I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 11, to leave out from "whereby" to "by" in line 22, and to insert:
any person who—
Perhaps I should preface my remarks by saying that this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to address the House since the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) was appointed shadow Minister and became spokesman on agriculture for the Opposition. I congratulate him and, speaking personally, I sincerely wish him well. I am sure
that we shall have our arguments but, with his great experience of the House, I know that he will always express his case clearly for his party.
and who (in either case) fulfils such other requirements (if any) as may be determined in accordance with the scheme, may request the Authority, and the Authority shall thereupon be required, to furnish to him such information as may be determined in accordance with the scheme with respect to loans made to that grower.
The principle of the Amendment aroused considerable discussion in Committee. I said to hon. Members opposite then that I would consider the matter further to see whether improvements could be made. I have done that and this Amendment seeks to define more strictly the persons who may be entitled to information about loans granted by the Authority. There was much discussion about the provision in subsection (5) of the Clause which deals with the disclosure of information about loans granted by the Authority.
These provisions are designed to implement an agreement reached between the farming and trade interests last September. Most hon. Members know about that agreement, which has, indeed, been the basis of our legislation. We are acting still in the spirit that information about these loans should be made available so as to safeguard the position of agricultural merchants and others providing credit to farmers. It was accepted that this principle should be part of our legislation, and that this agreement should be honoured.
It was also accepted on both sides that information about loans made by the Authority to growers should be disclosed only to those who had a legitimate interest in seeking the information. In other words, we are seeking to safeguard the position of the agricultural merchants and others providing credit to farmers—a provision that is accepted on both sides. The question that was discussed was whether the wording of Clause 2(5) in the form in which it then was was adequate from the latter point of view. I undertook to consider all the arguments that have been put forward, and this Amendment derives from that undertaking.
The effect of the Amendment is that the only persons who may be entitled to information about a loan granted by the Authority to a particular grower are those who can demonstrate two things to the satisfaction of the Authority. What are those two things? First, they must demonstrate that they are persons who, in the ordinary course of business, make loans to farmers to provide them with working capital, or that they are persons who extend credit to farmers in the ordinary course of a business of supplying goods or services required for agricultural purposes.
The second requirement is that the persons in question must be able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Authority either that they have made to the grower who is the subject of the inquiry a loan or extended credit which is still outstanding, or that they have had a request from him for a loan or credit.
But persons who satisfy either of these general requirements are not given by this Amendment an unconditional right—I make that quite clear—to information about loans made to individual growers. As I have always argued, we must give the Authority some discretion. It must be for the Authority to determine in its schemes what other requirements, if any, should be imposed. I am sure that this is reasonable, and that hon. Members opposite will accept it.
In Committee, the hon. Member for Woodbridge and Sudbury (Mr. Stainton), who made important contributions, suggested that the Authority should have the right to refuse the information being sought where the credit status being investigated for future transactions or services to be rendered did not exceed a figure of, say, £250. As I have said, we must give the Authority a measure of flexibility. I am not certain whether it would wish to stipulate any figure in its schemes, whether for future or for current transactions, but the Amendment would leave the Authority free to do so if it wished. This is what I submitted in Committee, and I know that my hon. Friends have stressed that same point.
We have here an Authority that will be comprised of members drawn from the producer section and from the trade itself. They will have knowledge of the trade, and for that reason I think that we should give the Authority a reasonable measure of discretion. I hope that the Amendment will commend itself to the House as implementing in a fair and reasonable way the agreement reached between the farming and trade interests in September while, at the same time, ensuring that the farmer's privacy is safeguarded—that is important.
The farmer's privacy was stressed in Committee, and it is a valid point. Bearing that in mind, and remembering also the spirit of the agreement, the nature of the Authority and of those who will make it up, we feel this to be a reasonable Amendment, and I hope that the House will accept it.
I am grateful to the Minister for bringing forward this Amendment which, as he says, implements his undertaking in Committee. Anxiety was expressed on both sides of the Committee about the original drafting, and it was thought that the Amendment then moved by the right hon. Gentleman perhaps went a little too wide, and did not fully safeguard the privacy of the farmer.
I quite accept that the trade or the trader should be able to find out whether credit is outstanding, or whether the Authority is making loans in respect of bonus payments or otherwise to farmers. Nevertheless, the scheme must safeguard the position of the farmer. This provision is, perhaps, not quite as narrow or as tightly drawn as we originally suggested but, as he has pointed out, the fact that the Authority may itself lay down such other requirements as it thinks fit goes a long way to meeting our case in Committee.
I am also grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for taking up the point about credit limits made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woodbridge and Sudbury (Mr. Stainton). The words proposed seem to enable the Authority to lay down, if it so wished, that £250 should be the minimum, or £1,000 should be the maximum, or whatever it might be, depending entirely on what the Authority itself decides.
My hon. Friend also said in Committee that the Authority might keep a register of loans. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered that suggestion. I think that in any case the Authority will keep a register, though it will not, of course, disclose it to anyone who comes along even though they do satisfy the provisions of this Amendment. If the Authority kept a register of loans beyond a certain figure it might make for administrative cleanness, and it would facilitate the working of the Clause.
In one respect this Amendment has taken my name in vain. First, it shows the impartial attitude that we on this side took in Committee to the whole business of putting down Amendments, having in mind the farmers, on the one hand, and the agricultural merchants, on the other.
Information has now appeared in the Press of the letter I received from the agricultural merchants, who pointed out that the Amendment we wished to move was not one that they could accept. How that private letter to me got into the hands of the farming Press is still a mystery, but I should like to say that the information certainly did not come from myself or my hon. Friends. In any case, that letter was not to our advantage.
The point was an important one, and we felt that neither the Bill as originally drafted nor the Amendment tabled in Committee by the Minister met that point. We are, therefore, grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making this change now. I hope that as a result of the Government's now moving an Amendment to meet the point people outside the House who accused us of delay in Committee, taking the example of this Amendment and the letter, will now realise the error of their ways.
I should like to make a brief point on the last two lines of the Amendment, where the words are "be required"—there is no obligation upon the Authority—
to furnish to him such information as may be determined in accordance with the scheme …
This seems to be tautological. The Authority is required precisely to do something which is subsequently of its own definition.
It is, therefore, extremely important that the Minister, in replying to these exchanges, should indicate in fuller detail than he has done already the kind of policy which the Authority is to follow in determining the types of information to be released in accordance with the scheme.
I am grateful to hon. Members for accepting the spirit of the Amendment. I have tried to look at this matter with a view to improvement and I still come to the point, which I mentioned earlier, that there must be some flexibility. The hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) suggests that this is tautological, but I am advised that the drafting is right. Legal language is often tautological, and we must accept that.
I give the assurance that this matter will be looked at carefully. The Authority must have some flexibility, and it will prepare the scheme. The register which was mentioned in Committee and again today may be a good thing to have, but I should prefer to leave it open to the Authority to decide whether it will keep a register and what type of register it should be for administrative purposes, because this is really an administrative matter.