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Statistics Of Trade Bill

Volume 437: debated on Thursday 22 May 1947

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed [25th April; on Consideration, as amended (in the Standing Committee).

CLAUSE 4.—( Offences relating to returns.)

Amendment proposed: In page 3, line 4, leave out from "pounds." to the end of line 8, and insert:

"or, in the case of a second or subsequent offence to a fine not exceeding two hundred pounds.
(2) If the failure in respect of which a person is convicted under the last foregoing Subsection is continued after the conviction he shall be guilty of a further offence and may on summary conviction thereof be punished accordingly."—[The Solicitor-General.]

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

8.25 p.m.

When the Debate was adjourned, I was addressing the House on this Amendment, and I hope I can impress upon the Solicitor-General the necessity for making some alteration in the Amendment. The position, as I see it, is that an offence is created where a person fails to send in a return; under the Amendment, the position is that on a second conviction a person can be subjected to this greatly increased penalty. What is worrying me is what is to be taken as being a second conviction According to the wording of the Amendment, before a person can be liable to this increased penalty, he must have been already convicted, and therefore, he must have been convicted on a failure to make a return. If we allow the Amendment to be made, the very moment a person has been convicted he will become liable to a second conviction, and therefore, liable to the increased penalty, without any further action having been taken by the Board of Trade or whoever it is who requires the information.

If one tries to visualise that in practical terms, it means that a man can be taken before a court for having failed to make a return, and can be fined. As he walks out of the court, he can be served with another summons because he is still failing to make a return. One knows that in practice that might not happen, but we cannot legislate on the basis of what may happen in practice. We have to get the thing straight. He could, theoretically, be served with another summons there and then, taken before the court again, and immediately be subjected to the increased penalty. I cannot believe mat the Solicitor-General wants to achieve that result. What he wants to achieve is that if a man has been convicted, and if he is still adamant in his attitude about refusing to make a return, he should be liable to the increased penalty. Surely, the proper way to do that is to serve another notice. There would then be a second offence None of us would disagree with the intention of the Solicitor-General that there should be an increased penalty for the subsequent offence. As I see the position, the Solicitor-General does not achieve that by the Amendment. I would like to see some words inserted which would have the effect that, when a man has been once convicted, another request for a return is made, and a failure to comply with that second request should be the second offence which would lead to a second conviction and make the man liable to the higher penalty. As it stands at present, a man is faced with the prospect of being convicted a second time for failure to comply with the first notice. In other words, there are two penalties for one offence. If he fails to make a return, he can be convicted, and, five minutes afterwards, he can be convicted again of not making the return on the same request. If the hon. and learned Solicitor-General would make it clear that another request must be made before a second conviction is imposed. that, I think, would meet the position.

8.30 p.m.

I would ask my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade to look at this Clause because I think it is open to very serious criticism. On a previous occasion, the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), when discussing the matter, appeared to construe the second part of the Amendment as meaning that a fine of £200 a day could he imposed instead of the fine of £10 a day which had previously been mentioned. Of course, that was undoubtedly a misapprehension of the meaning of the Clause. I intervened while the hon. Member for Daventry was putting that view forward, and I daresay that, on reflection, he will agree I was right and that his view was a misapprehension.

The position is that here we have a Clause as well as an Amendment which is seeking to set up an offence, and which is attaching a penalty to that offence. In other words, it is creating a crime. Therefore, it seems to me, as I am sure it must to everyone else, that, in such a case, one ought to take the greatest care and have the greatest clarity. There is certainly no clearness about this particular Amendment. What it apparently seeks to do when there is what is called "a further offence" is to increase the penalty from £50 to £200, instead of having a continuous fine of £10 a day, which was previously provided for in the Clause. The fundamental objection to it is that a "further" offence is created the moment there has been a first conviction and a fine has been paid on that conviction, The moment afterwards, as visualised by this Amendment, the first offence itself becomes a further offence, and I would ask my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General to look at his argument about that which was reported in HANSARD on 25th April. He said:
"The failure may continue. But t he offence in respect of which the prosecution has been launched has, in fact, been wiped out."—OFFICIAL REPORT. 25th April, 1947: Vol. 436, c 1493.]
But it has not been wiped out at all. The point about this Amendment is that that very offence is made to continue. It is true that it turns up in the form of being a further offence, but it is a further offence founded upon precisely the same default on which there has just been a conviction, and on which a fine has just been paid. I am perfectly sure that that is not the position which my hon. and learned Friend or my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade wishes to set up.

The other argument which the Solicitor-General put forward was that rather than have this fine of £10 a day, he thought it would be better to have a fixed fine of £200. The Solicitor-General fails to see that whereas, without this Amendment, it takes 20 days before £200 accumulates at £10 a day, if this Amendment is accepted, within a few minutes of the conviction and the fine being paid the offender is liable to pay £200. He has not got to wait 20 days, or even 20 minutes. Therefore, the argument that it would be fairer to an offender to let him know that he would have to pay a specific sum falls to the ground. Far from being easier for him, it is much harder, because he immediately becomes liable to pay the whole penalty of £200.

A more objectionable feature of the Amendment is this. Assuming a man to have been convicted and to have paid his fine, and assuming that he delivers the return or estimate within 24 hours, after that he has still committed an offence during the interval. Surely, that cannot be intended by the Government. There is no provision for an interval in which to enable him to comply with the requirements of the Act. In other Acts there is a provision whereby, when there has been a conviction, the court is empowered to fix a reasonable period during which the penalty shall not apply. The court says that the offender shall be given a certain period in which to comply with the requirements of the Act, after which the man shall be liable to a further fine. There are a number of Acts containing such a Clause including, I believe, the Water Act, 1945. It is true that that provision applies in cases where the fine goes on from day to day, but the principle involved in this Bill is not at all different from those cases, because the liability here under the Amendment operates at once as soon as the man has been fined and there is a conviction.

There is another and serious objection. It does not necessarily follow that there is to be a prosecution by the Crown. It is strange that in a Bill of this character there is no provision, such as one often finds, to the effect that there is to be no right to institute proceedings except by, or on behalf of, the Attorney-General or the Director of Public Prosecutions. Such a provision is to be found in the Local Government Act, 1933, and other Statutes. I believe it is in the Water Act, 1945, to which I have referred, as well. Supposing there has been an interval of 24 hours in which the offender has not complied with the requirement to send in the return or estimate, what happens is this: there may not be a prosecution by the Crown, but a private person can initiate a prosecution of this kind, and that seems to me to be a very serious matter indeed. There ought to be in this legislation a provision which enables only the Director of Public Prosecutions to take proceedings. In conclusion, I would suggest an Amendment to this proposed Amendment, namely, after the word "continued," in the second line of Subsection (2), to insert: "for a period of one month, unless the court shall deem it necessary in the circumstances to fix a shorter period. …" The result of that would be that Subsection (2) of the Amendment would read as follows:
"If the failure in respect of which a person is convicted under the last foregoing sub- section is continued for a period of one month, unless the court shall deem it necessary in the circumstances to fix a shorter period after the conviction, he shall be guilty of a further offence. …
If that were done, in my humble submission, it would cure the main objections to this particular Amendment. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to accede to this suggestion and thereby satisfy the objections raised from both sides of the House.

I listened with attention, both to the speeches made today on this Amendment and those made on the last occasion on which this Bill was before the House. I feel that hon. Members opposite and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) are unduly apprehensive. What is the object of this Amendment? It is, as was said last time, simply to—

the hon. and learned Member has already spoken on this Amendment, on 25th April.

The Minister in charge of the Bill has a perfect right to speak twice.

This Minister is in charge of the Bill.

I was saying, that the whole object of this particular part of the Amendment is to quantify what otherwise may be a continually augmenting penalty. As was pointed out on the last occasion this was discussed, it is not fair to a person who is liable to be charged with an offence that the penalty which he might have to pay might be £100, £300 or £500, according to the purely fortuitous circumstance whether the case were heard at a later or an earlier date, that often being a matter which is entirely out of his control. I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House accept that in principle the Amendment is designed to achieve a useful object.

I now address myself to the particular objection raised against the Amendment by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe). He said it was not really fair that immediately a person came out of a police court, having been lined for an offence under the Clause, he should be liable to be fined again if his failure to render the return continued for another five minutes. If I may say so, with respect to him, it seems to me that that is a purely fanciful objection.

It may be fanciful, but would not the hon. and learned Member agree that it is, in effect, what could happen?

The Clause has to be interpreted reasonably. Even if it could happen, exactly the same thing could happen under the various motor car regulations. If when a person is driving a motor car his light is out, he can be fined five seconds afterwards if the offence is committed five seconds afterwards; if he comes to a halt sign and goes over the halt sign he can be fined for that—

Perhaps I might complete my point before giving way. Therefore, in relation to a very large number of offences which are set up by the laws of this country, if a prosecutor is determined to be completely unreasonable about the matter he can prosecute for the most minor infringement; the smallest Infringements in the world can render a person liable to criminal proceedings under various Statutes of Parliament. But I do not suppose a police authority, or any other authority, would be so inane and inept as to prosecute in that sort of case. Of course, that does not happen. If it did happen, there is always the Probation of Offenders Act, and the charge could be dismissed without a conviction being registered, and without a fine being imposed. Therefore, I characterise the supposition upon which the objection is based as a fanciful one.

8.45 p.m.

After all, one must consider the circumstances. If a man fails to make a return he then, in due course, receives a summons. Some days, no doubt, will have gone by, if not some weeks, before he gets the summons. Then, it takes some time before the case is heard at the police court. At any time during that period, if he wants to he can make that return. There is nothing to stop his making the return. He is not liable to any penalty at all, unless he has not an excuse. That was the effect of the Amendment introduced at the last sitting. He has got to have no excuse for not making the return. Only if he has not got an excuse is he criminally liable. Every day that goes by he can make the return before, in due course, the proceedings are heard. If he does not make the return in that time, several weeks afterwards, it is entirely his own fault.

There is just one point I should like to put. That may be so. But it is provided in so many Acts that there should be a reasonable period fixed by the magistrate from the date of conviction in order that some reasonable gap can still be made between the conviction and the resumption of the offence. Why should that be so in some cases and not in others?

The answer is, because Acts differ. Some have gaps and some have not. Many Acts have no gaps. That is the answer to that question. If there is an unreasonable prosecution the charge can be dismissed under the Probation of Offenders Act. 1f in some case, owing to a mistake or through ineptitude, there is an unreasonable prosecution, the case can be dismissed; or there could be a small penalty or no penalty at all. The person charged with the offence would be in no worse position than would be another person in the case of any other offence. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester proposed that the Director of Public Prosecutions should be the only person to initiate prosecutions under this Bill. I do not know. I suppose one could make exactly the same suggestion in regard to every Act setting up the law of this country. Why, that being so, my hon. and learned Friend, not caring very much about it, should single out this instance to display his knowledge I cannot think; but he has done so, and I can only answer that it does not seem to me to be necessary, with the greatest respect to him, that the Director should be the only person in this class of case to initiate proceedings.

The hon. and learned Gentleman has said quite rightly, if I may say so, that there was an interval between the defendant's receiving the summons and his prosecution. I ask him to suppose a case where during that interval the defendant believed, bona fide, but wrongly, that he had a defence. In that case it would be most unreasonable to have a second prosecution immediately after the first. I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to consider inserting the words "after an interval reasonably sufficient for furnishing such estimates or returns."

I cannot really think it is necessary to alter it in that sense. A person who commits an offence and thinks he has a defence is in the same position as any other person prosecuted for an offence. One has to try to see one does not commit an offence, and if one is wrong-headed and takes a perverse view of the law one has to take the consequences.

Certainly, but the hon. and learned Gentleman will realise, surely, that the man will have paid the penalty for that at his first trial. The only thing I was asking him to consider was whether, having paid the penalty for the first offence, he should be instantly liable for a second offence?

Does the hon. arid learned Gentleman really think the man would be instantly prosecuted for another offence? [HON. MEMBERS: "He could be."] I do not want to use disrespectful language, but that is too absurd for words, If he did, he would know how to deal with it. I hope I have now dealt with all the objections. I see an hon. Gentleman shaking his head, but I think the answer I have given is an adequate one. The Clause as it is will work reasonably well, in the sense that a person convicted of an offence will have plenty of time in which to make a further return, to think whether or not he should make a return, and to take advice if he is really in doubt about it, and, in nine cases out of 10, and, possibly, in 99 out of 100, there will not be the least doubt whether he has to make a return or not. It is not that we are asking him to do something of immense difficulty. He is asked to make a return, and either he does so or not, but, by doing so, he can remove all danger of prosecution. I therefore ask the House to say that the Amendment should stand.

I wish I could understand the processes of the hon. and learned Gentleman's mind which gave rise to the speech he has just made. After all, he is being asked on both sides of the House merely to alter the wording of the Amendment, and I gather that there are several possible ways of doing it. One has been suggested by one of his own supporters, and another by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss)—merely in order to make clear and certain what the hon. and learned Gentleman alleges is going to he the normal every-day result of the Amendment moved earlier.

The hon. and learned Gentleman gave as an illustration or analogy the case of a man who was prosecuted because the lights on his motorcar had gone out. I think that, when he reads in HANSARD what he actually said, he will realise the absurdity of the analogy he drew. To suggest that, after a man had been prosecuted because the lights on his motor car were out, and he had been fined, he might immediately thereafter be summoned again—[Interruption.] Well, it may not be what the hon. and learned Gentleman meant, but that is what he said. We have to suppose that the man whose car lights were out was caught by a policeman and summoned, and then we have to suppose that he attended at the court after dark and left his motorcar outside while the case was being tried, and without lights. When he came out, after having been convicted and fined, he found a policeman outside the court waiting to pinch him again. Really, if the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that is an accurate analogy to what we are objecting to, I feel sorry for him. It is ridiculous to suggest that we are objecting to that kind of thing. What we are anxious to do is to make sure, in the words of the Statute, that the contingency which has been foreseen by hon. Members on all sides of the House cannot possibly arise, and I really do not understand why the hon. and learned Gentleman is being so stubborn in not seeing the point and accepting the slight alteration of the wording which is involved.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that his hon. and learned Friend behind him had quoted a certain Act which made provision for the gap, to which the learned Solicitor-General answered that some Acts had a gap and some had not, and he seemed to assume that that was an adequate argument for intelligent people on both sides of the House. If some Acts have gaps and some have not, why on earth should not this Bill be included in those that have gaps? It is not difficult; there is no question of principle. Why should we accept that view merely because the learned Solicitor-General said so? He merely said he thought that was so; it is just an ipse dixit. That is part of the totalitarian attitude. [Laughter.] It is no joke.

Earlier, the Solicitor-General made a statement about evidence, and said that any Government was entitled to get evidence where it could, and had the right to get it, so that it could prosecute. That is not a doctrine on which this nation has been brought up; it is part of the new doctrine of totalitarianism. I appeal to the Government to meet us on this point in order to accelerate business. After all, I am always anxious to help. Only this morning the Minister of Fuel and Power gave me an unsolicited testimonial in Standing Committee. It was slightly embarrassing. If the Solicitor-General does not want to meet us now, perhaps the Amendment can be made in another place. I really think that he is not being as reasonable as his smiling countenance might lead people, who had not heard his previous arguments, to suppose.

Any Member who listened to the legal speeches from the other side of the House must have inevitably felt deep sympathy with the Solicitor-General. The hon. and learned Gentleman was obviously in a difficulty in face of the brilliant legal argument, the deep legal knowledge, of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). I only wish that the Leader of the House could have been here when the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester made his speech, because I feel sure that he would have seen a chance to strengthen the Government's weak legal team. The hon. and learned Member put up an amazing effort in his legal exposition of the difficulties arid weaknesses of this Amendment.

My chief reason for objecting to the Amendment is that it would create new offences. I quite realise that there are Members who like making new offences, but I do not really believe that they are so fond of doing that as they sometimes make out. I am not sure about the Leader of the House, but I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman whose name is on the back of the Bill would not wish to create new offences if he could help it. I cannot hope to put the position half as well as the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester put it, in his legal and technical language. As an ordinary back bench Member, I simply appeal to the Government not to insist on creating new offences. There are so many offences which one can commit today that none of us knows where we might come under this offence if the Amendment was accepted. This is a very technical matter, and that is why I am so grateful for the legal advice we have had from the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester.

I am only objecting as a layman. So far I think only legal luminaries have spoken, and I see there is a certain amount of interest in what I am saying among laymen in the House. Why should we not also object? Not only because this is a new offence, but also because in these words there seems to be a further offence created. It is all very nice for the Law Officer to sit there with all the great ramifications of his office and knowing that he always has the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester behind him. But we have not that advantage. He says that, of course, it is almost inconceivable that if a man was convicted for one of these offences he might walk out of court and be picked up and convicted again. It is all very well for him to say that, but that is no defence. It does not get the poor person off. We know that this is increasingly liable to happen. That is why I think that some of the ordinary non-legal minds might be a little more anxious about what the Government really mean on this occasion.

There is a further matter. I have not yet discovered why the Government suddenly wish to raise the original fine from £10 to £200. I think the hon. and learned Member said that it would take 20 days to get up to the £200. I am not guaranteeing his figures, but I think we can take them as accurate. Of course, I know very well that these are just maximum penalties. But I have always heard it laid down by good lawyers that you must not put the maximum too high or certain people are likely to inflict it almost invariably. Even if the Government have a strong case and insist on having this new Clause, surely they might reduce the £200 to £100. There is a terrific amount. of doubt about this. There is at present a tendency to pile up fines in this way, and we know the difficulties the ordinary individual has through getting into these troubles. I am deeply grateful, for I see the learned Solicitor-General is rather beaming at this suggestion. Having reduced the penalty to £100, we might now come down again to £50.

Perhaps I may have some support for that. There are, really, a number of other matters in this Amendment which ought to have been raised, and I only wish it had been introduced at a. more convenient time when I could have gone into it more thoroughly. At present I

Division No. 227.]

AYES.

[9.9 p.m.

Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)Burden, T. W.Deer, G.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Burke, W. A.de Freitas, Geoffrey
Alpass, J. H.Byers, FrankDiamond, J.
Austin, H. LewisCarmichael, JamesDobbie, W.
Ayles, W. H.Chater, D.Dodds, N. N.
Baird J.Chetwynd, G. RDriberg, T. E. N
Barton, C.Clitherow, Dr R.Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Battley, J RCobb, F. A.Edwards, John (Blackburn)
Bechervaise, A. ECocks, F, S.Edwards, W. J. (Whitechape)
Belcher, J. W.Collindridge, FEvans, S. N (Wednesbury)
Benson, G.Collins, V. J.Farthing, W. J.
Berry, H.Colman, Miss G. M.Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)
Beswick, F.Cook, T. F.Follick, M.
Blenkinsop, ACooper, Wing-Comdr. GFraser, T. (Hamilton)
Blyton, W. R.Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camberwell, N.W.)Freeman, Maj. J. (Watford)
Boardman, H.Corlett, Dr. J.Gaitskell, H. T. N
Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W.Corvedale, ViscountGanley, Mrs. C. S
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir SGeorge, Lady M Lloyd (Anglesey)
Brook, D. (Halifax)Davies, Clement (Montgomery)Gibbins, J.
Brown, T. J. (Ince)Davies, Edward (Burslem)Gibson, C. W.
Bruce, Maj. D. W TDavies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Gilzean, A.

have had only a few minutes at my disposal. Here we have the Government preparing a Bill and then putting down an Amendment enormously increasing the penalty and the risk to the individual, and adding one more offence to the list. They are increasing the risk to the ordinary individual, who does not try to cheat the Government as a rule. By prosecuting and making offences of this kind, the Government are driving people more and more to think that the law is always after them, instead of supporting the law, as most people wish to do. I feel that even if there is no great enthusiasm for my suggestion on the Front Bench opposite, it would be wise to adopt it on this occasion, not because of what I have said or what hon. Members of the Opposition may say, but because the most brilliant lawyer on the Government side has shown that they have no human excuse for putting forward this Amendment. For that reason, I would beg the Government to concede to the good sense and really skilful pleading of their supporter on the back bench and withdraw their Amendment. if that could be done it would give satisfaction to everyone and could do no harm. I believe that the ordinary back benchers opposite would get as much pleasure from it as I would. I would again ask the Government for the assurance which I seek, and I hope that I am going to get it.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 197; Noes, 59.

Glanville, J. E. (Consett)Mikardo, IanSorensen, R. W.
Gordon-Walker, P. C.Monslow, W.Soskice, Maj. Sir F
Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)Morgan, Dr. H. BSparks, J. A.
Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Morley, R.Stamford, W
Gunter, R. J.Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)Steele, T.
Guy, W. H.Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)Stephen, C.
Hall, W. G.Mort, D. L.Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Nichol, Mrs M. E. (Bradford, N.)Swingler, S.
Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Nicholls, H R. (Stratford)Sylvester, G. O.
Hardy, E. A.Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J (Derby)Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Hobson, C R.Noel-Buxton, LadyThomas, Ivor (Keighley)
Holman, P.Oldfield, W. HThomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)Oliver, G. HThomas, George (Cardiff)
House, G.Orbach, M.Thurtle, Ernest
Hoy, J.Paget, R. T.Titterington, M. F
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Paling, Rt. Hon Wilfred (Wentworth)Ungoed-Thomas, L
Hutchinson, H, L. (Rusholme)Palmer, A. M. FVernon, Maj. W. F.
Irving, W. J.Pargiter, G. AViant, S. P.
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)Walker, G. H.
Janner, B.Paton, J. (Norwich)Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Jay, D. P. T.Popplewell, E.Warbey, W. N.
Jeger, G. (Winchester)Porter, G. (Leeds)Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)Price, M. PhilipsWells, P. L. (Faversham)
Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)Proctor, W. T.Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Jones, J. H. (Bolton)Pursey, Cmdr. HWhiteley, Rt. Hon. W
Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)Randall, H. EWigg, Col. G. E.
Keenan, WRanger, J.Wilcock, Group-Capt C A B
Kendall, W. D.Rankin, J.Wilkes, L.
Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr ERees-Williams, D. RWilkins, W. A.
Kinley, J.Reeves, J.Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Kirby, B. V.Reid, T. (Swindon)Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Lavers, S.Rhodes, H.Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Lee, F (Hulme)Richards, RWilliams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Leonard, W.Robens, A.Williams, Rt. Hon. T (Don Valley)
Leslie, J. R.Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Lindsay, K. M. (Comb'd Eng Univ.)Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)Williamson, T
Longden, FRogers, G. H. RWillis, E.
McAdam, W.Ross, William (Kilmarnock)Wills, Mrs. E. A
McGovern, J.Royle, C.Wilson, J. H.
McKay, J. (Wallsend)Segal, Dr. SWoodburn, A
McKinlay, A. S.Sharp, GranvilleYates, V. F
McLeavy, F.Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)
Manning, Mrs. L (Epping)Simmons, C JTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Marquand, H. A.Skinnard, F. W.Mr. Pearson and Mr. Snow.
Middleton, Mrs. LSolley, L. J

NOES.

Agnew, Cmdr. P GHarvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.Neven-Spence, Sir B
Amory, D. HeathcoatHeadlam, Lieut.-Col Rt. Hon. Sir CNield, B. (Chester)
Bennett, Sir P.Hogg, Hon. QPitman, I. J.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)Hope, Lord JPonsonby, Col. C. E.
Bossom, A. CHoward, Hon. APrior-Palmer, Brig. O
Bower, N.Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. AHutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)Renton, D.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. WHutchison, Col. J. R, (Glasgow. C.)Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Carson, E.Jeffreys, General Sir GSmith, E. P (Ashford)
Challen, CKerr, Sir J. GrahamStanley, Rt. Hon. O.
Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. GLangford-Holt, J.Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)
Conant, Maj. R. J. ELegge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. HThorp, Lt.-Col. R A F
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col O. ELow, Brig. A. R. W.Walker-Smith, D.
Cuthbert, W. N.Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.Ward, Hon. G. R
Darling, Sir W. Y.Mackeson, Brig. H. RWheatley, Colonel M. J
Davidson, ViscountessMaclay, Hon. J. S.Williams, C (Torquay)
Digby, S. W.Macpherson, Maj. N. (Dumfries)York, C.
Dower, E. L. G (Caithness)Manningham-Buller, R E
Drewe, C.Marlowe, A. A. H.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P MMarshall, D. (Bodmin)Mr. Studholme and
Grimston, R VMoore, Lt.-Col. Sir TMajor Ramsay.

I beg to move, in page 3, line 11, to leave out "false."

This is virtually a drafting Amendment. It alleviates the position so far as a defendant is concerned. It provides that he does not commit an offence in making a false statement unless it is false in a material particular. The mere fact that the statement is false is not enough: it has to be false in something which can be fairly described as important.

I am not very sure about this Amendment. It is a slight improvement, but I think it would be better if we left out "false" and did not have the other part. I am unable to give a legal definition of a "material" offence. I do not know how far it goes. It might be a little lie, or it might be a slip where £1 million might be put in instead of £100,000, a slip like that might have enormous consequences. It might be quite unintentional. I would like to have an explanation of how far "material particular" goes. Many of our constituents may have to return these forms, and it is wrong that we should not be in a position to instruct them on the matter. We ought to be able to tell them straight away without having to go to the Minister exactly what "a material particular" means. Until I know what it means it would seem rather as though we were not qualifying ourselves to explain this law. Of course, I recognise that the Government are only trying to make the law clearer. I hope the Minister will give me an explanation; otherwise, I may have to conclude that the Government do not know the answer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has made a material point. When we examine the Amendment, it appears very doubtful. Let us suppose that a statement is made knowingly or recklessly by an individual; why should he not be guilty of an offence? The proposal in the Amendment is that although he has made a false statement knowingly, he can be held guilty of an offence only if the statement is false in a material particular. It is difficult sometimes to know where the quality of being material begins and ends. My hon. Friend has made a very serious point. I suggest that the Amendment should not be proceeded with and that the matter should be left as it is. If an individual deliberately says something which is false, one would imagine that that would be an offence.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 3, line 12, after "returns," insert:

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