Padfield v Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeTHE MASTER OF THE ROLLS,LORD JUSTICE RUSSELL,LORD JUSTICE DIPLOCK
Judgment Date27 July 1966
Judgment citation (vLex)[1966] EWCA Civ J0727-2
Date27 July 1966
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
The Queen
and
The Minister of Agriculture,
Fisheries and Food
Ex parte George Padfield and others

[1966] EWCA Civ J0727-2

Before:

The Master of the Rolls

(Lord Denning)

Lord Justice Diplock and

Lord Justice Russell

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

From the Queen' Bench Division Divisional Court

THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Dingle Foot, Q. C.) and MR P. LANDON DAVIES instructed by The Solicitor, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) appeared as Counsel for the Appellant, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

MR DAVID KEMP (instructed by Messrs Ellis & Fairbairn) appeared as Counsel for the Appellants, the Milk Marketing Board.

MR D. A. GRANT, Q. C. and MR A. B. DAWSON (instructed by Messrs Biddle, Thorne, Welsford & Barnes) appeared as Counsel for the Respondents, George Padfield and others.

THE MASTER OF THE ROLLS
1

We are here concerned with the marketing of milk. It is regulated by the Milk Marketing Scheme and administered by the Milk Marketing Board. The dairy farmers of England and Wales sell their milk to the Milk Marketing Board. The lorries of the Board pick up the churns of milk at the farm gate and carry it to depots. The price is fixed by the Board for milk delivered at the farm gate. In order to fix the price, England and Wales are divided into eleven regions. The price varies from region to region. But all the farmers in any one region are paid the same price per gallon at the farm gate.

2

The dairy farmers in the South-Eastern region are paid a higher price for their milk than the dairy farmers in the Farwestern region. The reason is because they are much nearer to the great population of London. If they were free of control, they would be selling their milk to London at a price delivered in London: and would have to bear their own costs of transport. The costs of the Sussex farmers in transporting their milk to the London market would be much less than the costs of the Cornish farmers, and their net receipts would be correspondingly higher. The Board recognise this by paying a "differential" to the South-Eastern farmers to compensate them.

3

The South-Eastern farmers, nearly 5,000 of them, complain that the existing "differential" is too low. It was fixed long ago by the Minister during the War under the Regulations then in force. It was then fixed at 1.19d. per gallon, and "has remained the same ever since. The value of money has altered and costs have increased. The actual difference in costs is 3½d. per gallon. The South-Eastern farmers claim that the differential should be increased to recognise this increase. They pray in aid the report of two Committees. First, the Cutforth Committee, which was set up by the Minister, and reported in 1936: "It seems to us essential as a governing principle that transport charges should be allocated among producers in such a way as to secure differentials in net returns which are relatedto actual proximity to liquid milk consuming centres". Second, the Davis Committee, which was set up by the Board itself and reported in 1963: "We recommend that under present conditions the total range of prices at the farm gate should be 2,4d. per gallon as against 1.19d. as at present". The Davis Committee divided the country into five zones, stepping up the differentials in five stages by 0.6d. per gallon. For instance, Cornwall and Devon should get the basic price. Somerset 0.6d. more. Wiltshire and Dorset 1.2d. more. Hampshire and Berkshire 1.8d. more. Kent and Sussex and the Home Counties 2.4d. more per gallon than the basic price.

4

In view of these favourable reports, the South-Eastern dairy farmers have pressed the Milk Marketing Board to increase the prices payable to them. But the Milk Marketing Board have refused. All the moneys received for milk go in to one pool. If the South-Eastern farmers got more, the Far-Western farmers would get less. An increase in differential would benefit the South-Eastern farmers and some of the nearby regions, but would harm the Far-Western and other remote regions. Under the Milk Marketing Scheme, the Board consists of seventeen or eighteen members, twelve being regional members, three being special members elected by all producers, and two or three appointed by the Minister. It looks as if those pressing for an increase in differential can always be out-voted by those who desire no change.

5

Seeing that they could not persuade the Board to make a change in the differential, the South-Eastern farmers complained to the Minister under Section 19(3) of the Agricultural Marketing Act 1958. Under that section the Minister has power to direct that a complaint be considered by the Committee of Investigation. The Committee of Investigation is a standing statutory committee under a legal Chairman, which is set up specially to consider complaints affecting the milk industry. The Minister refused to refer the complaint to the Committee. The South-Eastern farmers now come to the Court complaining of the conduct of the Minister.They say that in refusing he took extraneous matters into consideration which he ought not to have done.

6

The key words of Section 19(3) are that "A Committee of Investigation shall….be charged with the duty, if the Minister in any case so directs, of considering and reporting to the Minister on….any complaint made to the Minister as to the operation of any scheme".

7

If the Minister does refer a matter to the Committee, its task is shown by Section 19(6). It has to consider whether any provision of the Milk Marketing Scheme, or any act or omission of the Milk Marketing Board, is "contrary to the interests of any persons affected by the Scheme and is not in the public interest". The rest of the section and the regulations under it show that mice a matter is referred toa. Committee of Investigation, it is to be investigated in a fair and impartial manner. The Committee can hear witnesses. It can call for accounts and information from the Board, it can hear other witnesses not called by the party. It must hear not only the complainant but also the Board. The Committee has then to make its report: and its conclusions have to be published. If the Committee report that the Board ought to take steps to remedy the matters of complaint, the Board can themselves take those stepss and if they do not do so, the Minister can order them to rectify the matter.

8

Applying these provisions to the present case, the South-Eastern dairy farmers are clearly "persons affected by the scheme". They have made a complaint to the Minister "as to the operation of the scheme". The Minister therefore has power to refer it to a Committee of Investigation. Suppose he did so and that the Committee reported that the present price differential is contrary to the interests of the South-Eastern dairy farmers, and is not in the public interest. The report would no doubt be considered by the Board. If the Board did not take steps to remedy the position, the Minister could step in and order them to rectify it.

9

It is plain to me that by these provisions Parliament has provided machinery by which complaints of farmers can be investigated by a Committee which is independent of the Board: end by which those complaints, if justified, can be remedied. No other machinery is provided. This case raises the important questions How far can the Minister reject the complaint out of hand? Is the Minister at liberty in his unfettered discretion to withhold the matter from the Committee of Investigation and thus refuse the farmers a hearing by the Committee? And by refusing a hearing, refuse a remedy? Mr Kemp, who appeared for the Milk Marketing Board, contended that the Minister need not consider the complaint at all. He could throw it into the wastepaper-basket without looking at it. The Solicitor-General did not support this argument. It is clearly untenable. The Minister is under a duty to consider every complaint so as to see whether it should be referred to the Committee of Investigation. I can well see that he may quite properly reject some of the complaints without more ado. They may be frivolous or wrong-headed: or they may be repetitive of old complaints already disposed of. But there are others which he cannot properly reject. In my opinion every genuine complaint which is worthy of investigation by the Committee of Investigation should be referred to that Committee. The Minister is not at liberty to refuse it on grounds which are arbitrary or capricious. Nor because he has a personal antipathy to the complainant or does not like his political views. Or any other irrelevant ground.

10

It is said that the decision of the Minister is administrative and not judicial. But that does not mean that he can do as he likes, regardless of right or wrong. Nor does it mean that the Courts are powerless to correct him. Good administration requires that complaints should be investigated and that grievances should be remedied. When Parliament has set up machinery for that very purpose, it is not for the Minister to brush iton one side. He should not refuse to have a complaint investigated without good reason.

11

But it is said that the Minister is not bound to give any reason at all. And that, if he gives no reason, his refusal cannot be questioned. So why does it matter if he gives bad reasons? I do not agree. This is the only remedy available to a person aggrieved. Save, of course, for questions in the House which Parliament it self did not consider suitable. Else why did it set up a Committee of Investigation? If the Minister is to denv the complainant a hearing - and a remedy - he should at least have good reasons for his refusals and, if asked, he should give them. If he does not do so, the Court may infer that he has no good reason. If it appears to the Court that the Minister has been, or must have been, influenced by extraneous considerations which ought not to have...

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