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New Clause—(Penalties)

Volume 463: debated on Monday 4 April 1949

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(1) Notwithstanding anything in the principal Act or in any other Act no board shall have power to impose any penalty.

(2) If any registered producer wilfully fails to comply with any provision of a marketing scheme under the principal Act or the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1933, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds, and in addition such amount as will, in the opinion of the court, secure that the offender derives no benefit from the offence.—[ Mr. Hopkin Morris.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move: "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The object of this new Clause can only be understood if one looks at Clause 5 of this Bill, which provides that if a producer commits any offence he may be summoned before a disciplinary board which can impose what penalty it thinks fit. There is no provision for the amount of penalty under this Bill, and the House hands over to a committee set up by itself, the power to impose a penalty without any control over it. This new Clause will provide instead, that wherever an offence has been committed by a producer, he shall be dealt with in the ordinary way by the procedure of the courts. In other words, the House will not hand that power over to anyone else at all, but will retain it in its own hand.

This disciplinary committee presumably will meet in London. The offence may be committed in the North of England or West Wales, but the offender will have to attend with his witnesses before the disciplinary committee here. It has always been one of the principles of our justice that a man shall be tried near his home and shall not be put to unnecessary cost, as would be the case if he had to come to London. The cost may become very substantial especially if he were acquitted. He is mulcted in this heavy undertaking of bringing most of the witnesses to London, but if the ordinary procedure were followed, he would be tried before the magistrate in proper form.

It might be argued by the Minister that Clause 5 is an improvement upon the principal Act because in the last resort, the aggrieved person can appeal to the courts. That is true, but the fact that it is an improvement upon the principal Act does not justify the principal Act. In my submission the principal Act was wrong, and this new Clause will provide for the reversal of the principle that was followed in that Act. I move this Amendment with even greater confidence, because the principle I am enunciating had a most distinguished champion in the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am putting the argument before the House in exactly the same circumstances and for exactly the same purpose as did the Chancellor in 1938. I hope that the influence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer may carry weight with the Minister of Agriculture, and that he will accept this new Clause, especially the principle which the present Chancellor championed so determinedly in 1938.

I beg to second the Motion.

An important point of principle is involved, first as to whether these boards should be given powers of imposing penalties and whether such powers ought not to be left in the hands of our courts; secondly, there is here a disciplinary committee which has power not only to impose penalties but to impose an additional penalty, as it were, composed of losses such as it may think fit to pronounce as having occurred. Nobody knows what the evidence will be or how it will be given, and the public will not know how the proceedings were conducted or how they terminated. For those reasons I very strongly support the proposal. It is a most serious thing that we should go in the direction of giving boards of all sorts vague powers of condemning their own fellow citizens on trials of the nature of which nobody can be sure.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture
(Mr. George Brown)

There could quite easily be some little misunderstanding about this situation. I will first make the point which the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) rather assumed I would make, namely, that this provision for the boards to discipline their own members has existed for 18 years. What we propose to do is to apply the recommendations of the appropriate committee which brought the matter under independent review. To that extent we are bringing the practice into line with modern thought. So far as I know there has been no great dissatisfaction with the the operation of what has been the law for 18 years. We are now trying to deal with it in accordance with the recommendations of the Falmouth Committee.

The hon. and learned Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) said that it was wrong to give the boards these powers. We are not giving the boards any powers. We are, in fact, limiting somewhat the powers which they have had. I am quite happy to defend this on the rights of the case, apart from little quibbles like that. After all, a marketing board is an exercise in self-discipline and self-government by a group of people having a common function to perform, that of producing and marketing their produce. The principle is one of industrial self-government. It seems to me if that is so—this is where the argument of those who propose the Clause falls down—that the offence is not an offence against society at large, punishable as a penal offence in a court of summary jurisdiction, but an offence against his own board by one of a body which has been given certain powers to govern itself. It is an offence against self-government by one of the group.

Because the whole scheme needs statutory authority. We say to these folk that if they will engage—we do not compel them—in this act of industrial self-government, we shall give them certain statutory powers so that the scheme shall not be sabotaged or torpedoed by an unco-operative minority. That is the reason for voluntary powers. The scheme does not operate unless in the first place there is a voluntary desire by an overwhelming majority of the people concerned to engage in it. It therefore seems to me right that any offence should be tried by the fellow producers who are the people against whom the offence is committed. That has been the view of everybody up to now. This is not peculiar to this board. It applies to analogous bodies such as trade and professional associations who may try members who depart from the accepted standards.

If we are to pursue the line that anyone who offends against the accepted canons of conduct of the scheme, must be taken into a court of summary jurisdiction and must go through the business of a public hearing of his case, then, if he is found guilty and has the fact published abroad that he has a penal conviction against him, a lot more harm may be done to him than if we leave things as they are. I appreciate what is behind the new Clause but I hope that after this explanation, the hon. and learned Member will not feel it necessary to press it.

3.45 p.m.

I am disappointed at the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary, although I rather expected it because it is the same speech that was made by the Conservative Minister of Agriculture when this was last debated in 1938. I have been reading that speech in HANSARD with some interest.

In those days the Labour Party seemed to be giving full support to this principle. I do not know where the Minister of Agriculture was when the Division took place, but the Home Secretary was in the Division Lobby in support of this Clause. I was not here then but Mr. Dingle Foot, who put this forward, had the very able support of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. Hon. Members opposite ought to take note of what he said. He said:

"It therefore seems to us to be essential, if justice is to be done, that these matters should be dealt with in the local courts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April, 1938; Vol. 334, c. 563.]
Surely it will not be suggested that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the sort of person who does not weigh his words very carefully. He made a long speech about this. He gave conclusive proof of how dangerous it was to give administrative bodies of this sort the right to fine people under their jurisdiction.

This matter cannot easily be brushed aside. It is a matter of principle. I do not think it can be suggested that offences created by statute are not offences against society. If this House makes laws and provides penalties and those laws are broken, the offences committed are offences against society. If it is not to be an offence against society, there should be no statutory authority for setting up a body to penalise people and to force them to pay fines. There is statutory authority here for the levying and recovery of fines. The fact that this has been going on for 18 years is no reason why we should not re-examine the principle. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right when he said in that speech that we cannot get essential justice if we allow these administrative bodies to usurp the powers of the court.

One of the great points made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he spoke in 1937 was that in these disciplinary bodies no provision is made for the body to keep to any rules of evidence. Clause 5 (3) says:
"Nothing in this section shall be construed as requiring or enabling a scheme to provide for the taking of evidence on oath at any hearing by the disciplinary committee of a board."
That was the very point made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other hon. Members, including Lady Astor. They pointed out that the absence of rules of evidence was a very unfair thing for the accused person. I say nothing against the Milk Marketing Board and other boards, but it has been the experience of persons who have appeared before such bodies that statements have been admitted which would never have been accepted in a court of summary jurisdiction. There is hearsay evidence, there are statements extracted by inspectors of the board which, if they had been extracted by police inspectors, would never have been allowed in a court of summary jurisdiction.

I believe that if this goes through without a serious reconsideration of the basic principle, the Minister—unwittingly perhaps, because I do not think enough consideration has been given to it—will place a serious burden particularly upon the small producers. That point was made in 1937, and it ought to be made again today. I believe that the costs of this tribunal will be higher because it will be impossible to have the tribunal at any spot which will be convenient for the number of people who have to appear before it. The Minister may say, "For Devon and Cornwall we shall have the disciplinary committee sitting at Exeter." That may be so, but it is very inconvenient for the people in North Cornwall, in St. Ives and other places. If, when they get there they discover they want to call a witness, they will then have to go to the added expense of asking for an adjournment in order to call the cowman or foreman from their farm and bring him there.

The whole basis of British justice has been to bring justice to the people. That was why judges were sent out on assize. That is why in recent divorce arrangements we have had Commissioners going round the country. I believe we are abrogating an important principle of British justice. I shall not press this Clause if the Minister will give me an assurance that he will give serious reconsideration to the principle. I know him to be a fair-minded person and he has other stages of this Bill where it can be included. I believe we are going along the wrong road and that we have been going along it for 18 years. Therefore I ask the Minister to reconsider this and say he will accept the principle; otherwise we shall divide the House. I do not mind how much or how little support we shall get. The principle is important and we intend to vindicate it.

I must confess that I have not spent the week-end raking through HANSARD to see what took place in 1938, but we paid some attention to this matter during the Committee stage of this Bill, and my view is that what is in the Bill is the right way of handling this problem, and I think I carry all my hon. and right hon. Friends with me in that point of view. Like the Parliamentary Secretary, we take the view that if there are infringements against a marketing scheme, they are not ordinary offences against the law of the land. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, one has to look at the origins of a marketing scheme, and how it comes into being. It is not forced on the industry by the Ministry; it is a coming together of certain producers who want a marketing scheme and, having agreed upon one, they are then prepared to agree to the rules, the framework within which they shall operate. As the Minister said, there are other organisations, from the Jockey Club downwards—

who organise themselves on those lines and manage their affairs satisfactorily, and I do not see why this should be considered to be different. The members of a club come together for some purpose, social, sporting or otherwise, and abide by the rules. If anybody breaks the rules of the club, it is not a necessary result that they shall be hauled up before the petty sessions court.

But in the case the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is citing, people can leave the club without jeopardising their livelihood, and in this case, if a man leaves the club, his livelihood is gone, so it is not a correct analogy.

There are pretty good safeguards laid down in this Bill against his leaving the club, and the procedure is covered by the disciplinary committees. I agree with one point made by the hon. Gentleman, and if he looks at the Order Paper he will see that my hon. Friends have an Amendment down dealing with it. We take the view that it would be desirable for these committees to meet as near as possible to where the alleged infringement had taken place, but we shall discuss that later on if, as I understand is the case, that Amendment is to be called. On the general issue, in this sphere of organisation I think it is right that the people concerned should discipline themselves, and the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, contrary to what has been the case, the disciplinary committee has a legal chairman now. That is some advance, I take it, from his point of view. If this matter is taken to a Division, I, for my part, shall support the Government.

It is always difficult, when one gets up against these rigid Liberal principles to discuss them on other than a philosophical basis, but this is not a matter that can be discussed in that way. One can have a sin or an offence against society at large, in conjunction with this Clause, although for the time being it would benefit society. For instance, suppose the group has decided on a certain price for its commodities. Is anyone to be allowed to go outside it and sell at cut prices? That, for the time being, might be a great advantage to society but it would be a great disadvantage to the marketing board. For such an offence against the group one could not let people be taken into a penal court.

People are taken into courts of summary jurisdiction by the Ministry of Food today for selling at too high prices. It is the same principle.

And at too low prices as well, but the Ministry of Food has those powers under exceptional circumstances. We hope these marketing groups will go on as part of the general law of the land long after the Minister of Food has the right to say at what prices things shall be bought or sold. I do not want to see the Ministry of Food abolished, but we do not expect its powers with regard to prices to continue during normal times.

To suggest that people who are part and parcel of a producers' board should be brought before a penal court for an offence against the group, is something which cannot be contemplated by a producers' marketing board any more than it would be considered by a trade union, or by doctors or lawyers, when any member of their organisation had committed some offence against themselves as a group. I am a member of the disciplinary committee of my, own union, and I cannot imagine that we should be expected to take a teacher who had offended against some professional code of conduct before a penal court or, when there is a trial of a teacher before a disciplinary committee of his own union, to have all the paraphernalia with regard to evidence and the taking of oaths which one would have in a court.

We can do what is much worse than fine them; we can turn them out of the union, and that for many people, especially for doctors—[An HON. MEMBER: "And lawyers."]—and for lawyers, is much more serious than the fine which would be imposed under this Clause. I hope that my hon. Friends opposite will realise that this is in the best interests of the group, that society is not being sinned against by anything that can be done by this group, and that we shall leave it as it is.

Does the hon. Lady not appreciate that there is a marked difference between an organisation like the National Union of Teachers which prescribes its own rules, and then decides to fine some one who breaks them, and any organisation coming to this House, asking us to decide what the offence shall be, and then giving them the power to fine? There is a vital difference in the principle.

4.0 p.m.

I take up only one sentence of the speech of the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers). He said that this would cast a burden on the producers. Speaking as a producer, I think it is the reverse. The last thing a producer wants is to go before any organisation which does not know everything that is to be known about the subject. If he goes before representatives who have been chosen to serve upon such a committee particularly for their skill and experience, the producer will feel that he will get proper justice. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) made a point about the breeding societies. Anybody who happens to be engaged in livestock breeding, will know that an offender against the rules of a breeding society is not taken before a court of summary jurisdiction but before the council of the society. I have served on such a council myself and I know how expert a body it was. It was chosen from all over the country, and consisted of people who were experts in their own subject. I know of no producer or breeder who would not rather go before that tribunal than before any court.

Secondly, I do not see why such an offender should be dragged into the light of publicity for an offence which would not amount to more than a few pounds in value. That is why I think that this reference to the court might be brought down to a lower level, and why I suggested on the Committee stage that it might come down to the sheriff court in Scotland, for such very small offences.

The Proposed new Clause is drawing this matter out to extreme exaggeration, and I hope that the Minister will resist it.

An offence of this kind is in a category quite different from those of a member of a club or someone who offends against a society. It does not fit into either of those categories. We all have sympathy with anybody who stands up and says: "I want justice for a society," but this matter is in quite a separate category. I should like to say a word as a producer of milk. The great bulk of the membership of the Milk Marketing Board take very few matters to court. They know that they are not like a club. They never go to meetings. The only thing they do is to send the milk in every morning, as I do. Undoubtedly, members of an organisation like that occasionally offend against the rules of the organisation, and they certainly ought to be fined or punished for such offences as sending bad milk into the central depot. At present, such offences are tried by the board, and we see the results in the monthly organ of the Milk Marketing Board. They are all down there, with lists of the people who have offended and their addresses. That system has not created an uproar among the producers. The great bulk of milk producers are men who do not know very much about law. They are mostly small men. with 10, 15 or 20 cows.

It is necessary for the Minister to consider whether the method of producing evidence is as good as it ought to be. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Northern Dorset (Mr. Byers) made a good point about it. I do not think that the method of producing evidence is altogether satisfactory. I do not know what the answer is. I have not yet been up before the board myself. Perhaps I may know later on, if ever I am brought before it. I understand that there have been cases where men have not been able to put forward

Division No. 93.]


[4.10 p.m.

Beechman, N. A.Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.


Mr. Byers and Mr. Hopkin Morris.

evidence in support of their cases as they should have been. Perhaps the Minister would accept the suggestion and have another look at this matter in order to ensure, within the framework of the scheme, that justice is done.

By leave of the House, I should like to say a word or two in reply to the points that have been made and to enable hon. Members to be clear on them. On the question of where the committee will sit, the answer is that we are putting into effect some provisions of the Falmouth Committee and reducing this body from the whole board to a small committee with a legal chairman. That will make it much more possible than it used to be, for the committee to sit where, or near to where, the infringement has been committed. The question of bringing it to London will therefore no longer automatically arise, if ever it did. It will be much easier for the disciplinary committee to go near to where the party concerned lives. It will' be for the committee to decide.

On the question of how we get evidence, there is another Amendment on the Order Paper to give the chairman, who is now to be a legal chairman, power to take evidence on oath. I feel that we have probably covered that point. On the general question of disciplinary powers, the Falmouth Committee considered this matter at very great length, and we now have the benefit of their views. On this point, their report states:
"The transfer of the penal duties of the boards to the courts of summary jurisdiction would, in these respects, have serious practical disadvantages with no comparable compensatory benefits for producers."
An hon. Member spoke of the costs of defending a case. Those costs would obviously be very much greater before a court of summary jurisdiction. There is the additional provision that if a producer feels that the disciplinary board has been unfair or improper, he can still insist upon the matter being taken to arbitration.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 2; Noes, 228.


Acland, Sir RichardFoot, M. M.Pargiter, G. A.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)Parker, J.
Alpass, J. H.Ganley, Mrs. C. S.Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)
Amory, D. HeathcoatGates, Maj. E. E.Paton, J. (Norwich)
Attewell, H. C.Gibbins, J.Pearl, T. F.
Austin, H. LewisGlanville, J. E. (Consort)Popplewell, E.
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. BGreenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)Porter, E. (Warrington)
Bacon, Miss A.Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Porter, G. (Leeds)
Baldwin, A. EHaire, John E. (Wycombe)Price, M. Philips
Balfour, A.Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.
Barstow, P. G.Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Pursey, Comdr. H.
Barton, C.Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)Raikes, H. V.
Battley, J. R.Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Ramsay, Maj. S.
Baxter, A. B.Harrison, J.Ranger, J.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. VReed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)
Bechervaise, A. E.Hastings, Dr. SomervilleRees-Williams, D. R.
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.Haworth, J.Reeves, J.
Benson, G.Herbison, Miss M.Reid, T. (Swindon)
Berry, H.Hinchingbrooke, ViscountRidealgh, Mrs. M.
Bing, G. H. C.Hollis, M. C.Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Blackburn, A. R.Holman, P.Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)Robinson, K. (St. Pancras)
Bower, N.Houghton, A. L. N. D.Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)Royle, C.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pI. Exch'ge)Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)Savory, Prof. D. L.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W)Shackleton, E. A. A.
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Hurd, A.Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)
Brown, George (Belper)Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)Shurmer, P.
Brown, T. J. (Ince)Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)
Burden, T. W.Jay, D. P. T.Skinnard, F. W.
Callaghan, JamesJeffreys, General Sir G.Smith, C. (Colchester)
Castle, Mrs. B. A.Jenkins, R. H.Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
Challen, C.Keenan, W.Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)
Chamberlain, R. A.Kinky, J.Snadden, W. M.
Channon, H.Langford-Holt, J.Soskice, Rt. Han. Sir Frank
Chater, D.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Chetwynd, G. R.Lennox-Boyd, A. T.Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Clarke, Col. R. S.Lever, N. H.Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Cluse, W. S.Lindsay, M. (Solihull)Strauss, Henry (English Universities)
Cobb, F. A.Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
Cocks, F. S.Longden, F.Studholme, H. G.
Collick, P.Lucas, Major Sir J.Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith
Conant, Maj. R. J. E.Lucas-Tooth, S. H.Sutcliffe, H.
Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)McAdam, W.Swingler, S.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.McEntee, V. La T.Symonds, A. L.
Crossman, R. H. S.McFarlane, C. S.Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. EMackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Crowder, Capt. John EMackeson, Brig. H. R.Testing, William
Daggar, G.MoKie, J. H. (Galloway)Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Daines, P.McLeavy, F.Tolley, L.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.MacLeod, J.Turton, R. H.
Darling, Sir W. Y.MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)Viant, S. P.
Davies, Edward (Burslem)Macpherson, T. (Rumford)Wakefield, Sir W. W.
Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)Mainwaring, W. H.Walkden, E.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)Wallace, G. D (Chislehurst)
Digby, Simon WingfieldMann, Mrs. J.Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Dodds, N. N.Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)Warbey, W. N.
Dodds-Parker, A. D.Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)Ward, Hon. G. R.
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)Marsden, Capt. A.Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Drewe, C.Marshall, D. (Bodmin)West, D. G.
Driberg, T. E. N.Mathers, Rt. Hon. GeorgeWheatley, Rt. Hn.J. T. (Edinb'gh, E.)
Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)Mellish R J.Wilkins, W. A.
Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)Mellish, Sir J.Willey, O, G. (Cleveland)
Dumpleton, C. W.Molson, A. H. E.Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Duthie, W. S.Monslow, W.Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Eccles, D. M.Moody, A. S.Williams, Rt. Hon T. (Don Valley)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Morrison, Rt. Hn. H. (Lewisham, E.)Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Eden, Rt. Hon. A.Moyle, A.Wills, Mrs. E. A.
Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)Naylor, T. E.Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H.
Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. WalterNichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Errol, F. J.Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.York. C.
Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)Young, Sir A. S. L. (Patrick)
Evans, E. (Lowestoft)Odey, G. W.
Farthing, W. J.Orbach, M.


Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)Mr. Pearson and Mr. R. Adams