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Clause 2—(Power To Take Possession Of Articles Unreasonably Withheld)

Volume 66: debated on Wednesday 26 August 1914

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(1) If from any such return as aforesaid, or from any other source of information, the Board of Trade are of opinion that any article of commerce is being unreasonably withheld from the market, they may, if so authorised by His Majesty's Proclamation (made generally or as respects any particular kind of article of commerce) and in manner provided by the Proclamation, take possession of any supplies of the article, paying the owners of the supplies such price as may, in default of agreement, be decided to be reasonable, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, by the arbitration of a judge of the High Court selected by the Lord Chief Justice of England.

(2) Nothing in this Act shall be construed as preventing the Board of Trade exercising their powers under this Section without having first obtained, or endeavoured to obtain, returns under this Act.

I do not understand the explanation of the wording of Sub-section (1) which says—

"by the arbitration of a judge of the High Court selected by the Lord Chief Justice of England."

What High Court does that mean? As regards Ireland and Scotland, what High Court is indicated?

So far as I know, there is no High Court in Scotland, but I understand the Court of Session is its equivalent. If it is necessary to put this Bill into operation—I hope it may not be—then the Lord Chief Justice will appoint a judge of the High Court of England and of the Court of Session in Scotland and of the equivalent Court in Ireland, if it is necessary. I hope it will not be necessary to do so, but the Lord Chief Justice no doubt will select the men most conversant, with the practice and conditions of the country.

That may apply to England, but the proper authority in Scotland is the Lord President of the Court of Session, and I have no doubt there is a similar authority in Ireland. We ought to make that perfectly clear.

I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1), to add the words, "in England, by a judge of the Court of Session selected by the Lord President of the Court of Session in Scotland."

It may be desirable to put the matter beyond dispute so far as Scotland is concerned by adding those words, and by the leave of the House I will move them. So far as Ireland is concerned, I cannot take it upon myself to say what the proper wording should be.

Unless you are going to make a hash of the thing it is perfectly absurd to add these words. I suggest that we should put the Bill through now as it stands, and then postpone it until to-morrow on the Report stage. It is hardly worth while dealing with the Scottish case now and making the Bill right for Scotland without making it right for Ireland.

We have no objection to that course. We have no wish to have trouble over this matter.

I quite realise the hon. and learned Gentleman's object. What I suggest is that if we can pitch on the proper authority for Ireland—my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, I have no doubt, will be able to extemporise an Amendment right off—then we shall satisfy the hon. and learned Gentleman. We wish to get through with this Bill this afternoon, as we are anxious to start some inquiries which are necessary. If my right hon. Friend can make a suggestion, we might have the Report stage taken at once.

I would point out, in answer to the hon. and learned Member (Mr. T. M. Healy), that unless we make some Amendment here there will be no Report stage. If this Amendment is withdrawn there will be no chance of amending the Bill on Report. May I also point out that if you take the Lord Advocate's words, they, of course, put his own country right, but what becomes of the Isle of Man? You limit the Lord Chief Justice of England in his appointment to England, but there is no one to make the appointment in the case of any action taken in the Isle of Man. I think the words are unsatisfactory.

Question, "That the words 'in England, by a judge of the Court of Session selected by the Lord President of the Court of Session in Scotland' be there inserted," put, and agreed to.

I beg to move, after the words last inserted, to add the words "and by a judge of the High Court in Ireland selected by the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland."

I move this Amendment in order to remove any possible hash.

Is there any authority for using the expression "High Court in Ireland"?

I do not think there is any authority for that expression. It should be the High Court of Justice.

It should be the High Court of Justice, and I will move my Amendment including those words.

I beg to thank the right hon. Gentleman. I desire to support the Government in a time of emergency like this.

Question, "That the words 'and by a judge of the High Court of Justice selected by the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland in Ireland' be there inserted," put, and agreed to.

Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

What will be the authority with regard to the Isle of Man? We passed a special Bill to-day including the Isle of Man in a number of Acts already passed, in which it was made clear that the Lord Chief Justice of England would deal with any cases arising in the Isle of Man. With the Amendments we have passed to this Bill the Isle of Man would be ruled out. What will become of any case arising there?

For the purposes of this Bill my hon. Friend can ignore the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man is not an important part of the realm for the purposes of this Bill. There is very little likelihood of there being great stocks in the Isle of Man which are being withheld from consumption, and there is no likelihood of them being withheld for the purposes of extortion. Our purposes will be met by applying the Bill to England, Ireland, and Scotland.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Bill reported with Amendments.

As amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."

I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill whether, as I suppose, this Bill will cover the stocks of wheat and other human foods on farmers' premises, because in that case a single return would not be much guide to the Government as to what the stocks for the time being are? In order to get anything like an accurate return or an accurate assessment of such stocks in the country it will be necessary to have periodical returns, because the supplies of wheat, for instance, will unfortunately be steadily dwindling until next summer, and it is most important that during the present crisis the Government should be fully informed as to what stocks of that character there are in farmers' premises during the whole period of hostilities.

Just as the Unreasonable Withholding of Foodstuffs Act which we passed a fortnight ago applied to farmers' stocks and to other granaries, so this Bill will apply to farmers' stocks. The Board of Agriculture have already made provisional arrangements which will enable them, I hope to ascertain without undue delay the exact amount of stocks held by farmers. No doubt that will satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.