HC Deb 02 November 1916 vol 86 cc1868-72

Where in any proceedings against a person for an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1906, or the Public Bodies Corrupt Practices Act, 1889, it is proved that any money or other consideration has been paid to or received by a person in the employment of His Majesty or any Government Department or a public body by or from a contractor, or agent of a contractor, holding a contract from His Majesty or any Government Department or public body, the money or consideration shall be deemed to have been paid or given and received corruptly as such inducement or reward as is mentioned in such Act unless the contrary is proved.

Amendments made: After the word "money" ["proved that any money"] insert the word "gift."

After the word "paid" ["consideration has been paid"] insert the words "or given."—[Commander Wedgwood.]


I beg to move, after the words " public body" ["Government Department or a public body"] to insert the words "or public company."

This is a very excellent Bill, but I think that the protection which it gives to Government Departments and public bodies it is very desirable to extend to public companies. If the Attorney-General cannot see his way to agree to this Amendment to-day, perhaps between now and the Report stage the right hon. Gentleman will consider whether it is not possible to make this extension.


On a point of Order. Are we to understand that in a Bill of this kind—a war emergency measure—we can introduce a large amendment of company law? I would venture to ask whether this Amendment does not extend the Bill quite beyond its title, and beyond the scope mentioned on the Second Reading? I am not averse to amendments of the company law, but I would like to point out that if this Amendment is agreed to there are many other matters which will also require amending under this Bill.


May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman if this is really a War Emergency Bill? Perhaps he will state that when he is answering the question of my hon. Friend.


The Attorney-General cannot answer a point of Order. That is a matter for the Chair. But on the point of Order I confess I do not appreciate the point of the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth). This is a Bill for the prevention of corruption, and it does not appear to be limited in its title or scope. I do not read that the Amendment handed in by the hon. Gentleman is an amendment of the Companies Act. It deals with a particular crime.


I wish to ask whether this Amendment can be admitted without also admitting a number of consequential Amendments. If we are going .to bring in private bodies in this manner, I submit we should want a much more comprehensive Clause dealing with the whole question; otherwise these words as proposed to be inserted will really not be effective. We shall want, in fact, a new Clause dealing with the whole question.


That may be sound argument, but it does not affect the point of Order.


The ruling from the Chair upon the point of Order is, if I may respectfully say so, unanswerable. This is a Bill to amend the law relating to the prevention of corruption. The hon. Member below the Gangway was no doubt on firm ground when he pointed out the difficulty of asking the House to accept this Amendment at such short notice and with such rapidity. In answer to the question whether this is a War Emergency Bill, I have to say the justification for the Bill at this moment is the fact that immense contracts are being made on all sides in Government matters, and it was thought right the Government should ask the House to support it in giving effect to a suggestion made by the learned judge who tried a recent case involving charges of corruption. In that respect, therefore, the Bill is a war Bill. But when I approach the Amendment I must point out that it is not a very convenient practice thus to bring forward an Amendment of such very considerable importance which does not appear on the Paper and which was handed in in manuscript form under such circumstances, that neither I nor my right hon. Friend near me knew what the hon. Gentleman opposite was going to propose when he rose. I quite understand why he has not been able to give more adequate notice of the Amendment and has not had an opportunity of putting it upon the Paper. The objection to accepting the Amendment, which I am sure he will see as readily as anyone else, is that, although this is not in a strict sense a War measure, it is emergency legislation, and has to be justified by the conditions of the emergency which have eivpn rise to it. It may well be that it would be an advantage if the law of corruption were strengthened in its application to public companies. I could not consider that' point without further examination of the relevant circumstances. But another hon. Member might easily rise in. his place and say "Include private companies." It may be that that is right, but the Government could not ask the Committee, and the Committee could not expect the Government to legislate on that scale with only this degree of preparation. I am quite sure I am not asking the Committee to do an unreasonable thing in assenting to these proposals, but it would certainly require much more consideration and a wider survey of the whole field before we could ask the Committee to go further.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move to leave out the word "contractor" ["by or from a contractor"], and to insert instead thereof the word "person." This is to make the Clause apply to a person before he has got a contract, and is necessary because he is not then a contractor.


I accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: Leave out the word "contractor" ["or agent of a contractor"], and insert instead thereof the word "person."


I beg to move after the word "holding" ["or agent of a contractor holding a contract"], to insert the words "or seeking to obtain."


We accept the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment, the object of which is to provide that the Bill shall apply not only to a person who actually holds a contract, but to a person who practises corruption in the process of obtaining it.


I think that these words are an improvement on the Bill, but I would ask the Attorney-General whether he would not include a man who is seeking to obtain an interest in a contract. It very often happens that a man is not merely seeking to hold either nominally or first hand, but is seeking himself to get an interest in it before the contract is through. It may be of far more importance to that man that he should bribe than it would be to the man who actually holds the contract. Any man seeking to hold a contract, or seeking to obtain an interest in the execution of the contract who practises corruption should be liable to the penalty.


I am not at all sure that such a case would not amount to a subcontract I am sure my hon. Friend will not think me unreasonable when I say that I would rather not accept that without consideration.

Commander WEDGWOOD

Will you consider it before the Report stage?



Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: After the word "money" ["the money or consideration shall be deemed"], to insert the word "gift. "— [Commander Wedgwood.]

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.