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Agriculture Act (Extension Order)

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 20 July 1954

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11.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
(Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I beg to move,

That the Agriculture Act (Part I) Extension of Period Order, 1954, dated 6th July, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be approved.
This is a formal matter—

On a point of order. This Motion is down in the name of a Minister of the Crown, and, indeed, it is moved on those grounds. But we were told today that the Minister in question had resigned his office. In these circumstances, it would surely be quite wrong, Mr. Speaker, that an order which can only be moved by virtue of its being moved by a Minister of the Crown should be so moved in the name of a Minister who is no longer a Minister.

I have the grasp of the hon. and learned Member's point, but there is nothing in it, because what I have heard is that the Minister has submitted his resignation to the Prime Minister who has forwarded it to Her Majesty, and we have not yet heard that it has been accepted. There is another point, which is that any Minister can move a Motion standing in the name of any other Minister, and I called upon Mr. Nugent to move it.

You have just said, Mr. Speaker, that it is competent for a Minister to move a Motion standing in the name of any other Minister, and "any other Minister," I should have thought, were the operative words. It is officially announced on the tape machines that the Minister of Agriculture has resigned. He is no longer a Minister, and, therefore, in the terms of your own Ruling, Sir, another Minister cannot move a Motion standing in the name of someone who is no longer a Minister.

I have dealt with the point. I have no knowledge of what is on the tape machines, and I am not bound by it.

May I put this further point to you, Mr. Speaker, and through you to the Government Front Bench? Would it not be much more seemly, in view of the fact that the responsible Minister has resigned—whether or not Her Majesty has yet accepted the resignation—that the Government should not rush to pass an order of this kind before, as it were, the body is cold? Would it not be better to leave the Motion over for another time?

That has nothing to do with me. The Motion is quite a proper one. I have called upon Mr. Nugent to move it.

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, though you have no knowledge of what is on the tape machines, may I recall that on a matter of privilege which I raised on 19th December, you found it possible to have knowledge of messages which had come from Nairobi. There seems to be an inconsistency regarding the Ruling which you gave then, and the one which you have now given.

There may appear to be an inconsistency, but the circumstances in the two cases are entirely different.

May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on this point? If it is true that the right hon. Gentleman's resignation has been accepted, it then follows that this Motion is not down in the name of a Minister of the Crown, and, therefore, it cannot be moved. I should like to ask your guidance as to whether my reasoning is correct on that point.

The hon. Gentleman is asking me to answer a hypothetical question. That I must decline to do.

As I was saying, this is a formal matter. The purpose of the Order is to extend for a further year the operation of Section 4 of the Agriculture Act, 1947. The Act originally provided that the life of Section 4 should be limited to three years unless it were extended from year to year by an Order of this kind. Such Orders have been made annually since 1950. The last of these extended the period of operation of the Section until 5th August this year, and we propose that it should be continued until 5th August, 1955.

Section 4 of the Act is concerned with the making of arrangements for providing guaranteed prices or assured markets for the products included in the First Schedule to the Act. It gives the Minister the power to modify the existing arrangement if they are not entirely suitable for the purpose, or to make new ones if there have been none before. In practice, these powers are in use for one product, wool, which was included in the first Schedule of the Act in 1950. At the same time, the Wool Marketing Board was set up under the British Wool Marketing Scheme, and the guarantee arrangements were given effect to under the Wool (Guaranteed Prices) Order, 1951, which was made under Section 4. This Order provides for the board to pay producers an average price which shall not be less than the guaranteed price fixed at the Annual Review. The Order now before the House will enable the 1951 prices Order to continue in operation.

11.28 p.m.

We certainly agree that this Order should be passed and that the British Wool Guaranteed Prices Orders should be continued for a further period. I am not going to enter into an argument whether the Order ought to be presented in the name of the Minister of Agriculture, but certainly I would say that it is not to his discredit that the last thing to be presented here in his name is something which continues the guaranteed prices and market stability started by the Labour Government. That continuation is all to his credit and he shall not lose it.

11.29 p.m.

I do not think the House should pass so quickly from this Order, and I agree with my hon. Friend who has just spoken in what he said about the Order and about the Minister. I hope that I am in order in saying that we all have a great personal regard for the right hon. Gentleman, and deplore the circumstances in which he has left his office. We all regret that he will no longer be able to deal so courteously and efficiently with the various problems we have to put to the Ministry.

The House would be setting a wrong principle if it agrees to pass this Order tonight. It may be that it does not deal with matters of consequence, but we ought to safeguard the rights about affirmative Orders. If the legislature has sanctioned that such Orders shall be made these are matters for Ministerial responsibility and it is wrong, when there is a change of Minister, that we should proceed, before a new one is appointed, to agree with the views of the former Minister. We do not know who will be appointed, or whether his views will be different from those of the former Minister. He may not wish to continue the policy of the late Government. I think it would be a mistake—

Those are all very hypothetical considerations. The House is now dealing with the Motion which is before it, and the hon. and learned Member should confine himself to that.

I was hoping so to do. The argument which I was hoping would be in order is that it does not seem to me to be very fit and proper to pass this Order tonight. It is an affirmative Order, and it is surely in order to say that there is, after all, a certain amount of time still in which this Order could be set down. Presumably hon. Members opposite can find someone to take on this thankless task, and there will be another Minister who may suffer the fate of the last. Surely that is the time to consider this Order. I submit that it is unfair to the House as a whole to have to deal with this when the Minister has gone out of office and there is nobody with Ministerial responsibility. Then again, we may have to address questions to the Minister in regard to the operation of this Order. How can we do so if there is not a Minister?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have given your Ruling that, for the purposes of this Order, we are only dealing with the possible resignation of the Minister. Is it right and in order for the hon. and learned Gentleman to proceed as if the thing were a fact when you have already ruled that it is not?

That apart, the position is that the Motion has been moved and placed before the House by the Parliamentary Secretary, and the House must consider the Motion on its merits. All the considerations which the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) is advancing seem to be very remote from the merits of the Motion. The Motion, on its merits, must be considered, and not what may happen in the future.

In those circumstances, I would ask your permission to move that this debate be now adjourned. I think, with great respect, that that would be a course consistent with the dignity of the House. It is quite true that this may be only a trivial matter, but I do not think that there are any other cases on record—perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can tell the House if there are—of a Motion standing in the name of a Minister who has resigned being debated as though the Minister had not resigned.

In those circumstances, all I can do is to express the hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who always treats the House in the most courteous way, will feel that on this occasion it is not really proper to proceed with this Order in this way.

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, and agreed to.