HC Deb 08 July 1915 vol 73 cc562-7

(1) If any person employed under this Act makes wilful default in the performance of any of his duties under this Act, he shall for each offence be liable on conviction under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts to a fine not exceeding five pounds.

(2) If any person required to register himself under this Act—

  1. (a) refuses, or without lawful excuse neglects to fill up or cause to be filled up a form to the best of his knowledge and belief, or to sign it as by this Act required; or
  2. (b) refuses or without lawful excuse neglects to attend at any place or time at which his attendance is required under this Act; or
  3. (c) wilfully makes or signs, or causes to be made or signed, any false return of any matter specified in the form; or
  4. (d) refuses to answer, or wilfully gives a false answer to, any question necessary for obtaining the information required to be obtained under this Act; or
  5. (e) refuses or without lawful excuse neglects to perform any other duty imposed on him by or under this Act,
he shall for each offence be liable on conviction under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts to a fine not exceeding five pounds, and in the case of a continuing offence to a further fine not exceeding one pound for each day during which the offence continues.

(3) If any person falsely represents him self to be a person to whom a certificate of registration has been issued under this Act, he shall on conviction under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts be liable to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding three months, or to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds, or to both such imprisonment and fine.


I beg to move, in Subsection (1), after the word "Act" ["employed under this Act makes wilful default"], to insert the words "whether paid or unpaid."

I move this Amendment on behalf of my hon. Friend (Mr. Watt). As the Clause stands, it might conceivably be that "person employed" could only cover a person who is paid for his services. We have heard on several occasions during these Debates from the President of the Local Government Board that voluntary service is to be very largely utilised in the compilation of this register. It seems, therefore, advisable that we should make it clear that any person engaged in the compilation of the register should be subject to penalty, and this Amendment will make it absolutely certain that any person who is guilty of an offence will incur a penalty.


I hope my hon. Friend will not press this Amendment. I can assure him it is not necessary. I raised this point myself when the Bill was being drafted as to whether the words covered those employed without remuneration, and I have consulted my expert advisers at the Local Government Board again this morning, and they assure me there is no need for the introduction of these words, as the language of the Bill covers all those, whether they receive pay or not.


If that be so, then the words are harmless.


They would be harmless, but it would involve the same Amendment in every line of the Bill where these words occur, and I submit that would be unnecessary, having regard to the fact that I was assured most definitely this morning the words were not necessary.


Have the Law Officers been asked for their advice?


We are fortified in all our Departments by lawyers of distinction whose opinion can be relied upon. I asked personally this morning whether I could state what I have stated, and I was assured I could do so.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1), to insert (2) If any person employed in collecting, or completing forms, or otherwise acting in the compilation or maintenance of the register, or the tabulation of the contents thereof, or any person using the register communicates without lawful authority any information acquired in the course of his employment, or from such use, he shall on conviction under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts be liable to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding three months, or to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds, or to both such imprisonment and fine. This is the Sub-section of which I spoke last night. It was suggested that we should incorporate the Official Secrets Act, but this, I think, covers the ground and will secure adequate protection for all.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the words "or any person using the register" have been considered?


These words have been most carefully considered, and they carry out, I think, the undertaking which I gave to the Committee yesterday. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the words "without lawful authority," all that is done is to prevent people making improper use of information obtained for a particular purpose. There was a good deal of anxiety in the country lest the information so obtained might be used for mere personal purposes. This is to secure that the information, when obtained, shall only be used under lawful authority.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), after the word "person" ["If any person required to register"], to insert the words "over eighteen years of age."

Yesterday an attempt was made to increase the age for registration, and there was a considerable amount of sympathy with it. My Amendment, however, is to exempt young persons between fifteen and eighteen years of age from being penalised, as they are in this Sub-section. Everybody knows how difficult it is very often to understand the forms issued by Government Departments. I know Members of this House had very great difficulty in filling up forms in connection with the Budget of 1909–10, and, that being so, we can scarcely expect boys and girls between fifteen and eighteen to know exactly what they have to do. Therefore, I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to accept this Amendment. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman wants to penalise young persons, and this is a measure which in many instances may be misunderstood. I know at the present time a number of young persons think that the signing of the form means that they are pledging themselves to join the Army. There may be an attempt at some time to evade it because of that, and, therefore, I do suggest that persons between fifteen and eighteen years of age should be exempt from penalties.


I am rather reluctant to accept these words. The Clause imposing penalties has been very carefully drawn, and, apart from the question of tender years, it is not our desire that anybody who falls into error through inadvertence, or fails to make his or her return for some good and sound cause, should ever be prosecuted. That will be the effect of the instructions we issue to the local authorities. All we want is to impose penalties where people deliberately refuse to give the information which Parliament has declared they shall give. We have put in the word "wilful." The Clause has been drawn with the utmost care; but, at the same time, I honestly confess that I feel as strongly as my hon. Friend who moved this Amendment that it is repellent to all our instincts that children of tender age should be prosecuted for obviously what would be an omission, for which they could hardly be responsible, and I think on the whole I should be prepared to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, at end of Sub-section (2), to insert the words, Provided that no person shall be liable to a penalty under this Section unless seven days' notice of the offence in writing shall have been given to him by the local registration authority of the district in which he has been registered or in which he resides and he has failed within that time to comply with such notice. I do not want to press this Amendment in any way, but I do think there should be some provision that people who neglect, or forget, to re-register when they move should not be prosecuted without the fact of their having done wrong being brought to their notice. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks there is no need for the Amendment, or if he can assure me that instructions will be given to the local authorities not unduly to press these matters, I shall be very happy to withdraw the Amendment.


In the instructions I think we shall make it perfectly clear what is intended. This proposal might cause considerable extra trouble and inconvenience, and I am advised that all those who will come under the Bill are amply protected. It is the duty of the registration authority to ensure the completion and correction of the register, and I do not think they would fail to take steps to amend any form which was not complete, and give the people another chance before taking steps for a prosecution.


After the right hon. Gentleman's explanation, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."


I would like to ask if the right hon. Gentleman has had his attention drawn to the enormous distance which some of these people would have to travel to attend the county town? The words of paragraph (b) are refuses or without lawful excuse neglects to attend at any place or time at which his attendance is required under this Act. The drawers of this measure have in mind England and Wales, where the distances are easily covered, but in Scotland the distances are quite incredible to ordinary Englishmen and to those sitting on the Front Bench. From some parts of the county of Argyllshire it would take a considerable time for a man to get to the county town, and if a man had to come, for example, from some extremity of the Island of Mull it would be a journey of about three days.


I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has accepted an Amendment inserting the words "over eighteen years of age," which practically has the effect of raising the limit from fifteen to eighteen years of age. If there is no penalty in such cases, then everybody under eighteen will pay no regard whatever to this measure. I agree that sixteen is too young and seventeen would be a much better age. I suppose my right hon. Friend has well considered this point, because the effect of it is to raise the age from fifteen to eighteen.


I think my hon. Friend the Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Mr. Watt) has raised a material point, and it might be well for the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether some provision should be made in the instructions to local authorities limiting their powers of imposing attendance where it is a matter of inconvenience, as it undoubtedly is in such counties as Argyllshire, Inverness-shire, and Ross and Cromarty. In all these cases it would be necessary for a man to travel in some cases for a week before he could get to the county town. Paragraph (b) entitles the local authorities to impose a penalty of £5, and a continuing penalty of £1 for every day which this gentleman may be engaged in travelling. In those circumstances I think some instructions should be given to the local authorities which should prevent this provision being exercised in an oppressive way. I think some assurance might be given on this point by the right hon. Gentleman before we pass this Clause.


The hon. Member who raised this question passed some strictures upon the Front Bench for their ignorance of Scottish counties. I think some of us who have travelled many miles in Scotland know something about this matter. The local authorities are permitted to make such provision as shall be considered adequate, and we are issuing instructions to make it clear that not only in Scotland but in other parts of the United Kingdom adequate provision for this difficulty shall be made. I wish to point out that this Section only applies to exceptional cases, and where attendance is required from a distance we shall give instructions for the local authorities to obtain a room adjacent to where the people live. In all probability the attendance would be by one of the officials in the house of the person concerned; therefore I do not think it is necessary to make any change in the Subsection, and certainly we shall take care in our instructions to point out that it will not be the duty of the local authorities to act in any tyrannical manner.


I am quite certain that the fears of my hon. Friends opposite are quite groundless, because in most of these scattered counties very great care is taken to meet this difficulty.

Question put, and agreed to.