I beg to move, in page 1, line 13, to leave out "authorising," and to insert "permitting."
It will be recalled that when this Bill was discussed the other day in a very conciliatory introduction, my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, who is not here at the moment, said in effect that it was merely of a permissive nature and would not weaken or restrict the position of a trader. It would merely allow him, if he wished, to confine certain kinds of sales to certain people. This is a Bill which nobody seems to like, and which the House could have done very well without. From the information which reaches me, traders do not get from the Board of Trade the assistance which they should get. I would like it made quite clear that this is put forward as a permissive Bill. In that case I can see no reason why the word "permitting" should not be inserted. With the word "authorising," I think it would be within the power of the Board of Trade to issue an authorisation which would be tantamount to a direction. Experience of the administration of the Act which this Bill seeks to amend has shown that when the trader has come to the Board of Trade and asked for help and guidance the Board of Trade has said, "It is not for us to do that, but for the courts." I hope the House will insist that this Bill shall be purely permissive, so that we shall not be faced with a situation in which the Board of Trade can issue when it likes an authorisation which will be tantamount to a direction.
I should like to answer one remark which was made by my hon. and gallant Friend. He said that many traders went to the Board of Trade for help and advice, and were turned empty away. That is a very hard accusation, and I believe it to be generally an inaccurate accusation. It is generally true that our task is not to interpret the law, but I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend cannot fairly say that the traders who approach the Board of Trade for advice are on the whole treated in anything but a helpful way. I am advised that "authorised" is a neater legal phrase, but my hon. and gallant Friend is probably as good a judge of legal phrases as anybody else, and, therefore, if he likes the word "permitted" better, I am only too glad to accept the Amendment.
I desire to thank by hon. and gallant Friend and the Board of Trade for their kindness in meeting me. When I say that a large number of persons have been turned away by the Board of Trade, I speak for the people who have come to me, and not of the generality of cases. I should be very happy to supply my hon. and gallant Friend with the names of some of the persons.
That is what I was doing. I understand that these words "or otherwise" are put in to extend the number of persons who would come within the purview of this Bill. My only object in rising was to say that in view of what was said on Second Reading, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman is in a position to say that the same considerations apply right through the transactions, I will not move the Amendment.
I am not absolutely clear what my hon. and gallant Friend objects to. These words are put in to enable us to permit certain goods to be disposed of by manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers in accordance with the licences we grant. To give a specific example in view of possible necessities in bombed areas we asked wholesalers and others—and they were good enough to comply with our request—to hold considerable stocks of essential household goods in different parts of the country so that after an air raid it would be possible for them to rush down essential pots and pans and clothing and that sort of thing to the area in which a raid had occurred. I am advised that it is desirable to include these words "or otherwise" so that, for example, the licences we grant may operate at a particular time—that is so that the licences should apply not only to a class of persons and to certain goods but to the time at which those goods may be sold, and should apply to manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers.
Yes, indeed, he has power to sell them, but the point is that he cannot at present refuse to sell them to anybody who comes along. What we want to do is to provide that, for the time being, a retailer may say: "I am not going to supply these special things to ordinary customers. I am going to reserve them for poor people who have been bombed out of their houses." This Clause will permit retailers to do that without being in jeopardy under Section 9 of the 1941 Act.
I must say quite frankly and openly to the Parliamentary Secretary that although I am not of a suspicious turn of mind as a rule and not one who always mistrusts Government Departments or Ministers, I cannot understand the reason for introducing this Bill in the fifth year of war when we have got the better of the Hun and the Nazi and the bombing plane. We know that cities and towns in this country have been devastated and thousands of people made homeless, but for the last two years we have had no very terrible happenings as regards air-raid damage. Generally speaking, people in this country have begun to recognise that we are on top and that we can meet almost any eventuality which arises as the result of air-raid damage. I think the misgivings and fears of my hon. and gallant Friend arise because he thinks that this Clause as it is drafted will give powers to people other than retailers.
The original idea, I think, was that it should apply only to retailers. I cannot understand why it should be necessary to give these powers to manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, factors and all kinds of people. The Minister's statement the other day was very brief; indeed, it was a pathetic case. Perhaps if the gentlemen advising him could come here and tell us the position, they might be able to give us added reasons. I have no doubt the Parliamentary Secretary did his best, but I would ask those hon. Members who are here, small though the number is, whether they are fully convinced that the only reason for bringing in such a Measure as this is the fear of Doncaster, Wigan, Leeds, Bristol or some other town being badly damaged by an air raid. It just does not ring true. I put it to the Parliamentary Secretary that this Clause, as it stands, will permit something far more than sales such as he has suggested.
The Amendment proposes to leave out the words "or otherwise," and I was trying to follow the lines of the Mover of the Amendment. I am sorry if I have misunderstood his objection, but it does seem to me that the Bill as it stands would bring in quite a lot of people that many of us would like to leave out. If the proposal is only that certain retailers may do certain things, I would give support—though it would not be enthusiastic support—to this particular Clause, but the words "or otherwise" seem to allow other people to be brought in. Those people would be able to corner goods and hoard them for a long time, and I believe that would happen if we brought them within the scope of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) and I are connected with the retail distribution trade. We have not been given any example to explain the necessity for putting these words "or otherwise" into the Clause. I should have thought that the manufacturer, the merchant, the wholesaler and the retailer really covered the whole of the trade of the country. What else has the Board of Trade in mind? I think we are entitled to ask that question when we see these words "or otherwise" in the Bill. Do they mean, for instance, that if a raid took place a Government Department could commandeer from the manufacturer class goods and rush them down to the devastated area? I would not object to that. Or could a municipality become a retailer for this purpose? I would not object to that. The trouble is that we do not know what is meant. It is common knowledge that if the premises of one co-operative society are blasted by the Germans, by what is called the enemy, another co-operative society comes to its assistance at once. Now that the co-operative movement covers practically the whole of the country it appears rather strange that the Board of Trade should put in these words "or otherwise." It is simply a question of trying to get to know, when you have brought in the manufacturer, the wholesaler, the merchant and the retailer, who is meant by "or otherwise." That is a fair question.
I sympathise with my hon. Friend in failing to understand the meaning of these words, because I must confess that I myself always find it difficult, and probably always shall find it difficult, to grasp what is meant by a Parliamentary draftsman. I understand however that these words are not intended to apply to any section of people. The Clause says:
… they may issue licences authorising such persons to restrict sales from such stocks to particular classes of buyers or otherwise as may be specified in a licence or to impose conditions …
We are not specifying the classes of people who may sell. We are asking for power to refer in these licences, not only to particular classes of buyer, but to other matters, such as, for example, the period during which sales may be made.
This Amendment seeks to improve the draftsmanship, but I suggest that by leaving out these words the intention would be altered. This is a provision which will definitely be useful, and I assure the House it will not have the effect that either of the hon. Members opposite thinks it will. It will merely allow us not only to specify classes of persons but to specify conditions under which these de-restrictions should be made. I do again emphasise the fact that this is a de-restricting Measure and not one to increase restrictions.
If we left out these words, we would only have the power to specify particular classes of people. I have endeavoured to point out that we are dealing not only with classes of buyer but with extraneous circumstances, such as the time at which the thing arises. Without these words we would be limited to classes. I am told that any two people doing the same thing, or wearing similar hats, can be termed a class of people, and we could twist the words "class of people" to meet almost any purpose; but putting the words "or otherwise" in here makes it clear that we do not only want to deal with classes of people but with other circumstances, as well, and I ask the Committee to accept the position.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has enlightened us, but when he was dealing with the legal problem my eyes were directed towards the right hon. and learned Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Sir W. Jowitt). I am wondering what is passing through his mind when ordinary ignorant laymen like ourselves are dealing with these very difficult problems of law. It would be an excellent thing if we could have a legal luminary like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to enlighten us on these two words.
I should like to support the Parliamentary Secretary. He is only doing what is right and proper now that the principle of the Bill has been admitted and he has put in words which from this point of view make administration easier. I opposed the principle of the Bill on the Second Reading and thought the Bill was of no great value. At the same time I feel that hon. Members opposite, especially the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden), are animated in their opposition towards the Amendment by the antagonism they showed towards the Bill on its Second Reading. I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for substituting decent and proper English for the unfortunate term he introduced on a previous occasion.