HC Deb 27 July 1863 vol 172 cc1477-87

Order for Third Reading read.

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


said, that before they proceeded further with the measure before them, he wished to call the attention of the House to the manner in which it had been introduced, and also to the provisions of the Bill itself. The Bill was brought from the other House on the 23rd inst. At one o'clock in the morning of the 24th, it was read a first time, and at ten o'clock in the morning of that day it was placed for the first time in the hands of hon. Members. At the same time they received the usual record of the proceedings of the House, which informed them that it was to be an Order of the Day, and to be read a second time at twelve o'clock. The notice paper as to their proceedings contained no further intimation, and it could not, therefore, have been supposed that the Government intended to go further than read the Bill a second time; but at twelve o'clock they not only read the Bill a second time, but moved that it be committed, and then proceeded to consider it in Committee, had the Bill reported and ordered to be read a third time that day, before its nature or provisions could be properly considered. Expedition might be necessary in regard to the Bill, but it wag a question deserving consideration, whether the Government ought to be allowed to pass a Bill through more stages than those of which notice was given in the usual record. When such an unusual course as that he had described did take place, all those hon. Members who were absent were taken by surprise. He might be told by the noble Lord at the head of the Government as he had been before, that it was the duty of all Members to be in their place; but that proposition he denied as inaccurate in theory and impossible in practice. The duty imposed upon Members was to attend the service of the House whenever the House thought fit to make any order directing them to discharge a particular duty. But the House had established many usages and some Standing Orders for the protection of absent Members, and the object of all was to prevent anything being done by a few Members who were present without notice to those who were absent. If the House did not insist upon those rules being enforced, the greatest inconvenience and wrong would be the consequence. The course that had been pursued in the case of the Bill before them had been such as was calculated to mislead and surprise the House. He, upon looking at the Bill, found it to be open to grave objections, but receiving it only two hours before the House met, and knowing that those objections could not be fully considered upon the second reading, he had not attended, believing that at the next stage an opportunity for pointing out objections would be given. There had really been time to permit of the Committee upon the Bill being taken at an evening sitting, instead of hurrying the Bill through two stages at a morning sitting. It was astonishing how rapidly bad practices grew. A few years since such a Bill could not have been sent up from the other House, or, if it had been sent, it would have been cast aside as an invasion of the privileges of the House of Commons. In order to facilitate the progress of business, that House had, a few years since, decided that Bills of that kind might be received from the other House; but instead of regarding the concession in its true light, the House of Lords seemed disposed to regard it as an abnegation of the rights of the House of Commons, and therefore sent up Bills at a time when it was impossible due consideration could be given to them—thus practically saying that the House of Commons were not to consider them, but to accept the fiat of the House of Lords, and pass them. It had not been the custom of the House of Commons to pass Bills of pains and penalties without consideration, and the Standing Orders contained provisions intended to guard against surprises. Now, however, it would seem to be argued that those rules should be waived, because they had allowed the other House to originate Bills of that kind. But the House had never intended that the provisions to which he referred should be disregarded; and if an opportunity for considering the Bill had been afforded, he believed he could have proved that it ought not to pass in its present shape. The Bill referred to the medals granted by the Commissioners of the Exhibitions of 1851 and 1862; but he would suggest that before the House was asked to pass a Bill of pains and penalties in connection with those medals, it was entitled to receive some information as to the granting of the medals, to have an authentic statement of the conditions upon which they were granted, and the manner in which they were used. But they had no authentic information upon the subject. They were told that the Commissioners were private parties, who were not amenable to that House, and they were therefore in the difficulty of being called upon to legislate without authentic information upon the subject. His opinions, therefore, were necessarily based upon information privately obtained. There was some misapprehension as to the nature of the medals granted by the Commissioners. It was supposed that they were similar to medals granted by the universities to successful competitors who had written essays of superior merit. But what would be thought if a rich undergraduate employed a poor but able author to write an essay for which the undergraduate was awarded a medal! Supposing, too, that a year or two afterwards a collection of prize essays was published, and the poor author among them discovered his essay, would he not be entitled to say that he had gained the medal? Such was in reality the character of the greater number of medals issued to exhibitors. Those medals were granted by the Commissioners to any person who, by dint of expenditure of money, could procure something of excellent quality to add to the show. But the Commissioners never asked who made the articles. [An hon. MEMBER: The medals are given to them as exhibitors.] It was true, the medals were given to the exhibitors of a good article. But what guarantee was there that articles of equal quality would be afterwards produced? The very article for which an exhibitor obtained a medal might have been made by the workmen of another tradesman. Unless it could be shown that the men who obtained the medals obtained them for the things they themselves produced in the fair course of business, and which they intended to produce again, he contended that the issue of these medals was as great a fraud as could possibly be conceived. A man obtaining a medal for an article of excellent quality and then manufacturing an inferior quality, under the cover of the medal, was guilty of a gross Fraud. In France, he believed, a more just view was taken, and a medal was not only given to an exhibitor of an excellent article, but one also to the ingenious and skilful workman by whom it was made. In this country, such was the power of money, that all the talent and industry of the country, had been passed over in the granting of medals in favour of those who had money in their pockets, and the skilful artisan was unnoticed in the award of the medals. If the House was called upon to legislate immediately upon the subject, they ought to pass a law that would not permit an abuse to be made of the medals granted to exhibitors. The first offence against which they ought to provide was that of a man selling goods with the medal mark, but of an inferior description to those for which the medal had been granted, but the Bill contained no provision to suppress the abuse of medals by exhibitors who had obtained them. It was promoted by Great Exhibition medallists, and so no one could be surprised that their peculiar temptation to fraud was not dealt with. Now, the principle acted on by courts of equity was, that no one was entitled to apply there to prevent a fraud being committed by another person if he himself had committed a fraud in the matter in question. Equity laid it down that a man must come before it with clean hands, and that it would not interfere with the rival competition of dishonest persons. But the Bill allowed unlimited latitude for dishonesty on the part of medallists, while it protected them from dishonesty on the part of others. Now, of course, it was wrong to utter falsehoods, but Parliament had thought it right never to attempt to legislate for the suppression of falsehood unless it was uttered for the purposes of fraud. The first clause of the Bill, however, made even a false assertion penal, whether made with a view to fraud or otherwise. It provided, that "if any trader falsely represents that he has obtained a medal or certificate from the Exhibition Commissioners, in respect of any article or process for which a medal or certificate has been awarded by the Commissioners," he was liable on conviction to a penalty of £5 for the first offence, and for the second to a penalty of £20, or—not in default of payment, but as an alternative sentence to be inflicted at the option of the magistrate—to imprisonment for any period not exceeding six months. He wished to call the attention of the House to the words of that clause, which made the offence punishable only if committed by "any trader." He should have supposed, that if falsehood was to be punished at all, it should be punished equally if committed by a trader or a non-trader. But that was not the effect of the Bill; and the result was, that if any trader after dinner, when an Englishman was sometimes disposed to do a little vain boasting, said twice, though without any intention to defraud, that he had obtained a medal or certificate, he was liable to six months' imprisonment. Now, if lying upon that subject was to be a crime, why not extend the punishment to every person who lied? The same punishment was to be inflicted upon any trader who falsely represented (knowing such representation to be false) that any other trader had obtained a medal or certificate from the Exhibition Commissioners. Here, again, a trader might represent, without risk of punishment, that any other person, not being a trader, had got a medal or certificate. A limited company also might boast of having obtained medals with impunity, because the shareholders would not be individual traders. By the third clause, if any trader falsely represented that any article sold or exposed for sale had been made by a person who had obtained a medal or certificate from the Exhibition Commissioners, he should be subject to penalties. That clause was open to this observation, that it did not connect the real maker with the issue of the medal, but allowed a man who had advanced the cash to use the medal, while the real maker could not use it. Another question which occurred to him was, what was to constitute a trader under the Bill? Must the offender be a trader within the Bankruptcy Laws? No definition was supplied on that point, and altogether the Bill in its details was of a most, extravagant and mischievous character. Another proposal was that "in proceedings under this Act it shall not be necessary to prove that any person has sustained damage by the false representations of the defendant," so that punishment would be awarded for a naked falsehood, and it would not be necessary to show that any damage had been sustained by individuals. Why, they might as well punish a man for saying that he had got a medal or a degree at a University. He should have been better satisfied if the Exhibition Commissioners had shown greater regard for the industry, skill, and talent of the artisan class of this country, instead of giving all the rewards and honours to moneyed men who merely showed the goods. The result of the discussions on the Trades Marks Bill had been that they had arrived at a very compendious code of laws to prevent traders from making misrepresentations in connection with the buying and selling of goods. In order that there should be no unfair interference with trade, Parliament had determined that the Trades Marks Bill should lot come into operation till the 31st of December 1863; yet, while that Act was in abeyance, it was sought to cut in with the Exhibition Medals Bill, which was to take effect immediately. If there was a difficulty with respect to these matters now, it arose from the caution and prudence of Parliament in not having put the Trades Marks Act in force when it passed. The language of the legislation in that Act, which was considered word by word, was totally different from that of the Bill before them. Under the Trades Marks Act no trader was to be punished unless his offence had been committed for the purpose of fraud. Either the thing was to be false and fraudulent, or there was to be a specific misrepresentation in buying or selling a commodity. With that Act in abeyance, he submitted it was premature and precipitate to pass any other Act on the subject of mercantile marks. Another evil in the Bill was that there was no time stated within which the information should be made. A man might come in and make the charge after ten years had elapsed from the time of the offence. The Trades Marks Act required that the charge should be made within a short period. The language of the Bill was loose, irregular, and untechnical, and contrary to all the spirit of their legislation; and as he did not think that it should be proceeded with, he begged to move that it he read a second time that day week.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day week."—(Mr. Ayrton.)


said, he was not competent to decide on the nice legal distinctions which had been drawn by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets as to the precise meaning of the words in the Bill; but he understood the principle and the object of the measure; and as it had come down from the other House, he presumed that the noble and learned Lords who had considered, and who were far more competent to judge of the legal effect of its meaning than himself, were satisfied with the language used in the various clauses. He was therefore prepared to facilitate as far as he could the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons. The object of the Bill was to prevent persons who had not obtained medals at the late Exhibition, and who, perhaps, had not even exhibited their goods there, falsely representing to the world that they had obtained medals and had exhibited, and thus obtaining for themselves an advantage which they would not otherwise possess, to the disadvantage of those who had obtained medals and had been at the expense of exhibiting. In point of fact, it was proposed to enact that after the passing of the Bill persons should be required, instead of telling a falsehood to tell the truth. The second provision for penalties in the case of false representations was in these words:—"falsely represents (knowing such representation to be false) that any other trader has obtained a medal or certificate from the Exhibition Commissioners." His hon. and learned Friend had overlooked the words "knowing such representation to be false." [Mr. AYRTON: No, I did not.] He could not see how any inconvenience was to arise from such a provision, while it was a great injustice that persons who had been at the expense of sending goods to the Exhibition, and had medals awarded to them by the juries, should be deprived of their just claims to public confidence in those goods by others making fraudulent misrepresentations. The Trades Marks Act had nothing to do with the matter. An Exhibition medal was not a trade mark. An attempt was made in the Court of Chancery to obtain an injunction to put a stop to that mode of fraud, but it failed, because an Exhibition medal was held not to be a trade mark. In principle, of course, there was as much dishonesty in the wrongful assumption of the one as of the other, and it was only fair that protection should be given to the holders of medals. As to the passing of the Bill through two stages in one day, that was by no means uncommon at the end of the Session. It would, no doubt, be objectionable if such a course were constantly pursued, but there were exceptions to every rule. Had he known that the House was going to Bit on Saturday, he would have fixed the Committee for that day; but as that was uncertain, and as he was afraid, if he did not get the Bill through two stages at once, it would be lost, he asked the permission of the House to allow him that indulgence, which was granted. That was a course for which there were numerous precedents, and it was not at all necessary to give notice of it; nor was it necessary to suspend the Standing Orders, for there were none. He hoped the House would not be deterred by mere technical difficulties from providing a remedy for a serious wrong which was daily being committed, and authorizing the summary procedure which he believed would most effectually accomplish that object.


said, the House had been placed, with regard to this Bill, in a position which was without parallel in his experience, or in that, he believed, of the oldest Member. A Bill had been brought in at the end of the Session, introducing an absolutely new principle into our criminal law, and backing it up by a penalty of remarkable severity. It was proposed for the first time to punish a man with six months' imprisonment for words uttered, without any fraudulent intent, in joke, or in inadvertence, after dinner, in a railway carriage, or in any casual way. That was a matter which certainly deserved the serious consideration of the House; but the Minister in charge of it introduced it without saying much about it, and then gave notice of the second reading, intending to take another stage at the same time, but without having the courtesy to inform hon. Members of his intention. [Mr. MILNER GIBSON: No.] And then, more extraordinary still, when objections were raised on the third reading, the Minister coolly said he was not competent to deal with them.


explained, that what he said was, that he would discuss the principle of the expediency of the measure, but that he did not think himself capable of judging the legal effect of the working of the clauses, which had been considered by persons who were competent to judge.


said, he wanted to know why none of these competent persons were present to answer objections. The legal effect of the clauses was just the matter in question. He did not blame the right hon. Gentleman, who was no lawyer, but there should have been some lawyer present to defend the Bill. Here they had a Bill totally new in principle, hurried through two stages without notice at the end of the Session, when the Government was unusually strong; and then, when objections were made on the third reading, the responsible Minister said he was incompetent to undertake its defence. Altogether it was a most extraordinary course of proceeding, and it was remarkable that something of stratagem and trick clung to the skirts of everything connected with the Great Exhibition. The present occurrence was a repetition, only in a thinner House, of the same tactics which the Government lately adopted on a more important question. He felt bound to protest against dealing with the criminal law in such a spirit. No doubt the Government might stand upon the strict right; but if they did, it might be possible to pass through a Bill of attainder and order the cutting-off of the Prime Minister's head without notice. He believed that was the first instance that could be adduced of a Minister acting in this way; and if the Government availed themselves of the strict forms of the House, the minority would be justified in turning the same weapon, as far as they could, against them.


said, there was a general feeling that the Exhibition of 1851 and 1862 had tended to encourage industry and inventions; and the possession of a medal undoubtedly increased the reputation of a manufacturer, It was surely only just and reasonable that, under these circumstances, the holder of a medal should be protected in the enjoyment of his rights, and that any one who fraudulently invaded them should be punished. A monstrous system of fraud prevailed in regard to these medals, which ought to be checked without delay.


expressed his concurrence in the objections urged against the Bill by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets. It was proposed, for the first time, to punish a false statement simply because it was false, without the slightest reference to the object for which it was made. The Bill therefore would introduce a new principle into the criminal law of the country, and they ought to beware how they assented to the establishment of a dangerous precedent. He did not think, however, that his right hon. Friend was to blame in the matter, as the object he sought to effect was undoubtedly good.


said, he wished to ask how it was, that if the Bill were so necessary, no effort had been made to introduce it earlier in the Session. The Bill would not come into operation till the end of the year; and as Parliament would meet again in February, no great harm could arise from delay.


said, he had no doubt, that if the Bill were subjected to the opinion of lawyers, faults might be discovered in it; but the object of the Bill was simply to prevent those persons who had not received Exhibition medals from pretending that they had received them, and he did not think that they need be very apprehensive about a new principle being introduced in such a Bill. As the law stood, if a person made a false representation with intent to defraud, he was guilty of a misdemeanour. The Bill did not go that length; it simply made a false representation punishable by summary conviction before a magistrate. Some ludicrous cases had been supposed by previous speakers, but magistrates were men of common sense, and would interpret the Act in a reasonable way. He could not help expressing his surprise that the noble Lord should have thought it necessary to seize that opportunity for making such an attack upon the Government.


said, the Bill was loosely drawn, but something must be done immediately, and he was inclined to vote for the third reading, provided he had an assurance from the Government that they would introduce an Amendment Bill next Session.


was understood to assent.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 62; Noes 15: Majority 47.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 3°.


said, he had risen to ask the hon. and learned Solicitor General, whom he had recently seen in the House, as a competent judge, to tell them what the Bill really meant before they gave their final assent to it; but as the hon. and learned Gentleman had, with extreme judgment, withdrawn, he could only give notice that he would next Session move the adoption of a Standing Order to prevent the surreptitious passing of a Bill through two stages in one day, which had been practised in that instance.


said, he must point out to the noble Lord that the Bill had passed the Second Reading without any opposition. There was no opposition to the Bill at all. It was then put to the House whether or not, under those circumstances, there was any objection to its passing through the next stage. The course pursued, he must say, was by no means unusual, and therefore it could not properly be called irregular.


said, he would, by leave, he permitted to observe, as what the right hon. Gentleman had just said might seem to cast censure upon him, that the Bill was circulated only two hours before it was proceeded with.

Bill passed.