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Clause 6—(Duty To Notify Undertakings To Board Of Trade Or Other Competent Authority)

Volume 437: debated on Thursday 22 May 1947

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I beg to move, in page 3, line 42, to leave out "fourteen," and to insert "twenty-one."

I would like to ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether, in speaking to this Amendment, I might refer also to the one which immediately follows it on the Paper, in page 3, line 42, after "date," insert "of publication."

Certainly. I think that will be for the convenience of the House.

The Clause to which this Amendment relates lays it down that a return must be given to the Board of Trade, within 14 days after the publication of an advertisement in the appropriate newspapers, not only as to everybody who is in the particular industry, but also giving any particulars that may be specified about each undertaking. In considering these Amendments, I think the attention of the House should be drawn to the penalties provided in Subsections (3) and (4) of the Clause. These two Amendments are designed, first, to help industry, and, secondly, to cover a point which I am certain the Board of Trade will accept, which is to insert in line 42, after "date" the words "of publication." In the first place, 14 days is not a very long period, particularly in these times of shortage of labour, paper, and so on, and it seems to me that 21 days would be much more satisfactory. The publication of trade periodicals, through no fault of anybody, is often held up. It is equally true that many businessmen, particularly small businessmen, read their trade periodicals only over the weekend. I suggest, therefore, that a period of 14 days does not give industry an adequate chance to comply with the requirements of the Board of Trade.

The second Amendment, which is to insert the words "of publication," is of considerable importance. I think I am right in saying that all Board of Trade advertisements of this nature would bear upon them, underneath the signature of the person who signed them, the date. As I read the Subsection, it would be possible for the date of the advertisement to be the date underneath the signature, or the date of issue from the Board of Trade, but even if that be not so, and if the date of the advertisement refers to the date of the newspaper, that does not necessarily mean the date of publication. Very often trade periodicals are dated considerably in advance of the date on which they appear. Consequently, it would be a considerable clarification if the provision were made to refer to the date of publication. For all those reasons, I hope the Government will be willing to accept the Amendments.

I beg to second the Amendment.

The problem we face is to strike a balance between a time that will not be too long, which would encourage procrastination, and not too short for the purpose of seeing the advertisement, satisfying oneself that one has the correct information, and sending it to the Board of Trade. Hon. Members on this side think that the proper time to allow is not 14 days, as is provided in the Bill, but 21 clays. There may be good reason for believing that the method which has been chosen to acquaint people with the requirement to provide this information is not by any means the best one, and it may well be that many people do not read their trade journals or subscribe to them. There is every reason to believe it will take some time for the necessity for this information to be sent to the Board of Trade to percolate through all the levels of small business men. Therefore, we suggest that to increase the number of days from 14 to 21 would be in the interests of trades generally.

As to the second point, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest and Christchurch (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) has queried what is meant by "date of the advertisement" in the Bill. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will clarify that point, because there is room for considerable doubt on it. There is, moreover, a very long delay in many cases between the date on which it is intended to insert an advertisement and the date on which the advertisement appears. Many London newspapers insert advertisements five or six weeks after they have been submitted. Therefore, we feel it is essential that the Amendment should be accepted in order to avoid confusion.

9.30 p.m.

I should have thought that 14 days would have been long enough to enable any trader to identify himself in an advertisement issued by the Board of Trade, and for him to collect together what are, after all, a very few particulars, and to forward them. But there is every desire on the part of the Government to be reasonable. We would not like unduly to handicap any trader who, through no fault of his own, was prevented from seeing an advertisement when it appeared. Therefore, if there is a strong feeling that this period ought to be lengthened to 21 days, we are prepared to accept the Amendment.

With regard to the second point, again I should have thought that the date of the advertisement was sufficient, but, if the adding of the extra words will give the clarification which hon. Members opposite say they will give—I do not think that there is a great deal in it, and it is certainly not a subject on which we are prepared to spend a great deal of time arguing—we will accept the Amendment.

I thank the hon. Gentleman and the Government for giving way on this point, which will make a considerable difference to innumerable small traders, and I particularly thank the Government most sincerely on behalf of those people whom I happen to represent.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 3, line 42, after "date," insert, "of pubcation"—[ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre.]

I beg to move, in page 4, line 1, to leave out Subsection (2).

This Amendment raises once again the point which we have discussed on previous occasions, namely, our objection to the system of delegation. We still believe that it would have been far better to have made one Department responsible for all these various activities in order to prevent overlapping. The Parliamentary Secretary, in answer to the last Amendment, which he was good enough to accept, really acknowledged the strength of our case by the words he used. He said that, surely, 14 days are enough to enable anyone to realise whether or not they are covered by an advertisement issued by the Board of Trade. But, under this Clause, it is not going to be an advertisement issued by the Board of Trade; it is going to be an advertisement issued by any one of some 20 or 21 Departments to which the Board of Trade, for their own purposes, may see fit to delegate their powers. Although, as a result of the Amendment which the Gov- ernment have been good enough to accept, the situation is a little better than it was, nevertheless, those Amendments do not get over the fundamental objection which we have to delegating and dispersing authority, instead of concentrating the work in one centralised department.

I can quite understand the argument which has been put forward on this main issue, but that, of course, was decided by the House when we were dealing with Subsection (3) of Clause 3. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that, once having decided that we can delegate the function for the collection of material, and the advertisements which go with that function, it would be most unwise to split the authority between two departments, and to make one responsible for collection and the other responsible for informing people that the collection will take place. I am sure that that would not be satisfactory. We must either not delegate at all, or delegate all the functions in connection with a particular circumstance. I am sure that, from that point of view, the hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate that, having passed the earlier Subsection, we must keep this one in.

Having passed the earlier one, and having heard the arguments on it, we had some hopes that, in view of the interval which elapsed, the right hon. and learned Gentleman might have reconsidered his attitude. Those hopes have been disappointed. But there is this further point which troubles me a little. Each one of these 21 Government Departments to whom the powers be delegated, may operate under this Clause. If a person does not' respond to the advertisement and fails to give the particulars required under Subsection (3), that person will be guilty of an offence. I hope it will be made clear in the advertisement when it is inserted by any Ministry other than the Board of Trade, that it is inserted for the purposes of this Measure and by a particular Government authority on behalf of the Board of Trade under this Clause, so that it is brought to the attention of people that if they do not pay regard to the contents of the notice they will be liable to punishment. If we can have an assurance that that will be done, no matter whether the advertisement is inserted by the Board of Trade or by any other department, it will go some way towards relieving our anxiety about the present Subsection.

Certainly we shall link up the advertisements with the Bill. It will be absolutely necessary, in order to show that it is under this Clause that the advertisements are being issued and the information is requested. The hon. and learned Gentleman, I am sum, can accept that assurance.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move, in page 4, line 13, to leave out "false."

This Amendment effects in this Clause precisely the same change as a similar Amendment effected in Clause 4. In other words, it provides that a person shall not be guilty of an offence in making a false statement unless that statement can be said to be one about something which matters. When we were discussing the last Amendment, hon. Members opposite asked what was meant by "false in a material particular." It is impossible to predict in all cases what would be considered material. It is a question of fact in each case. I can, perhaps, translate the words "false in a material particular" by saying they must be false in some respect which, from a commonsense point of view, can he said to be a matter of some importance. In other words, it is not a statement which is false in some triviality, but a statement which is false in something which is of some importance. I ask the House, having accepted the last Amendment, to accept this one also.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 4, line 14, after "aforesaid," insert:

"which is false in a material particular."—[The Solicitor- General.]