§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I beg to move, in page 10, line 5, at the end, to insert:and such inspectors shall, as far as is practicable, act in consultation with the Central Price-Regulation Committee and any local price-regulation committees.1154 In some areas the control committees are not functioning at all actively, while in others they are doing a good job of work. We are anxious that inspectors shall not appear to be interlopers but shall work in close conjunction with the committees. Where the committees are not doing their job, the inspectors may be used to ginger them up. We give our general welcome to the Clause, and wish to see it operated most effectively by getting the maximum co-operation between the local people and the inspectors.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The words "as far as is practicable" in the Amendment do not carry us very far, and would not be a serious addition to the Bill. There are matters on which inspectors are outside the scope of price regulation committees, but I give an assurance that, as the inspectors are Board of Trade officials, they will be instructed to work in consultation with price regulation committees.
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes
Would that apply also to their acting in consultation with the Central Price Regulation Committee?
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
In view of the assurance given by the Minister I beg to ask leave to withdrew the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
This is one of the operative Clauses of the Bill, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions about it. Inspectors will be able to walk into any shop of which they have suspicion, and if every shop were owned by the person behind the counter, all might be well. The inspector can call for books and other documents. I am thinking of multiple shops with branches all over the Kingdom and of Co-operative societies, and, as one who has worked in a shop himself, I think there is something offensive in calling upon a shop assistant or a branch manager to produce books to an inspector of the Board of Trade when those books are the property of the headquarters of the organisation.
Suppose the inspector walks into a branch of a Co-operative society and demands of the branch manager to see 1155 the books. Those books do not belong to the branch manager but to the headquarters of the society, the office of which is probably in the same town. Could it not be arranged that, in order that the Clause should work smoothly, the inspector should go to the central premises and ask for the books and other documents relating to the branch? The persons responsible for dealing with such matters are not the branch officers but those at the headquarters. In the case of a firm with headquarters in London and branches all over the country it may be difficult to go to the central premises about the books of a branch which may be 100 miles away, but I feel there is something wrong if a man who is just a servant has to be faced with an inspector demanding from him information which, in the ordinary way, he gives to nobdy but his employers.
§ Captain Waterhouse
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman on both the points he has put. Inspectors have just the very power for which he asks, that of entering any premises occupied for the purpose of the business, and clearly the headquarters premises are just as much occupied for the purpose of the business as are any of the branches. If the inspector thinks there are books or invoices, he can, and most probably will, go to where those books and invoices are kept, so that he may see them and satisfy himself on any matter about which he has doubt.
§ Mr. Doland
The Parliamentary Secretary has stated that the inspector will probably go to a certain place; surely it is not expected that a firm will duplicate its invoices 50 times and distribute them among its 50 branches in case the document should be demanded by an inspector. The Parliamentary Secretary should give a more definite assurance than that inspectors, will probably go to the head office, and should say that they must go to the headquarters to obtain information which they desire.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary has entirely grasped the point raised by my hon. Friend beside me. The point he had in mind is the very embarrassing position which the shop assistant will be put into if an inspector suddenly turns up at the shop and calls 1156 upon him to produce certain books or documents, or to make statements, in relation to matters over which he has no adequate control, and yet of which he is technically in control at the moment the" inspector arrives. Take, for instance, this illustration. Suppose an inspector comes to a shop and the person in charge of the books, and his second in command, are out for lunch. The inspector may say to an assistant who is present, "You are in charge of this shop for the moment; produce the books and answer certain questions." He may be an employéwho has only been at the shop a few weeks or even days, and he will be put into a position of great difficulty and serious embarrasment if he is called upon to produce books and papers, and answer questions, when in fact such demands ought to be addressed to a person in a much higher position.
§ Captain Waterhouse
Clearly an inspector who goes into a branch shop will not expect to find there invoices which are not normally issued from there. He would find out where the invoices were kept and would go to the office from which they are normally issued. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) raised another point, but I think that that also could be dealt with by the common sense of the inspector. It is laid down in the Bill that inspections are to be made at reasonable times, and I think it would be only fair to assume that it would not be a reasonable time for such an inspection if there were only on office boy in charge.
§ Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.