On a point of order, Sir William, it may well be that it is no longer worth my while to put the point of order I had in mind. My reason is that I said to you at the beginning of our discussions, while the House was still sitting, that I had three points of order and I asked your guidance as to whether I should put them together or separately. I said that I would do whatever you thought was convenient. I therefore raised only one of them and, as you have now come out of Mr. Speaker's Chair and the House is again in Committee it seems to me that I have been deprived of the opportunity of putting points which you did not merely allow me to put but directed me to put at a later time.
It is my impression that in the last half-hour or so I listened to a good many more than three points of order. I thought that the hon. Member's points had been covered. If they have not been, I believe that I have met the points that were put to me and correctly in accordance with custom and Standing Orders. Now that I am in the Chair in Committee I should like to be allowed to go on with the Committee's work.
I think that we are a little at cross-purposes, Sir William. I am not seeking to extend the point of order which I raised and which, as you rightly say, has been pursued by other hon. Members at length. I think that everybody was quite prepared to accept what you said about it but, as to whether I have had the opportunity or whether the point covered the other points of order I had in mind, with great respect, you are not qualified to say, because you have never heard them.
On a point of order. It seems that there has been some undue haste in returning into Committee before the points of order that were being raised had been adequately dealt with. In view of the circumstances, would it be possible for me to now move to report Progress and ask leave to sit again so if at back-benchers' rights in moving points of order shall be safeguarded.
I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
On a point of order, Sir William. I understood that you ruled that a Motion to report Progress, moved by a Government Whip, had been carried nemine contradicente. It may be that this has been the practice of the House since the Select Committee altered the procedure of voting on the Business Motion at 3.30, and perhaps the Whips have been wrong, but, if a Motion to report Progress has been carried nemine contradicente, then the House becomes the House and, with respect, Sir William, it cannot become a Committee merely by someone juggling with the Mace and moving it from one place to another. We have had no Motion to return to Committee. If the Prime Minister moves at ten o'clock that proceedings may be entered upon, there must, surely, then be a Motion to annul the Motion moved by the Whip and carried nemine contradicente—
What the Whip did was to report that the Committee had made Progress and ask leave to sit again. That is the practice which we follow whenever the ten o'clock Motion is moved. Exactly the same happened this evening as happens every other time, with no variation. I think that the Committee should accept my assurance to that effect and allow us to get on with our business.
I shall now call the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) to move—
Further to that point of order, Sir William. Will you give me your guidance? If the Motion is put, does it have to be put to the House by yourself before it can be carried or rejected? If it is a formal Motion and the House has not to accept it, what is the general situation then? There is not point in putting a Motion.
No, the Motion does not require to be put to the Committee because the Standing Order states that at ten o'clock there is no option for the Chair but to take the Chair in the House and to put to the House the ten o'clock Motion in the name of the Prime Minister, which the Prime Minister moved. That is exactly what I did, and that is exactly what has happened at ten o'clock on every night when the ten o'clock rule was to be supended.
I was about to call the hon. and learned Member for Edge Hill to move the Amendment standing in his name. I was in error in that—so much has happened in the past half-hour so so—and I had overlooked for a moment that we were still considering the second Amendment. Sir John Barlow.
In courtesy, at least, I think that someone should interpret the astonishment which is felt on this side of the Committee, if not on that side, at the most amazing statement just made by the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow). The hon. Gentleman has the effrontery to move an Amendment, which has been treated seriously by hon. Members on both sides as one directed to a fundamental principle, namely, where the onus or proof should lie, and then, without more ado, to ask leave to withdraw it.
The Minister of State did not even purport to deal with the Amendment, beyond raising two or three technical points. He did not deal with its substance or spirit. All he did was to say that, if it were carried, more work would be cast on the Registrar than would be desirable. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) disposed of that somewhat disgraceful point, which amounted to saying that, even if the Amendment were just, it would not be accepted because it would be inconvenient and would put extra work on the Registrar.
My hon. and learned Friend pointed out that, unless the Registrar were to depart shamefully from legal principle in grouping the cases for legal decision, he would in any event have to examine all the agreements registered with the Court. The Minister of State said that the Registrar could not properly undertake the work entailed by the Amendment because he might be a party to proceedings and that to issue a notice of this kind would involve him in some lack of judicial propriety.
That is the most misconceived and nonsensical argument that could be addressed to us. It could equally apply to the Director of Public Prosecutions who is also supposed impartially to decide whether a prima facie case exists. If he does so decide, then he is responsible for seeing that the case is argued in Court.
The Minister of State having failed to answer him, the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich says that he is satisfied. He thus makes it plain that he had no intention of seriously arguing his case or of asking for a serious reply. It is lamentable and the Committee should register its protest against being treated to a ritual charade in which the devil is whipped off the stage acknowledging his own intellectual and moral defeat.
The Amendment was discussed reasonably by everyone except the Minister of State, yet the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich plays a charade by saying that he is satisfied with the reply, which rejected the Amendment with the utmost contempt and with no sympathy whatsoever.
I want to take up briefly the argument put by the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine). He read us a very long lecture on how we on this side of the Committee should behave on this Amendment. I assure him that we are always ready for guidance but we like it from our own side of the Committee. If he wants to give us guidance he should cross the Floor and give it from here.
I congratulate the Labour Party on having at last found an Amendment on which it dares to go into the Lobby as one in which its manifold differences can be submerge d for a short period. It is not much of an Amendment to unite a party but I congratulate right hon. and hon. Members opposite on being able to do it for once.
I do not think that the explanation of the situation put by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) is correct. But nor do I think that my hon. Friend le Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever) has put his finger on the exact explanation of what has happened I in the course of this short debate.
It is an extraordinary situation. I thought that the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) moved his Amendment sincerely. He made a strong case for it and, as has been said, all hon. Members, with the exception of the Minister, have spoken in support of it. The Minister said, as if he were startling himself, that he was going to give us some straight talking. He was going to be blunt and not make the kind of speech made by the Secre- tary of State earlier. Although his right hon. Friend had been accused of misleading the Committee, he did not intend to be accused of that.
I am not quoting the hon. Gentleman's words, just the spirit of his remarks. So the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich moved his Amendment and then there followed that extraordinary business of moving a Motion to report Progress. We were not certain of the meaning of that and suddenly, immediately afterwards, the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich got to his feet and asked permission to withdraw the Amendment.
I thought that all the arm twisting had been done last week. Apparently it was done in the last 10 minutes, in the Division Lobby. Obviously some of those hoops of steel were used against the hon. Member; the same hoops that were used against some of the other rebels last week. When the hon. Gentleman got up to withdraw the Amendment he looked a bit bruised.
It is obvious that there are second and third-class citizens on the benches opposite. Some of them were invited to participate in the negotiations about these Amendments—among them no doubt being the hon. Member for Rugby; he was in a privileged position—and were told by the Government what they were up to, what they would be allowed to support and so on—all except the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich and, perhaps, a few others. That hon. Member was not told anything. He might have been the Prime Minister for all they told him. I do not know where the hon. Member was over the weekend, but along he comes to our proceedings this afternoon thinking that the rebellion is still on. He must have been sleeping throughout our earlier discussion, for as bold as brass he moved his Amendment and, as we have said, had it been accepted it would have really altered the Bill. It was something worth discussing. As I say, no one told him what was happening, what pressures had been exerted and so on, and no one told him that the other rebels were handcuffed and gagged. He was the only one of them still allowed to open his mouth, and he moved his Amendment.
Having done that, he was in good form. He persuaded and convinced us of the need for his Amendment. It would be most regrettable if the hon. Member does not stand by what he said. It would be more in accord with his reputation in Parliament if he stood by his proposition. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham misunderstood the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich. My hon. Friend said that the hon. Member was satisfied with the answer from the Government. I do not think he was. I believe that he was dissatisfied, so much so that he will now take this matter to a Division. We will then see if the other rebels on the benches opposite will stand by him.
Even so, the hon. Gentleman must be very easily persuaded if that is the condition in which he now exists.
I suggest to the Committee that the only proper course is that there should be a vote on this Amendment, particularly by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby who has stated very clearly that he thinks the onus of proof should be changed. There should be no doubt about what the hon. Gentlemen opposite think. Here is precisely the opportunity for them to show it. The one intelligible part of the Minister's speech was that in which he underlined that this Amendment would alter the Bill a bit, that it would make a slight change. We must be grateful to him for emphasising that at least. So all those who sought to oppose this Measure in any degree have now been told by the Government that if they want to alter the Bill in the sense they desire, here is their opportunity to do it. If they reject it, I do not think anyone will ever take very seriously what they have to say here in future.
I came here at 3.30 this afternoon, amongst other things in response to a notice I received from the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) who objected to my putting my name to Amendments on the Paper. Subsequently the hon. Gentleman did not follow up his written communication; he has not raised the point—I suspect either because he found it was a bad point or he felt discretion was the better part of valour. My action in putting my name to all the Amendments has already borne fruit because this one, in my submission, was not put down with any deliberate intent of having a debate or forcing a Division.
I wholly dissent from the very charitable viewpoint held of hon. Members opposite by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot). I do not hold hon. Gentlemen opposite in as high regard as he does. For me, they are persons on the make—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—they are on the make, and they are men of not very great ability, so their actions, even when they attempt to disguise them, are transparent. Not transparently honest, but transparent.
They proceed, on the eve of an election, to look round for some gimmicks by which they think to catch a few votes. They promote this Bill. They then look round for someone they can get to put down Amendments to make it appear as though the Tory Party is in favour of the consumer and wants to support the consumer, and wants to help the manufacturer—to help any with any interest in the matter and whom they think they can persuade to give them some votes. That is not a very charitable interpretation of what they have done, but I believe it to be right.
I do not believe there was ever any serious intent at all to challenge the Government on this subject—or indeed any other subject. I do not believe in Tory rebellions, because for my part the Tory Party is like the barber's cat—no guts, but comprised all of wind and lather. We had an exhibition of that last week; plenty of noise, the noise of revolts, the noise of fighting; but I was absolutely certain last week that when the chips were down there would be no fight. That is what I said to my hon. Friends. Indeed, I was prepared to back my opinion with good cash, but I could get no takers, that when the chips were down there would be no fight, no vote, because there was no honest intent to fight at all. This was political flypaper to catch the mugs. What has happened is that the flypaper has wrapped itself round hon. Gentlemen opposite. This is what they must bring themselves to realise, that politically—
The Amendment is typical of the overwhelming majority of Amendments tabled by hon. Gentlemen opposite. There was no serious purpose behind them. There was never any intention to embarrass the Government. It was a contrivance no doubt manoeuvred by the Whips opposite, and all the row was flapdoodle, and it was designed and carried out with the object of attracting the maximum amount of political support.
I believe that the people of this country are politically educated to the point that they cannot be deceived by the party opposite, and that when the General Election comes, whether it he next week or the week after, in May or October, it will result in the disappearance of the overwhelming majority of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I should be much happier about the speeches made by the three hon. Gentlemen opposite if I knew exactly what their motives and intentions were.—[Interruption.]—If the hon. Member would shut up for a bit, I should be able to say what I want to say.
I have made my position abundantly clear today. I recognise the sincerity of the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mir. H. Lever) and on general principles and grounds we have a great deal in common, but I am not going to be lectured by hon. Members opposite with a holier-than-thou attitude when on the crucial issue on Second Reading they abstained, sat on their bottoms and did nothing at all about it. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
I would ask the three hon. Gentlemen opposite a straight question. Can they assure me that dividing the Committee on this Amendment is not necessarily only a tactical manoeuvre but that each of them realises, recognises and supports the shifting of the onus of proof? If I get a categorical "Yes" from them, I will go into the Lobby with them.
So far as I am concerned, I answer the hon. Gentleman's question unhesitatingly in the affirmative. I have always believed that the onus of proving that a freely negotiated contract between people not subject to any legal disability, and lawful when it was made, ought not to be held to be unlawful unless somebody proves that there is something against the public interest in it. An agreement of that kind—a perfectly lawful agreement, a freely negotiated agreement—may very well be against the public interest, and it may very well be that it ought to be, as it were, abrogated by law or some judicial process, but if it is to be abrogated by some judicial process, then I am perfectly clear in my own mind that the onus of proving that it really was against the public interest ought to lie with those who assert it, not with those who made it. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman ever doubted that we should say that.
I have given the answer, and I propose to speak for another minute or two to explain why. I have never thought that a resale price maintenance agreement is necessarily against the public interest. I do not believe that to have cut-throat competition among retailers, or among other people, to bring prices down, or to pursue a beggar - my - neighbour policy is necessarily in the public interest. Why should it be? What the economy needs is not so much lower prices without regard to the economy, but stable prices. If people believe in an incomes policy, I do not see how one can possibly operate or evolve such a policy unless one has a price policy. I understand that to be more or less common ground.
What was the gravamen of the opposition to the Government's proposal? It began by assuming that the agreement was necessarily against the public interest, and that therefore if the Bill was accepted in that form there was a—
On a point of order. Sir William, I want to give you the chance to declare whether your remark was in order. You said that unhappily the Chair had no power to restrict or curb the speeches of hon. Members. I want to give you the opportunity of ruling that your remark was an improper one, understandable though it was owing to the lateness of the hour. I submit that it was an improper remark to lament the fact that the Chair had no power to restrict the length of speeches.
Sir William, I take no exception whatever to what you said. There have been occasions when I, too, have regretted that the Chair has no power to curtail speeches. I could think of a number of speeches made in the five or six hours from 4.30 p.m. until we divided at about half-past ten that would have been all the better for being curtailed at an early stage. I sympathise with the regret that the Chair experiences in not having such power, but the fact remains that unhappily, or not unhappily, the Chair has no such power, and I should have hoped that even if it had the power it would not seek to exercise it in the course of a speech that is being made directly to the point and in response to a request in a speech made by an hon. Gentleman opposite.
It is not for the hon. Gentleman to say "one word." If he asks a question of an hon. Member, that hon. Member must decide for himself how he answers it. I propose to decide that question for myself, with the unhappy leave of the Chair.
What I was saying was that the thing that those opponents of the Government on the Government side most lamented in the original drafting of the Bill was its inherent assumption that a resale price maintenance agreement was wrong, and the stigma of guilt or impropriety that seemed to be put upon it by the way in which the Bill was originally drafted, by transferring the onus of proof to those who wanted to maintain their agreement and by declaring their agreement void unless they satisfied somebody that the lawful agreement was not a conspiracy against the public interest.
Who was more eloquent about that than the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise)? He always made it his principal point. He does not believe, and has never said he believed—and the Government made it quite clear that they do not believe—that the Amendments already accepted really remove that stigma or transfer that onus. But the Amendment that we are now discussing does it, without doing any substantial damage to the rest of the Bill. It does indeed put the onus of proof that the resale price agreement is contrary to the public purpose and the public interest upon those who assert it. It maintains the agreement in force until the Registrar challenges it, and even beyond that, until the Court supports his judgment.
I thought that that was exactly what the hon. Member for Rugby wanted. That is what the rebels were making all the fuss about. That was the gravamen of the criticism. What are we to say if, when they get the opportunity of voting for the precise thing that they have always said they wanted, the hon. Baronet seeks to withdraw his Amendment and is actively and enthusiastically encouraged to do so by all his colleagues who had been backing him up and advocating the same principles ever since the Second Reading debate?
I hope that the hon. Baronet will stick to his guns He does not even appear to have been convinced by the Government's answer. [Interruption.] If he was partially convinced, what about the part that was not convinced? What inroad did it make upon his argument? Does he wish the Committee and the country to believe, as one of my hon. Friends has said, that all this has been nothing but a shabby stunt to get the best of both worlds—to give the Government what they wanted and at the same time to make a show of resistance so as not to lose any of the votes of those people who will be damaged by the Bill?
I beg to move, in page 1, line 9, after "supplier," to insert:
(or any association or person acting on behalf of a supplier)".
After the comparatively controversial matters which the Committee has been considering, this is a rather narrow point and perhaps not much more than a drafting one. We are concerned with the Bill's treatment of an association acting on behalf of a supplier. Under the Bill as at present drafted it is provided that certain actions become unlawful for an association to do. These are set out in the Bill. The type of thing which under the existing provision of the Clause becomes unlawful for an association acting on behalf of a supplier to do is, first, to include a void term for the contract; secondly, to require such a term to be included in a contract as a condition of supplying goods and, thirdly, to notify minimum prices.
The point upon which we are concerned and which has led us to put down this Amendment can be shortly expressed. We shall be grateful to the Minister if he will give an answer or an explanation as to why this form of words has been adopted in the Bill. We are puzzled to know why when all these provisions are set out in the latter part of the Clause 1 (1) as to matters which an association acting on behalf of a supplier cannot lawfully do, it is not set out in the earlier part that a minimum price term in an agreement entered into by an association on behalf of a supplier relating to a sale is void. From the drafting there is no doubt that the Minister will seize the point which concerns us. It seems to call for some explanation. It may be possible by the method we propose to improve the drafting.
I thought the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) somewhat modest when he said that this was merely a drafting point. It is certainly a point of drafting, but it is also a rather nice legal point. I am obliged to him for raising the matter and asking for an explanation, which I hope to be able to afford him.
I assure him at once that the drafting is not faulty in any way; it is deliberate. The first part of Clause 1(1) deals with the civil effects of certain agreements. I am advised that any agreement of a trade association or some other person acting on behalf of a supplier would fall within the Clause as drafted. For this purpose, the agreement made by someone acting as an agent for a principal would in law be treated as having been made by the principal.
The hon. and learned Member drew attention, quite rightly, to the apparent contradiction in the sense that the words he wishes to insert in the first part of the subsection appear in the second part of the subsection. The words are necessary in the second part of the subsection, because acts of the trade association or other agent would not in the absence of these words expressly covering them be treated as acts of the supplier. In the absence of express provision to that effect, the unlawful acts of the agent are not attributable to his principal.
The words are necessary where they appear, as I hope the hon. and learned Member will acknowledge to be right. I hope that, in the light of the explanation I have attempted to afford, the Committee will agree that the words are not necessary where they do not currently appear. The two contexts are entirely different. I hope that hon. Members will find my explanation some reassurance.
I think the Committee recognises that there is a good deal of force in the explanation which the Minister has given, and I am obliged to him for it. I thought that his explanation had perhaps a little less force in the first part of the Clause in respect of the words which deal with
any agreement between a supplier and a dealer relating to such a sale.
But I do not think that it is appropriate to pursue it further. We follow the outline and effect of the Minister's explanation, and we are grateful for it.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
The next Amendment is that in page 1, line 15, at the end to insert:
except where the customs and excise duty exceeds 60 per cent. of the net cost price as determined in section 3(2) below".
With it we can discuss the following Amendments:
In page 2, line 29, at end add:
Provided that nothing in this Act shall apply to any person engaged in any of the following trades whether as manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer or distributor, that is to say—
In page 2, line 29, at end add:
(5) This section shall not apply to any drug, or any substance recommended as medicine, or any medical or surgical appliance.
In Clause 2, page 3, line 24, at end add:
(5) It shall not be unlawful by virtue of this section for a supplier to withhold supplies of any drug or any substance recommended as a medicine, or any medical or surgical appliance from a dealer who is not an authorised seller of poisons.
and the new Clause entitled, "Intoxicating Liquors".
On a point of order. We gave notice earlier that though we did not object to grouping the original batch of Amendments, we had some doubt about later Amendments. It does not seem very convenient or likely to permit rational discussion to take all these Amendments together. The first Amendment relates to Customs and Excise duties, taking them as criteria for exemption. Some others relate to a catalogue of names of goods, making that a basis of exemption. Another refers to drugs and medicines. It would be much more convenient for the Committee to take them separately, starting with that in line 15, which relates to Customs and Excise duties, otherwise, I feel, we shall get the arguments mixed up and shall not have such an intelligent discussion.
It is the opinion of the Chair that all these things fall under the same umbrella and that it would be convenient to discuss them together. They all exempt various items. If the Committee so wished there could be separate Questions and separate Divisions.
Further to that point of order. It puts us in a difficult position. These groupings are proposed as a matter of convenience for the Committee. Where it appears to us for the convenience of the Committee, we are only too willing to agree, but here it appears definitely not to be the case. I wonder what remedy we have in such a situation. I do not want to advance the case at length because, like the right hon. Gentleman, I am anxious to make progress, but I do not think that we shall make progress if we discuss together Amendments which propose to make the level of taxation the basis of exemption, mixed up with one which proposes to select a list of commodities entirely independent of taxation and another Amendment which brings in the question of drugs and medicine and raises different questions of quality and so on. We are put in a difficult position if, having made our reservation earlier, we now have no remedy. I think that it would be for everybody's convenience and would help reasonable discussion if we took the first Amendment separately.
While I recognise that the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has put a reasonable point of view, I respectfully submit that there is one principle which lies behind all these Amendments and which makes it convenient for the Committee to discuss them together. It seems to me that this is the one opportunity which the Committee will have to debate what is in effect—although in Committee—a point of principle, namely, whether any exemptions for specific goods or classes of goods shall be written into the Bill. At the moment, the Bill contains none. This is to some extent a question of principle which, I submit to you, Sir Robert, would be more sensibly debated if we took all these Amendments together. Otherwise, we shall have to debate whit is virtually a principle on a matter relating to Customs and Excise and a matter relating to photographic goods or pharmaceutical goods. I submit that it would be much more sensible to debate the whole question together and then, if it were convenient, to divide on each item separately.
I, too, do not wish to prolong this discussion, but I would respectfully point out that we shall have to debate at some stage or another whether we ought to put in a list of specifically exempted goods, but the suggestion that I make would arise in the second debate, and should not be mixed up with considerations of the level of taxation as a criterion.
Surely this is precisely the same position as though one took all the proposals to reduce Purchase Tax and said that because the principle of reducing the tax was common to all they should all be discussed together. But it is our practice to consider such items separately and I would submit that that principle holds good here.
That is not quite the analogy. I think that the hon. Member for Stratford-upon-Avon (Mr. Maude) has put the point better than I did, namely, that the Chair has decided that these Amendments be discussed together as a common principle applies, with the right reserved for a Division later on for the separate items. Perhaps we can now proceed with the discussion.
It may well be, Sir Robert, that the Committee may wish to do this, but I suggest that in so far as Amendments Nos. 17 and 27 are concerned there are entirely different principles involved. One could suggest that there may be arguments on the question of Customs and Excise or that, after taking this specific amendment about alcohol, there is a special case for taking another Amendment dealing with medicines and drugs. They present different problems and it seems a little unfortunate that we did not have a debate on appliances which are so much a part of the social services, as distinct from the other articles to which reference is made. There is a difference between one Amendment and another, and I am prepared to see Nos. 17 and 27 taken together, although it would be very confusing if we debated No. 27 with all the other items involved.
I beg to move, in page 1, line 15, at the end, to insert:
except where the customs and excise duty exceeds 60 per cent. of the net cost price as determined in section 3(2) below".
This is a simple Amendment and I hope that it will commend itself to my right hon. Friend. From correspondence which I have had and from what people have said to me, there appears to be some confusion. It was never my intention to include Purchase Tax. The level of Purchase Tax is only 25 per cent., and I do not think that there is any fear—there certainly is not under a Government from this side—of Purchase Tax being increased to the abnormally high figure which would give exemption if the Amendment were accepted. It would include only a very small number of items. It would
include only those of which three-fifths of the cost is taken in tax, those for which the retailer is a considerable tax collector. It would include, I think, tobacco, spirits and petrol. A number of arguments can be advanced concerning these three items.
Acceptance of the Amendment would mean that there would be an option only to enforce resale price maintenance. In two of these items—spirits and petrol—there is already fierce competition. No hon. Member will deny that throughout the country petrol can be bought at much reduced prices. At some garages it is already sold at 3d. or 4d, per gallon cheaper, and I have seen it as much as 5d. per gallon cheaper. Therefore, in the case of petrol, it is fair to say that the petroleum companies are not interested in maintaining prices. They are much more interested in gallonage and in selling petrol. If they had the opportunity, I doubt very much whether they would take it up. They would much prefer to sell their products as quickly as possible.
Similarly, in the case of spirits, a large number of distilleries, perhaps small ones, manufacture whiskies which can be bought in off-licences at below normal prices. I have seen whisky as low as 37s. a bottle. There is nothing to stop anyone purchasing those whiskies at those prices. There are a large number of outlets for these items.
The liquor trade is not, as some hon. Members would think, in the hands of a small number of people. There are still a large number of independent traders who are in a position to sell the goods of the smaller distilleries at the lower prices. Therefore, the case cannot be made that if the Amendment were passed, the large distilleries would necessarily exercise their rights. Certainly, the smaller distilleries would not do so.
The manufacturer would have the option concerning petrol and spirits. If he wished to have his prices maintained because of quality or some other reason, it would be up to him to do so. A much different case can be argued, however, concerning tobacco. The Monopolies Commission has already looked into the tobacco industry and, it would be fair to say, has given it a clean bill concerning its retail price maintenance arrangements. It has said that it does not operate against the interest of the general public.
In view of what we have heard in the last few months, and perhaps in the last year or two, about the use of tobacco from the health point of view, I doubt very much whether it is in the best interest of the public to encourage further sales of tobacco by cutting prices or giving more people opportunity to sell it. At present, there is a measure of control over the sale of tobacco, but I am told that it is comparatively easy to obtain a licence to sell it. Do we necessarily want to see every shop selling tobacco and cigarettes, some of them possibly at reduced prices? If cigarettes were available at reduced prices in more shops, more cigarettes would be sold and possibly to younger people and there would be a considerable hazard to health as a result. I hope that the Amendment will commend itself to my right hon. Friend.
I must protest at the way the Amendments are being dealt with. I have no wish to discuss any of the subjects mentioned by the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Hocking). I do not drink whisky and I do not smoke, and on the present pay of hon. Members I cannot afford a car. I am interested in other Amendments which concern drugs and medicines which are being taken with the one moved. We shall have a most unsatisfactory debate if we have to jump from one side of the Committee and one subject to another. There is little, if anything, in common between those who are interested in the medical aspects of the Amendments and those who are concerned with whisky, tobacco, petrol and some of the items mentioned in another Amendment which has been added to this peculiar group.
I am also surprised to find that of those hon. Members who have put their names to the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) in page 2, line 29, few, if any, are present in the Committee, after having made such a strong protest about the matter on Second Reading. I wish to draw the Committee's attention to that Amendment and to the Amendment in page 3, line 24 because I believe that there are many hon. Members on both sides of the. Committee who believe that the matter of drugs and medicines is different in kind from the items included in the other Amendments.
We are fully justified in suggesting that it would be advisable to treat these as different and to recognise that there are certain dangers in encouraging people to seek what I would call a risky bargain by trying to buy more cheaply in certain shops than they could in others medicaments of one sort or another some of which might very easily deteriorate if they are not under the proper control of property qualified people. I am thinking, for example, of certain forms of vitamin which may deteriorate with time. There are other therapeutic substances, as we all know, which may deteriorate or degenerate if they are not kept in proper conditions of temperature, humidity, and so on.
It is most undesirable to encourage price-cutting in substances which may carry with them a genuine risk to health and which would put temptation in the way of people who might be minded to use them. I am thinking of those who are, in any case, rather given to self-medication—which has its dangers—or of mothers who might buy things for their children, believing that they were buying substances which would have a beneficial effect although, in fact, they might not be at all efficacious. In dealing with this class of goods, we are dealing with something of particular importance, not in the ordinary way of trade.
I admit that the wording of some of the Amendments does not carry complete conviction. For instance, Amendment No. 7,
or any substance recommended as medicine
and, perhaps, these words might bring together the hon. Member for Coventry, South and myself, because I have known of alcoholic beverages being recommended as medicine in some circumstances. However, I do not believe that it was the intention behind the Amendment that they should be included. It seems to me that a better definition is called for. It would be satisfactory if the Government spokesman made clear
that the general spirit of the Amendment was accepted, subject to improved definition at a later stage.
Other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), will, no doubt, discuss other ways in which it might be possible to deal with the supply of drugs and medicines. I content myself, therefore—I do not wish to stay up all night, whatever others may do—with the brief and simple point that, for the reasons which I have given and which, I am sure, others will give, it is quite unsatisfactory to include drugs and medicines within the scope of the Bill. I hope that the Government will, on reflection, agree that this must be so.
Amendment No. 14 is self-explanatory. In it I have included a number of articles which are sold by the small shop keeper. I am not so much concerned with the big manufacturer as with the small shop keeper, and all the articles which I have listed are articles in respect of which representations have been made to me by my constituents. I have had interviews with representatives of each of the trades listed.
The first is pharmacy. I shall not detain the Committee on this, because I know that it can be more competently deal with by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead), who is more expert in that matter than I could claim to be.
I have included cosmetics because the chemists who came to see me satisfied me that they would have great difficulty in carrying on their dispensing under the National Health Service if they were not able to keep up their profit margins on the other goods which are normally sold in chemists' shops.
It appears that the amount allowed by the Ministry of Health to chemists to dispense under the National Health Service is somewhat inadequate. It really comes down to the fact that the sale of other goods subsidises the National Health Service in this respect. Of course, there would be an alternative method—improving the grants to chemists for prescriptions. That would mean, of course, the taxpayer footing the bill in the end. I have no objection, however to teenage secretaries, who spend large parts of their earnings on cosmetics, subsidising the National Health Service rather than that the general body of taxpayers should do so.
No, but I am not claiming that the wording of the Amendment is perfect. I want to ensure that resale price maintenance can still be maintained in chemists' shops.
We would also include tobacco, cigarettes, cigars and associated goods like lighters, cigarette cases and matches. All over the country are small tobacconists getting a very modest living and it is almost inevitable that they will be driven out of business if they are not afforded the protection of resale price maintenance.
I had not intended to intervene until I heard my hon. Friend talking in this way. As far as cosmetics and many other products are concerned, the Bill has nothing whatever to do with the question of agencies or the resale price maintenance of manufacturers who decide that their products shall only be sold at certain chemists' shops in one town. Things will go on exactly as before with cosmetics and most of the things that we are talking about.
I do not know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) intended to make his own speech. I am trying to explain the reasons why I want certain goods exempted from the Bill. I do not want to take a long time over it.
The things I was referring to—tobacco and associated goods—are sold largely in small shops whose owners scratch a very slender living. They are usually very good and worthy people and also, I am glad to say, mostly supporters of the Tory Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, they are. I think it a very unfortunate thing to have offended these people and I can assure the Committee that many of them are grievously hurt by the Bill and want to be exempt from its repercussions.
Stationery, newspapers and magazines are also usually sold in the corner shops, together with fireworks in season. There again, these are small people who scratch a slender living and should be kept in being. The small shopkeeper is one of the British institutions and we should hesitate a long time before we drive him out of business.
The same observations apply to sweets and confectionery. However, wines and spirits are in a somewhat different category. I have included them only because shops which exclusively sell wines and spirits have satisfied me that they, too, would go out of existence if r.p.m. were not maintained for them. Obviously, the goods they sell can be sold in the big stores, supermarkets and so on—provided they get the necessary licences—and they can afford to undercut the ordinary retailer who deals exclusively in these goods out of the profits they make on other lines.
The whole object of the Amendment is to put up a fight for the small shopkeeper, and I hope that the Committee will take note of what I have said and think a long time before sentencing the small shopkeeper to be executed.
I beg to move,
That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
Now that my two hon. Friends have moved the Amendments standing in their names, and have done so lucidly and succinctly, I think that this would be a suitable opportunity for the Committee to report Progress. It is undeniable that we have been able to make progress, even though we have had to be patient in making it. On the other hand, we have dealt with a group of Amendments covering a wide range and right through the Bill. I hope that perhaps tomorrow we may resume this debate and make rather faster progress with the remaining Clauses in the Bill.
May I seek your guidance, Sir Robert? Would it be possible, when the debate is resumed tomorrow, for Amendments Nos. 17 and 27 to be discussed independently of the resumed debate?