HC Deb 13 January 1916 vol 77 cc1807-9

Order for Second Reading read.


(indistinctly heard): I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time." This Bill is intended to make certain Amendments in the Customs (War Powers) Act, 1915. The effect of Clause 1 is this: Where goods have been imported in contravention of the law relating to trading with the enemy they may be seized and forfeited, but on seizure notice must be given to the owner of the goods, and he has a month within which to put in his claim. In certain cases where goods are seized on the ground that they are of enemy origin and the owner has no address in the country it is obviously very difficult to give that notice, and the Clause provides that in such cases notice may be given by publication in the "London, Edinburgh, or Dublin Gazette," as the case may require. Clause 2 deals with the case of declarations as to the persons or country to whom any goods are ultimately destined. Sub-section (1) provides that the obligation to satisfy the Commissioners that goods have not reached the enemy shall apply when the declaration is made after shipment as well as when it is made before shipment. Sub-section (2) of this Clause makes it unnecessary for some officer of the Commissioners to go down and prove that they are not satisfied that the goods in question have not reached an enemy. In other words, the Sub-section requires the person summoned to prove that the goods have not reached the enemy to the satisfaction of the Commissioners, and if the Commissioners are not satisfied they take proceedings against the man, and the mere fact of taking proceedings ought to be sufficient evidence that they are not satisfied. The third Clause gives power, pending the issue of a Proclamation, to prohibit or restrict the exportation of any article. The intention to make a Procla- mation may get out, and at once goods of the kind affected are exported, and in that way the Proclamation is forestalled. It is desirable to prevent that, and this Clause will enable the Commissioners to do so. I think that is an object everybody will desire to assist. Clause 4 prescribes a penalty for attempting to ship goods in contravention of an Order under 39 and 40 Victoria, c. 36, s. 139. I hope that the House will assent to the Second Reading and allow us to get the Committee and other stages.


I am sure the House will be willing to assist the right hon. and learned Gentleman in getting this Bill through. With regard to Clause 3, which proposes to give power to the Customs authorities to prohibit exportation pending the issue of a Proclamation, is there not some time limit required? What is the meaning of the word "pending"? At present there is no limit of time in the Clause and the effect might be that the Customs might go on prohibiting the export of some particular articles for an indefinite period. I do not think that that can be intended. I think that almost all the points that have been explained to us will commend themselves to the judgment of the House, and I have no objection to all the stages of the Bill being taken. By Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 the exporter is required to prove a negative. I was under the impression that that was provided in the Bill which was passed last year. This, however, does not stretch the law very far, and I have no doubt we will be assured that the matter shall be administered reasonably, as, indeed, I must say the Customs authorities always do in dealing with the legitimate trade of the country. Subject to any question which I may wish to raise with regard to Clause 3, I think the Bill might very well be allowed to go through.


I would ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman not to proceed with the Committee stage to-day. It seems to me desirable that there should be longer notice. This is an important measure for the mercantile community and I think it is desirable that they should have time to put forward any objections they may have to any of its provisions. There is, for instance, Clause 3, which proposes to give power to prohibit the exportation of goods pending a Proclamation. I really have no objections to the measure, but I think that the country in which the mercantile community form so important a part should have longer warning than it has had with regard to the proposals of the Bill.

5.0 P.M.


I shall be glad to accede to the request of the hon. Member and not take the further stages of the Bill to-day. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lough) say that the Customs authorities administer their powers with great consideration. I am sure they will use this power with the consideration with which they always exercise their functions. As to the criticism on Clause 3, it is very difficult to fix a limit of time before a date which is itself uncertain. As I understand it, the Clause would not become effective until a decision had been come to to issue a Proclamation. From the time such a decision has been arrived at by the right authorities the Customs authorities may take steps to prohibit the export of the goods, so that advantage shall not be taken of the time that is necessary to issue the formal Proclamation That is the only effect of the Clause, and if hon. Members can devise some limit of time I shall be glad to consider it.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Commitee of the Whole House for Monday next.