§ (Sir Albert Rollit, Mr. Seymour King, Mr. Gourley.)
§ [BILL 155.] SECOND READING.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
Sir, as I understand the second reading of this Bill will not be opposed by the Government, and as I do not anticipate any opposition to the Motion I am about to make, I need simply state that the Bill is intended to prevent the arbitrary imprisonment of persons and forfeiture of ships in cases of alleged smuggling. The present law is that if a vessel enters a port with contraband goods concealed on board, the ship is absolutely forfeited, and the crew and passengers are liable to detention, a fine of £100, and to imprisonment until payment. My proposal is to provide that this shall not be the law with regard to either the vessel or those on on board unless there is reason to believe that there has been complicity on the part of the owner of the ship or of the persons on board respectively. If the Motion for the second reading is agreed to, I am willing that the Committee stage of the Bill should be deferred.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Albert Rollit.)
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON) (Leeds, N.)
Sir, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, 128 it is not necessary for me to oppose the second reading of this Bill. The hon. Member in charge of the Bill (Sir Albert Rollit) has stated to the House the condition on which he takes the second reading—namely, that the Committee stage of the measure shall be deferred, in order that the Government may have an opportunity of considering whether they will accept it in its present form, or propose any alteration. It is not necessary for me, at this late hour (12.40), to detain the House with many remarks upon the character of the Bill; and accordingly I will only remind hon. Members that the proposal which my hon. Friend makes is, practically, to go back to what was the condition of the law formerly—that is to say, before the year 1876, when an Act was passed which did not contain a clause that was in the previous Acts. The House will possibly feel that there will be some difficulty in accepting the words—"Reasonable grounds for the exemption of the owner of a ship from his liability." The offence of smuggling is one that stands very much by itself. I am told it is held by a very large number of people to be an offence not very serious in itself; but I would remind the House that the Customs of this country are responsible for more than £20,000,000 of the Revenue. I think the House will therefore admit that before you make any change in the law which might in any sense weaken the power of those who have to administer it, and assist in the collection of this enormous Revenue, the greatest care should be taken, and the most careful consideration should be given to the question. It is unnecessary for me to say more on the present occasion. I will not oppose the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
I feel it right to say one word in reference to this Bill, as hon. Members will probably have seen that until to-night I had a block against the Bill to prevent it from coming on after half past 12 o'clock. I would explain—if I may be permitted to do so—the reason why I put down the block, and the reason why I took it off. I put a block against this Bill, and probably against some 50 other Tory measures, because the Tory Whip placed a block against a Bill of mine before it was printed, and even before I had finished drafting it. Now, 129 I quite admit that the practice of blocking is one that should be used with discrimination; but I cannot conceive that there is any discrimination whatever exercised on the part of the Representative of the Tory Party, when he blocks a Bill which has not yet passed from the drafter's hands. I do not consider, and I do not think any right-minded man in this House will consider, that that is fair treatment of a political opponent. As the only defence in my power, I have placed a block against every Tory measure that I could find. At the earnest instance of the hon. Member (Sir Albert Rollit), who has moved the second reading of this Bill, I removed the block last night, and I am now very pleased to give the Bill my support. [Laughter.] Well, so I am. I understand perfectly well what the measure is—what the object of it is, and what the grievance is it is intended to remove. It is not a matter that has come under my notice to-day for the first time; and if I choose to support a measure, even if it be a Tory measure, I shall do so whether hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh or not. If any hon. Gentlemen opposite feel themselves aggrieved or inconvenienced by the course that has been forced on me—and I know that I have personal friends opposite who do feel inconvenience—I beg to say it is their own Tory Whip who is to blame. So long as he continues to adopt unfair practices, I shall continue the course I originally adopted in the case of this Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Friday 18th March.