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New Clause—(Service Of Notices)

Volume 437: debated on Wednesday 21 May 1947

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(1) Any notice required or authorised by or under this Act or the National Service Acts, 1939 to 1946, to be served on any person may be served either—

  • (a) by delivering it to that person; or
  • (b) by leaving it at his proper address; or
  • (c) by post;
  • so, however, that where a notice is served by post otherwise than in a registered letter service shall not be deemed to have been effected if it is proved that the notice was not received by the person to whom it was addressed.

    (2) The proper address 01 any person on whom such a notice as aforesaid is to be served shall he the last known address of the person to be served.—[ Brigadier Prior-Palmer.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

    As the Bill stands, the service of notices is still governed by Section 18 of the old Act. We consider that, in the past, this provision has given rise to opportunities for hardship, and there have been cases of hardship. We had a certain amount of discussion on this matter during the Committee stage in the early hours of the morning, when I do not think any of us were really very clear about it, and we now wish to advance arguments in favour of the inclusion of the new Clause in the Bill so as to give added security to the person on whom notice for service is served.

    In the past, all that has been necessary has been proof of posting of the letter or notice of service. We suggest that the non-receipt of that notice, in many cases, has been through no fault whatever of the individual concerned, but it has led to military and civil lapses, and we think that is wrong. We are not asking the Government to do anything out of the way or anything which has not been done before, because, if the right hon. Gentleman will look at the Government's own Bill—the Statistics of Trade Bill—he will see that, in Clause II, these very conditions for the serving of notices, as we have tabled them in this new Clause, are there included.

    I beg to second the Motion.

    It seems both a rational and a helpful new Clause, and I cannot see that there is any objection to it.

    I appreciate the way in which the hon. and gallant Gentlemen have put their case, but we cannot accept this new Clause as it stands, and I will give the reasons. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the new Clause said it would give added security, but we are afraid that it would give added opportunities of evasion. I will give the reasons for that. The Clause provides that

    "where notice is served by post otherwise than in a registered letter service shall not be deemed to have been effected if it is proved that the notice was not received by the person to whom it was addressed."
    There is a lovely opportunity there for chasing this thing around. Somebody has to prove that it was not received. It is clear that the obligation is not upon the Post Office to prove that it was received. There are lots of ways in which it can be done. It would be possible, and I could give as an example, knowing of similar things that have happened in the past, the case of serving a summons for a breach of the peace. The person concerned might be out in the backyard when he sees the policeman coming and he does not want the notice served upon him. In this case, however, there has to be evidence that it was not received by the person concerned. The person expecting to receive the call-up notice might be one of the small minority that we have in this country and might want to evade being called up. All that he has to do is to keep out of the way.

    There are certain alternatives here—by delivering it to that person, or by leaving it at his proper address.

    I know. The hon. and gallant Member says "by leaving it at his proper address." We should then have to decide his proper address. Is it a permanent address?

    I know, and that is why I do not want to anticipate the discussion on it. I believe myself that, if we were to accept this proposal, we should run into any amount of trouble. Let us suppose that the man is a lodger, and that he is out when the notice arrives, and that the landlady does not give it to him, but, instead, puts it behind one of the ornaments on the mantelpiece, and forgets. The notice has been delivered, and, therefore, in ordinary circumstances, the evidence of posting is considered as evidence of delivery. There might be another case where the boy's mother wants him to be tied to her apron strings. The notice may arrive, and she may destroy it. I can assure the House that millions of notices have been sent out under the existing Act with very little disagreement at all. Each of those notices goes through the hands of two persons. They are checked twice, first in the checking department and then in the issuing enlistment notice department. In each case there are two officials whose only job is to do that, and to see that everything is properly done. In the very small number of cases where there has been any difficulty, it has been traced, in the main, to the fact that the person has not registered his change of address as required by the Act. We feel that a great deal of trouble might be caused and evasions made possible if this method was adopted. I have no legal knowledge, but I am sure that anybody with such knowledge would agree that a person to whom a notice was addressed could come along and say he had not received it Therefore, we ask the House not to tie us down to such a system.

    I have listened with interest to the right hon. Gentleman's arguments, although I am sorry that I did not hear the speeches of those who moved the new Clause. I shall also read the right hon. Gentleman's argument with great interest, because it seems to me that I may be able to use it against his right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade. Indeed, I am a little surprised to find the right hon. Gentleman attacking so vigorously a new Clause which is almost precisely similar to a Clause contained in a Bill which bears his own name. I refer to Clause II of the Statistics of Trade Bill, which provides this excellent code for service of notice upon business men, firms and everyone carrying on undertakings throughout the country. In that Bill, the right hon. Gentleman thinks this the right way of serving notice. He has backed the proposal. I must say that it occurred to me that it was an extremely good way, and it was, therefore, with some interest that I heard his speech attacking and trying to make holes in a similar Clause to that which the Government themselves have put forward. If this particular code with regard to the service of notices is right in the case of business men, firms, undertakings and shops—notices calling upon them to furnish all kinds of information, for failing to do which heavy penalties can be imposed—why is not the same provision right in the case of the enlistment of men who are going to be called up for a period of 12 months' whole-time service? That is a question which has not been answered. I do not believe that there is any substance in the right hon. Gentleman's case against this new Clause. What happens now is that a letter is sent through the ordinary post and the man is deemed to be enlisted when that letter is received. I agree that an ordinary letter might be put anywhere. It might be put behind the ornament on the mantelpiece, but if the right hon. Gentleman and his Ministry send a registered letter, which, surely, they can do quite simply, it is not likely that a landlady will put that behind the ornament on the mantelpiece and forget all about it.

    As the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) says, it will not really matter if she does. Surely, what is right in respect of notices under the Statistics of Trade Bill is also right under this Bill. I agree that, in wartime, there is something to be said for service through the ordinary post, but there is nothing to be said in peacetime against the serving of enlistment notices by registered post, in order to ensure, as far as possible, that the recipient gets it and to avoid, as far as possible, the disputes that have occurred and may occur again when a man says, on being charged with being a deserter, "I never received the notice," and when, on the other side, there is the evidence that the notice was sent by the ordinary post. It is not really very satisfactory, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind the good precedent he has set in the Statistics of Trade Bill, and to look at this matter again.

    I hope that we shall have the benefit of the right hon. and learned Attorney-General's opinion on this matter. It seems rather strange that in two Bills, one of them being considered by the House today, and the other to be considered by the House tomorrow, there should be two different codes regarding service, and that the Minister of Labour should back both Bills, and say tomorrow that the thing is sense and today that it is nonsense. I should have thought that on general lines of propriety one would not want, in two different Bills brought before the House in the same week, two quite different codes governing service.

    As my hon. and learned Friend has just pointed out, the arguments, such as they were, in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, in which he savagely attacked the actual proposal of the Board of Trade in the Statistics of Trade Bill, are all arguments directed to the difficulties which would be caused under this Clause by sending the document by ordinary post, and not in a registered letter. All the difficulties could be avoided by a registered letter. It is really useless for the Government to assert that this new Clause, which is in the very terms of the Clause included in another Bill, is unworkable or nonsense. It is perfectly workable, and perfectly good sense. I think that, unless the right hon. and learned Attorney-General can give some good reasons against it, it should be accepted. In any event, we are, surely, entitled to some further explanation from the Government.

    I am at a loss to understand why the Minister is not able to accept this new Clause. If an ordinary letter is posted, which is to carry liability against a person, and that person does not know anything about it, it would appear that he is liable to be brought before the court, but if a letter is sent to a person and he has to attend at court, unless it can be proved that that letter has been delivered to the individual by a policeman, or some accredited person, it will not be considered as having been delivered. To obviate the difficulty, the registered letter should be used, since that, to my mind, carries with it something tantamount to delivery. As we are going to ask the men to go into the Forces, I do not see what is wrong in sending them registered letters. It would obviate a lot of difficulty, and I should have thought that a new Clause of this description would have been acceptable.

    7.30 p.m.

    I desire to say a few words in the same sense as my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan). I cannot see why this new Clause should not be accepted. It is all very well to say that the old system has worked well, and to talk about the majority of cases, but it is not always the majority of cases that count. Obviously, there are cases where things go wrong. I myself have been professionally concerned more than once during the war in cases where the military police have arrived at a man's house, arrested him in bed, carted him off to the other end of the country, put him in the guardroom and court-martialled him, only to find that the arrest was wrong, because no proper notice had been served on the man. If this kind of service is to be permanent or semi-permanent in peacetime, it would not put a great burden upon the Executive to require them to send notices by registered post instead of by ordinary post. As I understand it, this new Clause requires no more than that. Every one of the dangers and iniquities which my right hon. Friend put forward as reasonable grounds for resisting the new Clause would be obviated completely by the simple device of sending the notices by registered post, and that is what the new Clause provides for. Why the right hon. Gentleman should resist so convenient and sensible a course, I cannot imagine.

    I rise because I observe no inclination on the part of the Attorney-General to do so. I hope we may hear again from the Government Front Bench on this matter, and that hon. Members on this side of the House will continue to press this point until the Attorney-General has given a fuller explanation. Attention has already been drawn to the fact that in two Bills, the Government are taking two diametrically opposed courses of action. I would remind the Government that in the Agriculture Bill the same sort of question arose. In fact, in a large number of Bills questions very similar to this have arisen and will arise in the future. The Government should make up their minds on what is the right course to pursue and, having made up their minds, that course should be followed in successive Bills in future. I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell us what distinction he draws between this and other Bills.

    I must admit that I am very much shaken by the arguments that have been adduced. I know I am on a sticky wicket, and that a fast ball has been bowled at me. I cannot promise to accept this new Clause as it stands, but I do promise that we will look at it, and at the next opportunity bring in something to put that point right. I was very much swayed in my own mind at the beginning by the fact that it would mean 400,000 notices a year in respect of the summonses for medical examination and he enlistment notices alone. It would make a great deal more work; it would not be a question of cost, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer would get nothing out of it as the notices would be sent "On His Majesty's Service." To be quite frank, when speaking earlier, I omitted to mention the point of the extra work, but it is a very important point. On the other hand, we are dealing with the liberty of the individual, and I admit the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). Time and again, as a magistrate, I have had to insist on a policeman going into the witness box to prove that he delivered the summons. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Therefore, if the hon. and gallant Member will withdraw the proposed Clause, I will undertake to do something to cover the point.

    In view of that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

    Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.