HC Deb 25 November 1914 vol 68 cc1248-9

"That where a person has given any information to a person appointed to inspect the books and documents of any person, firm or company under Section 2 of the Principal Act, the information so given may be used in evidence against him in any proceedings relating to the offence of trading with the enemy within the meaning of the Principal Act, notwithstanding that he only gave the information on being required so to do by the inspector in pursuance of his powers under the said Section."

Clause brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."


I am not surprised that some hon. Members should think this to be a rather strong proposal. But I may point out to the Committee that there is already a precedent for this Clause in the recent Bankruptcy Act, which makes a similar provision with regard to the examination of a bankrupt. As regards the merits of the Clause, which I see does not favourably impress the hon. Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool. I have only to say, firstly, it would not have been pressed save as a matter of urgent emergency legislation, and secondly, that no prosecution will take place in connection with this Act save by the authority of the Attorney-General, which authority would, of course, be scrupulously used to prevent anything in the nature of oppressive procedure under the powers conferred. The Clause appears to me to be at least as necessary in this case as it was felt to be in regard to bankruptcy legislation.


I am sorry to have to object to anything that comes from the Government on this Bill at this stage of our proceedings. We have all been working together for a couple of hours, but now we have come to a Clause not on the Paper, which we have had no opportunity of seeing. What is the effect of it? As far as I can gather, when one of these inspectors, appointed under the original Act, comes in to inspect a business, and happens to ask a clerk or anybody else for a bit of information and gets it, he is to be at liberty to use that information for the purpose of prosecuting the person who gave it him. I think that it is playing it rather low down. I have always consistently, for the last twelve years, opposed in this House making any new offence that can possibly be avoided, and I think to give an inspector or any official appointed by the Board of Trade power to get this information and then to take advantage of it for purposes of prosecution—if that is the effect of the Clause—then I must very strongly object to it. I would suggest that the proper course would be to put this Clause down for the Report stage We could then see it in print and examine it, and if it does not turn out to be so bad as we fear then we will do our best to agree to it. But at present, as I understand it, it is a most objectionable Clause.


I am not going to object to this Clause, because I did not hear half of it, but I do object to its not having been put on the Paper, seeing that there has been ample time to do that. I should like to ask if, seeing that it is intended to take the Report stage to-morrow, we can have the Bill printed and obtainable, at least in the Vote Office, before we proceed to deal with it.


The Bill will be printed and hon. Members will have an opportunity, therefore, of seeing it.


Before we proceed to discuss it to-morrow?


Yes, it will be circulated in due course to-morrow. In reply to the hon. Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool I venture to suggest that his objections are unnecessary. The Clause only provides that in the case where information is given, it may be used in evidence in criminal proceedings, as is done in the case of the bankruptcy laws. It may easily be that information thus obtained, may be of the first importance in making out a case. However, I have no objection to the suggestion of the hon. Member that this matter should be considered on Report to-morrow.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Preamble added to the Bill.

Bill, as amended, reported; to be considered To-morrow.

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