. Members opposite that it must be wrong to raise the price in a period of shortage. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Tolley) appears to think that the sole object of an increase in price during a period of shortage is to make a profit. Of course whoever raises the price in a period of shortage does so simply because there will be less income because there is less to sell although the costs of planting, of applying artificial manures, and all the labour required to produce a crop is probably precisely the same as it would be in a time of glut.

Since the hon. and gallant Gentleman uses that argument, he will concede the right of the board to reduce the price when there comes a glut. Would he concede that?

We have never argued against the right. Naturally, what all growers require is a fair return on their outlay. If they have an abundant crop, they accept a lower price; if they have a short crop, then they must have a higher price to cover their expenditure.

I emphasise the point made by my hon. Friends the Members for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) that the Clause as it stands is quite ridiculous, because if no change is made in the price the Minister can do nothing about it. If, however, there is a slight change, even downwards, he may think it should go further down still, and can then interfere. As the Bill stands no one can expect a marketing board to have any confidence at all if it is perpetually overshadowed by the Minister, who has the right of veto to destroy any action it may take, whether it is an alteration of price up or down, an alteration for varieties of qualities, or any other alteration it may make. The Minister can give the boards confidence by having confidence in them himself and showing it by removing the Clause from the Bill.

As a grower myself, I should like to add one or two remarks to what has been said by my hon. Friends. I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary's reply was completely unimaginative, unrealistic and unsatisfactory. I do not think he appreciates even the beginning of the difficulties from which we suffer. Certainly in the instances which he quoted he was utterly unrealistic. He referred to the possibility that a small crop might rocket to a high price and require the immediate intervention of the Minister; but if that sort of thing occurs—in the instance he gave the crop lasts only a few days—the Minister will not be able to intervene in time to make any appreciable difference. In any case the crop, because of its smallness, will affect such a very small number of people that it will not be worth legislative action by the Minister to try to counteract the high price and prevent any exploitation of the public or the consumer, the avoidance of which, apparently, is the purpose of the Clause.

Then there was the possibility that the crop would be sold within a few days. If it is a small crop, produced at the same expense as is necessary to produce a big crop, it is perfectly right and fair, as has been said already on this side, that the grower should have the benefit of the higher price. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary realised that during most of the past winter, owing to climatic and other conditions, growers have been harvesting their crops at prices which have paid only for the actual harvesting operations. It is quite impossible for growers to continue on that basis.

The number of non-scheduled commodities is of such a wide variety that it is essential for growers to have a considerable elasticity of price and to be able to make up on the swings what they lose on the roundabouts. During the winter months they have, in fact, been losing on the roundabouts. If it is endeavoured, on the specious excuse of protecting the consumer from exploitation, to limit the possibilities of profits on the summer swings, the Government are simply going to put growers right out of business. It is essential that the Government should realise this.

So far as the protection of the grower is concerned, the Government must realise that it is not only the Minister whose voice is likely to be heard on this matter. The hon. Gentleman referred, I thought a little unfortunately from his point of view, to the question of onions.

6.45 p.m.

I apologise, but onions certainly have been referred to. If the Parliamentary Secretary did not mention them it was a very tactful reticence on his part which omitted the reference to them. Onions are a very good illustration of the point I desire to make: the question of what is the public, or the consumer's, interest. If, in fact, the growers have a substantial amount of any non-scheduled commodity to sell and the Government, through a Department other than the Ministry of Agriculture, have entered into a nefarious contract with a foreign country, as a result of which a bargain has been struck to enable that country to import that particular commodity into this country, it will probably be to the immediate benefit of the consumer, but it will equally be to the immediate detriment of the producer and, therefore, to the ultimate detriment of the consumer.

That is a point of view which the Government must take into account and appreciate. It will be quite impossible for the Minister to sum up in the course of a few days in order to arrive at an immediate decision whether or not to override the board's change of price. If he does so, and it is a short crop, the whole opportunity of disposing of that crop at a price which the board considers to be remunerative to the consumer will have gone, because the crop will have been disposed of before the committee of inquiry can report.

I most urgently ask the Government, therefore, to reconsider this matter on the lines of the Amendment. It does not affect what are called the scheduled commodities, which are of a more lasting character; but to try to deal with details of the non-scheduled commodities is trying to tie up an industry much too tightly. There must be more elasticity and more opportunity of more variation in the price mechanism than the Government seek to allow as the result of Clause 4. Finally, if the Minister retains the power to override the decisions of the board to stultify their activities, it will render it completely impossible for any consumers' board to have the confidence which it is essential for them to have in order to run the business which has been entrusted to them satisfactorily from both the consumer's and the producer's points of view.

We on these benches are prepared to bring our contribution to an end on the various Amendments which we are discussing together and take a decision only on the Amendment which was formally moved earlier in our proceedings. We shall await with very great interest what the right hon. Gentleman has to say in reply to this Debate, for he must know that quite apart from the unanimity of the speeches on this side there was also in the Committee stage a measure of feeling on his own benches that temporary orders might inflict very serious damage on the industry, and particularly on horticulture. I think the right hon. Gentleman knows also that every producers' organisation in the United Kingdom that has expressed any opinion on this matter has been unanimous in opposing Clause 4.

We shall be particularly interested to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say about some of the observations of the Parliamentary Secretary. I was somewhat surprised at the rather intemperate language used by the Parliamentary Secretary when commending Clause 4 to the House. He talked about the need for temporary orders, to prevent "a continuing public mischief by the board." Later on he talked about "gross acts of public mischief" that might be committed by the board. That might have been the Minister of Health speaking of the 10 million people who voted Conservative at the last election, and not His Majesty's Government speaking of a board that has this afternoon had the rather uncertain acquisition in strength and integrity of an addition from the Co-operative societies, who also, curiously enough, we are told, have 10 million supporters, many of whom, I am glad to think, are not the political supporters of hon. Gentlemen opposite. We shall be very interested to know from the Minister whether he really believes that phrases like that, and the atmosphere of suspicion that they suggest, are likely to start these marketing boards on harmonious lines, and whether it is conceivable that the best people will be ready to serve on boards where these childish restrictions are thought necessary in order to prevent them from committing gross acts of public mischief.

There were other things said by the Parliamentary Secretary on which we should also like some comment by the right hon. Gentleman. The Parliamentary Secretary, in dealing with horticultural and other products, said that it ought to be possible for the board in all cases to give 28 days' warning, so that the Minister could invariably act under Clause 2. Surely the Minister realises that a great many instances arise, particularly of perishable goods such as those of horticulture, where immediate action may be necessary by the board to prevent disaster to the producers and where it is quite impossible to give the Minister the warning which, no doubt, they would like to give. Are they to be prevented from seeing the result of this immediate action by an emergency order suddenly being imposed on them?

It is true, as the Minister said, that he cannot order a board to reduce prices, but it may be that a modest increase, or a substantial increase, is the only way in which producers can be protected and a board, on which the consumers' interests are well safeguarded, may come to the conclusion that a temporary increase in price is right. There may be a widespread howl from urban consumers, supported, if there is no election pending, by hon. Members opposite and there may be a temporary order, which would throw the whole mechanism into jeopardy.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, as was well pointed out by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett), one result of the Clause may be to prevent a board recommending any price reductions at all? The Minister has no power to insist on a price reduction if no change is made, but, if there is a change, however small, the Minister may intervene by temporary order and insist that the whole matter shall be subject to a committee of investigation. Most boards, rather than invoke Ministerial intervention, would make no reduction at all. Then, while there would be no immediate harm to the board, consumers would suffer by prices not being reduced and growers would suffer by the long-term prejudice in which they would be held by consumers who knew that the price could have been reduced.

For all these reasons we feel the right hon. Gentleman should look at the Clause again and use the facilities of another place. One very interesting fact emerged when my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) was speaking of some producers being in a lucky position, having a small amount of some commodity in short supply and getting a better price because it was in short supply and people very much wanted it. There were sniggers from the other side of the House—

Yes, scarcity. It was suggested that if there was a rise because of scarcity that would be immoral. It may be, as one of my hon. Friends said, that the reason the price had to rise was because the crop was low but overheads remained the same as if it had been a large crop. Leaving that consideration out altogether, why is a rise in the price of horticultural products immoral while prices can rise in coal, gas, or commodities of other nationalised industries? What is wrong, within modest and well-controlled limits, with a horticulturist, in time of scarcity, getting a little more for his products? When labour is scarce, do not trade unionists try to get higher prices for their labour? Are modest returns for horticulturists very immoral? We are in danger of losing both our perspective and our sense of fairness. [Interruption.] I am quite content to leave the impression of the words I have used to those sound rural constituencies which will, at no long distant date, return unanimously to their old party allegiance.

It was 1,800, but the Government are notorious for not being able to count. Our main objection to Clause 4 is that it applies to nonscheduled commodities and we believe this an absolutely irremovable blot. It should be limited to those commodities where the price and crop are guaranteed. We feel the Clause will call a halt to schemes of orderly marketing which both sides of the House want to see mature. With the new trade agreements and this power of the Minister to make economic solutions of their difficulties impossible, the Clause may well prevent us having those marketing schemes for horticulture which we all want to see. We have another Amendment on the Order Paper which, I gather, is not being called, but to which I wish to refer. That is in line 24 to leave out from "Act," to the end of line 29. We believe we are drifting into a situation in which a consumers' committee may make a complaint and, almost automatically, the Minister would issue a temporary order. As I have tried to show, temporary orders have possibly very harmful results and their use should be rigorously circumscribed. One should not follow automatically on the complaint of a consumers' committee, which complaint may have been started for reasons quite different from those which appear on the face of the complaint itself.

Another Amendment deals with the intended actions of the board. It seems wholly unjustifiable that the Minister should use this temporary procedure to deal with an intended action. When a board announces its intentions he should take action under Clause 2 where he has full powers to carry out the purpose he has in mind. Our last Amendment to the Clause is, in line 33, to leave out from "which," to the end of line 34 and to insert:
"would discourage or decrease the productivity of agriculture or would increase imports."
In our view it is probably just that the Minister should have this right if in fact some action of the board has decreased agricultural production, or made further imports inevitable. We recognise that that would be harmful to the public interest as a whole. So far these things have happened more through the actions of Governments than the actions of boards, but we recognise that there is a case here. We dislike Clause 4 for all these reasons but, if the right hon. Gentleman would accept our last Amendment, we would take a slightly more favourable view of his intentions.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) referred to exaggerated language. There has been some extravagant language during the Debates on Clause 4. Anything my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said must have been correct and I must have agreed with it, because we co-operated quite closely before he made his speech and we understood each other. I am sure he would not say anything with which I did not agree I ought to say in reference to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) that the "sneers and jeers" references were not really accurate and, although they may read well in a rural weekly paper they are not really the true version of the House this afternoon.

Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that when my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) made his speech hon. Members sitting behind the Minister were jeering and sniggering?

I would not agree that hon. Members in any part of the House were sneering and I am sure no hon. Member in any part of the House would sneer at the hon. Member for Lonsdale, whatever the subject of his speech may be.

I am sure no one in any part of the House was suggesting that there was anything personal in the sneering and jeering, but they were sneering at a little man making a profit.

7.0 p.m.

I do not wish to follow the hon. Member on the point he has made, but I am satisfied that there was no sneering either at the little man, the big man, the intermediate man or indeed anyone else.

Having referred to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, I should perhaps deal with the point he made before I proceed with the general case. The hon. Member quoted my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye). He carefully chose words from my hon. Friend's speech. I will quote from the same speech. My hon. Friend said:
"I cannot help thinking that hon. Members opposite have just about talked their case to death. I agree that there were some doubts in the minds of producers on the need for this particular Clause but, bearing in mind the fact the purpose of any marketing board is to serve the interests of producers and consumers by giving better service to consumers, better supplies, qualities and grading, I think that the consumers require to know that the Minister has power to protect the general interests of the country as a whole."
That was the feeling of my hon. Friend when he intervened.

Will the Minister go on and read what the hon. Member said as recorded in column 71?

If the hon. Member wishes me to do so, I will. My hon. Friend continued:

"The marketing boards should not be used greatly to enrich producers beyond what is reasonable, and I think consumers as a whole want that assurance in giving these powers for producers to be organised under marketing boards."
That was the substance of my bon. Friend's speech.

I asked the Minister to quote what the hon. Member said, as printed at the top of column 71, where he made an entirely different speech.

The hon. Member was quite entitled to quote the latter part of my hon. Friend's speech. I am equally entitled to quote from my hon. Friend's speech, as recorded at the bottom of column 70:

"I think that the explanation given by my right hon. Friend in the early part of his speech meets that particular case, in view of the fact that it is only when a board is wanting to raise its price that he can take action."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D. 10th February, 1949; c. 70.]
What are the facts, as briefly as I can state them? The producers are given certain statutory powers which ought to be to their advantage, powers which would restrain any blackleg from knocking the bottom out of prices when there happened to be a glut season or any other kind of season. I submit that those powers could not be given without some safeguards for the general public. If a board acts contrary to the public interest the Minister can, and this is important, at present revoke a scheme operated under the First Schedule (6) of the Act of 1931. It is not merely the case that he can give a direction to stop the board for a few days; he can completely revoke the scheme. That is a very drastic power, as undiscriminating as it would be irrevocable. The board might have been in existence for years, have done much constructive work, won the confidence of producers and acquired large assets. Yet, without Clause 4, if the Minister considered they were making a mistake, he could revoke the order completely, and the whole scheme would crash.

I said in the Standing Committee that Clause 4 was as much in the interest of the producers as in the interest of the consumers. Hon. Members did not like my observations since they did not understand it. It is perfectly true. I am convinced that any marketing, board who have a scheme going and going well, would much prefer Clause 4 to operate than leave themselves in the hands of the Minister, who might completely revoke their scheme and put them almost completely out of business overnight. Yet that is the only power which the Minister has at the moment if he thinks that action is necessary. That power has never been used and is not likely to be used. It is, however, essential that the power should be there. What is more, no one has, since 1933, suggested that this power was either arbitrary or undemocratic.

Clauses 2 and 4 have a more general purpose, and if occasion should arise it is clearly in the interests of producers that we should use those powers rather than the drastic power to which I have just referred. These clauses limit the Minister's action to certain particular issues which form part of Clause 2 (2). On this the Minister would be advised by an independent body, whose findings would be published. I agree with the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) that if the time factor permitted Clause 2 procedure would be the ideal. But Clause 4 is necessary if short-term emergency action has to be taken. There is the case of perishable produce, such as soft fruit, vegetables, etc., the marketing season of which is comparatively short, extending over only a few weeks. If ill-considered or hasty action was taken which would prejudicially affect the marketing of any particular crop, the whole season's crop could be sold in a few weeks' time, and if there was any damage the maximum damage would be done.

The Minister can intervene if it appears to him that proposed action by a marketing board could, according to Clause 2 (2) restrict the purposes for which the product could be used, could limit the quantity to be sold and could regulate the price and could limit the classes of persons
"to whom or through the agency of whom…"
it could be sold. Those are wide extensive powers, any of which could have harmful results on traders, consumers and indeed the public generally. Therefore the Minister has power to give a direction to prevent or—I ask hon. Members please to note—to postpone that particular contemplated change. The matter can be submitted to a committee of investigation. Only on the guidance received from that committee the Minister would act. Without this "stop action" the season would be over and the maximum damage would be done.

If on the other hand the committee of investigation found that the Minister was wrong the maximum injury that could be inflicted would be that that particular change would only be deferred for one year. It may be that if one looks at a particular commodity one year seems a long time. The point I wish to make is that the Minister has no power to give a direction telling a board to do anything. It is only when the board have made a change or contemplate making a change that the Minister has any power whatever. I cannot help but feel that hon. Members opposite have failed to appreciate the full significance of lines 30 to 34, which have been quoted so often.

It should be noted that orders under Clause 4 are subject to a negative resolution. If the board, following upon the Minister's direction desire to do so, they could arrange for the matter to be prayed against in this House, and the Minister would have to justify his action. Knowing the fervency with which hon. Members opposite like to pray, I can assure them that I should be careful before I allowed them to indulge in one more Prayer against me.

I said that if the time factor permitted, Clause 2 procedure is definitely the ideal. I suggest that it rests with a marketing board to decide whether the time factor will permit or not by giving ample notice of any intended change, so that Clause 2 procedure could operate. If a board desired to make far-reaching changes, say the following summer, and assuming the board had been in existence for a year or two, they could give notice during the winter of their contemplated change. If there were any objections by traders or any other section of the community the Minister could consider them. They might or might not be frivolous. If they were regarded as substantial then the Minister could have them considered by a committee of investigation. A decision could be taken long before the actual harvesting. Absolutely no damage would accrue to the producers.

I recognise, as the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford suggested upstairs, that in the case of perishable vegetables, soft fruits and so forth, with the best will in the world one could not always avoid some little damage. But when the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) refers to plums, he fails to appreciate that Parliament is giving to producers the right to organise the marketing of any one of their products. That marketing board will have to do with something more than merely the fixing of prices. If they are well in their saddle they will know that occasionally, thanks to weather conditions, there may be a shortage or a glut. They will do more than is done at the moment in a year of shortage or glut. They will organise a collection from the orchards, farms and so forth. Presumably they will have collecting centres for grading, packing and preparation for market. They will know exactly how, consistent with the public interest, to release supplies to all markets so that everybody will get a reasonable share and the producer will not have to lose his price. We are giving that power which is very substantial and which I hope producers will use.

An hon. Member said that it might take months for a committee of investigation to look into a case, whereas the season is only of a few weeks duration. I would point out that there was one occasion when the committee of investigation were called in to examine a complaint and they only took 1½hours to deal with it. It may well be that that could happen again and there would be no damage at all. The point I wish to emphasise is that I recognise that there is a difference between the procedure under Clause 2 and that under Clause 4. But if a marketing board, once they were well in the saddle, gave ample notice of any desired change, then the Minister in his wisdom, if any, would decide whether or not the change was desirable. Clause 2 procedure would be used for the purpose long before the article was ready for market. Again, the Board could avoid the need for the use of Clause 4 procedure simply by agreeing to suspend action for the time being. Then Clause 4 would not commence to operate.

All sorts of funny things have been said about this Clause—fancies, dreams and imaginary possibilities and improbabilities. I hope that I have said sufficient to show that it is a necessary public safeguard. I hope, and I am sure that all hon. Members hope, that producers will use the statutory powers we are giving to them. Once a number of marketing schemes come into existence and their value is appreciated not only by the producer but by the consumer, I am convinced that on the odd occasion where there may be a momentary conflict we can do no better and no less than leave

Division No. 94.]


[7.16 p.m.

Amory, D. HeathcoatHannon, Sir P. (Moseley)Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.Harden, J. R. E.Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
Baldwin, A. E.Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Raikes, H. V.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.Ramsay, Maj. S.
Birch, NigelHenderson, John (Cathcart)Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)Hogg, Hon. Q.Ropner, Col. L.
Bossom, A. C.Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Bower, N.Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)Sanderson, Sir F.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Hurd, A.Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.Jeffreys, General Sir G.Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.
Butcher, H. W.Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.Smithers, Sir W.
Challen, CLancaster, Col. C. GSnadden, W M
Clarke, Col. R. S.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)Lennox-Boyd, A. T.Strauss, Henry (English Universities)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)Stuart, Rt. Hon J (Moray)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.Low, A. R. W.Studholme, H. G
Crowder, Capt. John E.Lucas, Major Sir J.Sutcliffe, H.
Darling, Sir W. Y.Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.Taylor, Vice-Adm E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)
De la Bere, R.McFarlane, C. S.Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Digby, Simon WingfieldMackeson, Brig. H. R.Touche, G C.
Dodds-Parker, A. D.McKie, J. H. (Galloway)Turton, R H.
Donner, P. W.Maclay, Hon. J. S.Wakefield, Sir W. W.
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Panrith)Manningham-Buller, R. EWalker-Smith, D.
Drewe, C.Marshall, D. (Bodmin)Ward, Hon. G. R
Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)Maude, J. C.White, J. B (Canterbury)
Duthie, W. S.Medlicott, Brigadier FWilliams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Eden, Rt. Hon. A.Mellor, Sir JYork, C.
Foster, J. G. (Northwich)Molson, A. H. E.Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)
Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.


Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)Odey, G. W.Commander Agnew and
Gates, Maj. E. E.O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.Major Conant.


Adams, Richard (Balham)Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)Jeger, G. (Winchester)
Alpass, J. H.Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Keenan, W.
Attewell, H. C.Deer. GKenyon, C.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.Celargy, H. J.Key, Rt Hon C. W.
Awbery, S SDiamond, J.Kinghorn, Sun.-Ldr. E
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.Dodds, N. N.Kinley, J.
Bacon, Miss A.Driberg, T. E. N.Lee, F. (Halme)
Balfour, A.Dumpleton, C. W.Leslie, J R.
Barstow, P. G.Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Longden, F
Barton, C.Evans, E. (Lowestoft)McAdam, W.
Battley, J. R.Farthing, W J.McAllister, G.
Bechervaise, A. E.Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)McLeavy, F.
Benson, G.Ganley, Mrs. C. S.MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Bottomley, A. G.Glanville, J E. (Consett)Macpherson, T. (Romford)
Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)Mainwaring, W. H
Braddock, Mrs E. M (L'Pl. Exch'ge)Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)Mann, Mrs. J.
Brook, D. (Halifax)Guest, Dr L. HadenManning, C. (Camberwell, N.)
Brooks, T. J (Rothwell)Guy, W. H.Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)
Brown, George (Belper)Haire, John E. (Wycombe)Messer, F.
Brown, T J. (Ince)Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Monslow, W.
Burden, T. W.Hardy, E A.Moody, A. S.
Castle, Mrs. B. A.Harrison, J.Morgan, Dr. H. B.
Chater, DHaworth, J.Naylor, T. E.
Cluse, W. SHerbison, Miss M.Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)
Cobb, F AHobson, C. R.Orbach, M.
Cocks, F S.Holman, P.Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)
Coldrick, W.Holmes, H. E (Hemsworth)Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Collick, PHoughton, A L. N DPalmer, A. M. F.
Cooper. G.Hudson, J H (Ealing, W.)Pargiter, G. A.
Cove, W. G.Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)Parker, J.
Crossman, R. H. SHynd, H. Hackney, C.)Paton, Mrs. F. (Ruchcliffe)
Daggar, G.Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)Paton, J. (Norwich)
Daines, P.Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)Pearson, A.
Davies, Edward (Burslem)Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Pearl, T. F.

the matter to the good sense of the members of the marketing board and of the Minister at that time.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 91; Noes, 157.

Popplewell, E.Shackleton, E. A. A.Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Porter, E. (Warrington)Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)Warbey, W. N.
Porter, G. (Leeds)Shurmer, P.Weitzman, D.
Pursey, Comdr. H.Silverman, J. (Erdignton)Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Ranger, J.Skinnard, F. W.Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Rees-Williams, D. R.Smith, C. (Colchester)West, D. G.
Reeves, J.Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)Wheatley, Rt. J. T. (Edinb'gh, E.)
Reid, T. (Swindon)Smith. S. H. (Hull, S. W.)White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Rhodes, H.Snow, J. W.Wigg, George
Ridealgh, Mrs. M.Steele, T.Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)Symonds, A. L.Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)Taylor, R. J. (morpeth)Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Robinson, K. (St. Pancras)Taylor, Dr, S. (Barnet)Wills, Mrs E. A.
Rogers, G. H. R.Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Ross, William (Kilmarnock)Thurtle, ErnestYates, V. F.
Royle, C.Tolley, L.
Sargood, R.Viant, S. P.


Mr. Collindridge and Mr. Wilkins.

I beg to move, in page 6, line 2, to leave out "six," and insert "four."

This Amendment is put forward to meet the point of view which was expressed rather strongly during the earlier stages of the Bill. I hope I may be able to explain the reasons for it because, on the face of it, it looks just like a compromise, but is in fact rather more than that. I also hope that I shall be able to avoid the temptation of using intemperate language. The purpose of the Amendment is to substitute a period of four months for one of six months as the maximum duration of a temporary order, which we have recently been discussing. The period of six months was originally proposed because it was felt that, normally, it would be sufficient to cover three things—the period of 28 days from the date on which the Minister has given the board notice of intended directions, the period of the committee of investigation invoked by the board, and also the period for the preparation of Clause 2 orders and the consultations that have to take place.

We were proposing to reduce that period to a shorter time, and it was suggested that two months might be sufficient. We have looked into the matter, and it seems to us that we can reduce the period to four months if we take account of the first and third of the three stages which I have just mentioned. We must have a temporary order that covers the 28 days' notice which the Minister must give, and it must also clearly cover the period during which the preparation of a Clause 2 order is taking place and of the consultations with the board. We think that that will provide for the position, since there is, in any case, a proviso that the order can be extended if the publication of the board's decision does not give us the necessary time to go on with the preparation of the order and for the necessary consultations. We hope, therefore, that we are able to meet the points of view which have been expressed to the extent of substituting four months for six.

The Government, when considering this point, instead of meeting us half-way, would have dealt with it much more satisfactorily if they had gone the whole way and come to our conclusion in favour of two months. When we put forward our arguments, we were mindful of the proviso, which in fact does extend the period, quite apart from the six months which was originally provided. It would appear that, even now, with the concession made by the Government in reducing the period from six months to four, in consequence of the proviso, the real result will be a period of seven months—four months plus three months—because the proviso really extends the time by another three months. I hope the House will agree that this does provide an ample time for the temporary order to be in operation. We are grateful to the Government for looking into the point, we are thankful for small mercies and we accept the period of four months which the Government now propose.

Amendment agreed to.