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Clause 2

Volume 827: debated on Tuesday 30 November 1971

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Power To Suspend Financial Dealings

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 17, leave out '£400' and insert '£1,000'.

This is an exploratory Amendment whose purpose is to inquire why the fine on summary conviction should be £400. Would this be enough? It is possible that somebody who broke this piece of legislation could make considerable sums of money. Under subsection (4)(b) on indictment the penalties could be considerably more than £400, but it may not always be desired to proceed to indictment.

Is the Minister of State prepared to say how the sum of £400 was arrived at, and how long it is considered that that sum will be sufficient? Is it felt to be sufficient for a period of 5, 10 or 50 years? With the rate of inflation that is being experienced under the present Government—I do not wish to be partisan—then in another year that sum will certainly not be sufficient. It might be convenient for the Government even to accept this Amendment.

11.15 p.m.

In the course of our recent late night discussions, it is true that the hon. Gentleman has not been partisan. However, he tends to stray near the bounds of order.

The hon. Gentleman began in an exploratory frame of mind. He seemed in his second sentence to discover where he was going. Whereas in subsection (4)(a), which he seeks to amend, the penalty on summary conviction is a fine of not more than £400, in subsection (4)(b), on conviction on indictment, the penalty is imprisonment for not more than two years or a fine, or both.

The House will appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point that it would be possible for an individual to make a considerable amount of money through contravening such a regulation. That being so, however, I believe that it is the feeling of the House that the second penalty—that is to say, on conviction on indictment, of imprisonment for not more than two years or a fine, or both—is an extremely heavy one and one which would be a major deterrent.

Perhaps I should put this aspect of the Bill into context and answer more precisely the specific point raised by the hon. Gentleman. The situation is one where one needs to achieve some degree of consistency between the fines which are laid down in the different enactments, otherwise there is the possibility of anomalies and the consequent risk of injustice.

Where the legislation provides for a trial on an indictment, it is the general practice for a maximum fine on summary conviction to be not more than £400. The Criminal Justice Act, 1967, passed by the previous Administration, indicates the fines in a number of existing cases, and in any event it stipulates a fine of not more than £400 on summary conviction. There are other exceptions to the maximum limit of £400, but we do not consider that it would be justified in the Bill, which is in line with the maximum penalty normally imposed in the circumstances set out in subsection (4)(a).

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with the second point. It is that, unless there are special circumstances, people being tried for offences carrying substantial financial penalties should be tried on indictment. This gives them an opportunity to make their case in a way which such a trial allows.

It is always open to any Government to bring monetary fines into line with current monetary values.

On the hon. Gentleman's more partisan points, I make only two in reply. The first is that this is what the previous Government did in the Criminal Justice Act, 1967. The second is that, as regards the rate of inflation, the hon. Gentleman would do well to study the events of the last six months and compare one three-month period with the one before it.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 ( Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.


Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Fortescue.]