HC Deb 22 November 1916 vol 87 cc1472-89

If any firm or person by this Act required to furnish a statement of particulars or of any change in particulars shall without reasonable excuse make default in so doing in manner and within the time specified by this Act, every partner in the firm or the person so in default shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five pounds for every day during which the default continues, and the Court shall order a statement of the required particulars or change in the particulars to be furnished to the registrar within such time as may be specified in the order: Provided that no proceedings shall be instituted under this Section except by or with the consent of the Board of Trade.


I beg to move to leave out the words "Provided that no proceedings shall be instituted under this Section except by or with the consent of the Board of Trade."

The object of this Section is that if any man without reasonable excuse makes default in registering as required by the Bill, then he shall be subject to a fine. But as the Bill stands it provides that no proceedings shall be taken for wilful default on the part of a person who violates the Act unless the Board of Trade give their consent. I do not know why the Board of Trade consent should be necessary. It is an extremely unsual course when an Act is passed imposing a penalty for an offence to say that proceedings shall not be taken to recover the fine except with the consent of the Board of Trade. In a very limited class of cases—and my right hon. and learned Friend will agree it is very limited—the consent is required of the Attorney-General before instituting proceedings. But these are in regard to cases of a somewhat serious character. I do not remember any precedent for saying you shall not enforce an Act of Parliament except with the consent of the Board of Trade. Whether there be such a precedent or not, it really does not much matter, because in this case I cannot see why the consent of the Board of Trade should be necessary. It is not because I have not the most profound respect for my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, but then he will not always be there to watch over evil doings which may be contemplated in connection with the Act. I have no doubt, personally, in any such case his consent -would be readily given, but then he cannot undertake that the Board of Trade will always be on the alert or in a reasonable mood. I can picture to myself some day in the future when a Member of this House—myself, or some other hon. Gentleman—may come across a most flagrant violation of the Act and the Board of Trade may be too inactive to give consent to a prosecution. Unless some very much stronger reason is given for retaining this prohibition on the punishment of offenders, I hope these words will be struck out.


I can assure my hon. and learned Friend it is not the desire of the Board of Trade to assume this liability at all. They would sooner be without it. (But the reason why these words are put in is, I think, fairly obvious. It is to avoid blackmailing. That is rather an important point. A man may unwittingly contravene the Act. It may be he is a small trader, and it might easily happen that he would feel he would be gravely injured by being dragged into a Police Court, whether he was acquitted or not. There are people going about only too ready to make use of an Act of Parliament for their own ends, and, therefore, an innocent man, despite his innocence, might be willing to pay money to avoid being drawn into a Court. A trader, for instance, might set a trap to catch a rival. The Special Committee which considered this Bill in another place was so strongly impressed with this point that it introduced a Clause, as will be remembered, which prevented anybody being proceeded against for not registering unless the Board of Trade had required him to register. That would, of course, have made the whole Act inoperative.

But we do feel it is necessary to have some safeguard introduced, and the safeguard which we would have desired to keep is quite a common one, frequently used in Acts of Parliament, creating offences of a kindred character. That safeguard is to leave it to the Attorney-General to prosecute if necessary, and it would have been introduced here except that we considered the matter was not of sufficient importance to go to him. That was the sole reason. There must be some reference of the kind, otherwise any private individual in England might institute proceedings. Under the Scottish law, I believe, no private prosecution can take place; it must be instituted by the Crown, and therefore such a provision is not necessary in that case. But in this country prosecutions can take place at the instance of private individuals, and this is merely a protection against malicious or trivial prosecutions designed to draw business men into Courts of summary jurisdiction. If any better means can be suggested which would relieve the Board of Trade of this responsibility, we should be very glad to accept them, but I hardly see what better means are possible. My hon. and learned Friend has spoken of this as very unusual legislation, but I would remind him that under the Newspaper Libel Act, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the Prevention of Corruption Act, and the Perjury Act, no prosecution can take place without the leave of the Attorney-General.


I did not suggest that this provision was an uncommon one. What I did urge was that the precedent of asking the leave of the Board of Trade was uncommon.


But there is a precedent for asking the leave of the Board of Trade for power to prosecute, and it is found in Part II. of the National Insurance Act, which provides for the sanction of the Board of Trade being obtained. We feel strongly that this safeguard is required and that this is the best that could be devised. Should such a circumstance arise as has been suggested by my hon. and learned Friend—who we hope to have with us in this House for many years-exercising a watchful interest in its proceedings—should the Board of Trade refuse to allow a prosecution in case of a flagrant violation of the Act, I feel certain the hon. Gentleman would be the first to raise the matter here—certainly someone would raise it—and the result would be that the Board of Trade would quickly be brought to book in this House for not giving effect to the intentions of Parliament.


I am sorry to find myself in disagreement with the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Pretyman). I think his objections to the Amendment are rather far-fetched. He says it is a safeguard designed to avoid the dangers of blackmail and to prevent frivolous and vexatious prosecutions. Is there any really substantial danger of that sort? Are not people amply protected by the rest of the Clause? He is afraid that anyone offending unknowingly and unwittingly may be harassed by proceedings of a frivolous nature. But if a person was prosecuted it would be open to him to show he had reasonable cause.


Not until after he has been taken into Court.


The obligation is that every trader should obey the law, and it is no great grievance if a person fails in so doing that that he should be taken into Court, presumably by someone who thinks-he will not be able to give a valid excuse. That is a protection against frivolous proceedings. No one is likely to take a case into Court if he thinks there is no possible chance of success. I do not think there is the slightest danger that a trader would be taken into Court for the purpose of blackmail. There is no necessary disgrace if a man can show that he has failed to register through inadvertence. There is nothing he need fear—nothing that would put him in the hands of a blackmailer.

I really think there should be some stronger justification for a provision of this sort. It is a purely imaginary and fanciful objection after all. There is a real objection to the proviso, because it will necessarily impose delay in getting cases heard and remedied. There might be the case of a firm doing business in the North of England. Someone might discover, in the course of his transactions with them, that the firm were defaulting under the Act. Surely there ought to be, proceedings in order to enforce the Act without adopting the cumbrous procedure of having first to submit the facts to the Board of Trade for that body to consider whether or not it will allow proceedings to be instituted. What would happen? The Board will have to make inquiries. We shall have the usual process in that respect. We shall be told it is giving earnest consideration to the matter. That will be the answer from week to week and month to month. Then perhaps a question may have to be put in this House as to whether such and such a firm is a defaulter under the Act, and whether the Board of Trade have given permission for proceedings to be taken. Months will in fact elapse before anything can be decided, whereas if the aggrieved person were in a position to put the law into operation at once the whole matter could be disposed of in a much shorter period. I think this provision will prove to be of very great disadvantage in the efficient working of the Act.


I cannot agree with the representative of the Board of Trade either in regard to his precedents or in his description of the manner in which this House can make the Department move. The reference he has made to the Insurance Act affords us an experience which is against my hon. Friend's case. No one who has had anything to do with Part I. or Part II. of the Act can fail to realise that one of the greatest blots in the Act is that people are barred from going to the Law Courts to get an impartial decision. Look at the position of Part I. under that Act. The permanent officials may charge a Friendly Society with not having done justice to a member, and after a great deal of correspondence instructions may be given for proceedings to be instituted. Immediately that is done the very Commissioners who have made the charge actually constitute themselves the judges and sit in judgment. That was at a time when the spirit which ruled our legislation was that if only we could keep people away from the lawyers, barristers, and judges we should be doing something sensible, because when one got into Court everything was delayed. Then we came to Part II. of that Act, which was put under the Board of Trade to administer. The reason they have this power of veto is because they are administering Part II., which deals with their Labour Exchanges and their own Department, and therefore they are supposed to know all about it. This case is very different. This is a case where they are to have the power to stop an action. They have probably shirked all knowledge of the case, and it probably has to be brought before them. Anyone who quotes the precedent of the Insurance Act must shut his eyes to the awful position that Act has produced.

I do not think my hon. Friend was quite candid with the House. What opportunity would my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Butcher) have? My hon. and learned Friend seizes the opportunities he gets. He seized one and made very good use of it. That was simply because with his skill he cleverly intervened with his point when the Government wanted a Bill and wanted to hurry it through in point of time, and he stood his ground and secured his concession. The ordinary remedy is nonexistent. What would he have to do in this case? The hon. and learned Member would put a question on the Notice Paper. We are told that is the way to bring the Government to book. That is the easy and simple way suggested by my hon. Friend. What would he get? An evasive answer, as we get every day. We had three or four to-day from the Board of Trade, and we shall have a number of them to-morrow, and so long as the House sits during the War. What will the Board of Trade do? There will be an Advisory Committee on whom to shift the responsibility. When the hon. Member brings forward a specific instance he will get a reply that it does not concern my hon. Friend, and he will be referred to a Committee. A Committee has no responsibility to this House. That is what the Board of Trade have done with me in the last few days. I asked them whether they were going to take action in a certain matter. I named the firm in whose case ex-employés brought a specific charge that the firm were breaking the law and passing German machines off as British. What was the reply of the Board of Trade? Did they promise, as the hon. Member has promised to-day, that the Board of Trade would bring them to book and satisfy the House? He said, "No, that will be referred to a Committee." That is the way I am disposed of. Although I could produce two or three ex-employés who would come and swear to the facts, although they would incriminate themselves, that is what happened. Committees would consider these matters for eighteen months or two years, and that would be the end of it

As to the answer the hon. Member has given with regard to the action of the Board of Trade in regard to these inquiries, he assured the House that they were properly protected because there was ample opportunity to bring the Department to book. If we depend upon that, it will be totally illusory. I hope we shall depend upon something much better. I certainly think that a case has been made out on the other side of the Committee for this Amendment. Those of us in business stand to be shot at, if anybody does. What happens if a man wishes to bring a frivolous prosecution? A man can choose any Act of Parliament and bring another into Court on any trumped-up charge and sue him. I do not see why there should be any special leave required of the Board of Trade. Will my hon. Friend say whether the Board of Trade will administer this Bill themselves or set up a Committee to do so? Of whom will the Committee consist? Shall we have to go from one to another? If I ask my hon. Friend about a particular firm he says that it is in the hands of his Controller and then sits down, and the Board of Trade say they have nothing further to do with that German firm. I have not the slightest doubt, if this legislation passes, that should the hon. and learned Member for York inquire about a certain case I could write the answer out now. My hon. Friend would get up and say, "This case will be referred to the Advisory Committee." Then he would look to Mr. Speaker for the next question to be called.


I have had some private conversation with the hon. Gentleman upon this particular point. I can assure the Committee that he is really anxious to meet us upon this point if he can avoid blackmail. I think his fear about blackmail is a little exaggerated, and I told him so. I have put an Amendment down to Clause 17. It was to that Clause I alluded when I talked with him. There is possibly some little fear of blackmail on Clause 17, because it does not contain the provision to which my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Butcher) referred, and because there are a good many particulars required under that Clause which might possibly be genuinely forgotten. But when you come to Clause 7, especially with the proviso contained in the words "without reasonable excuse," what is it that the Clause asks people to do? It asks them to register. Where can blackmailing come in when you are simply asked to register under an Act of Parliament? This is a Bill called the "Registration of Business Names Bill." If a person does not register, then anybody ought to be at liberty to prosecute him for not complying with an Act of Parliament. There can be no blackmail in that. Blackmail only means that you go to some person and tell him that if he does not do so-and-so, you will prosecute him. A man has no justification for using such threats, but if the person threatened does not wish to appear in a Police Court, he gets money out of him. In this case the man ought to have registered. In this case he ought to be prosecuted, even if a prosecutor begins proceedings for blackmailing purposes or anything else. The provision as to any change in particulars is guarded by the words without reasonable excuse. Therefore in regard to this Clause I cannot see any reason why it should be necessary to have the consent of the Board of Trade. I admit that Clause 17 may be different, but in this Clause I see no reason why these words should not be omitted. What will happen? An ordinary man in business, whose time is very much occupied, finds that a certain firm whom he knows has not complied with this Clause, and he says to himself—nine out of ten people would say it—that it would be a great trouble to take proceedings, that he would have to go to a Police Court, and probably have to consult solicitors. It would mean great delay, and he would not known whether he ought to do it. Yet his duty would be to see that the Act of Parliament was enforced. Then be goes to a solicitor, who would say that he would have to communicate with the Board of Trade. What would that mean? It means that the man himself would have to write letters, or possibly see some official at the Board of Trade, or put the matter into the hands of a solicitor, who would write several letters charging several six-and-eightpences, or whatever the fee is, and then, after many months, the prosecution would probably be allowed. All that might mean that no prosecutions at all would take place. In this case, as there can be no reasonable fear of blackmail, the hon. Gentleman might agree to accept the Amendment.


What my right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) has said does help us, because he makes a distinction between, this Clause and Clause 17. On Clause 17 we must have some sort of protection; and there are good reasons in favour of the proviso even in this Clause. The effect of this Clause is that if a man forgets to register, or if he sends in particulars which omit certain statements that ought to be made, he may be liable to a penalty, because the default to send in a statement means a default to send in a proper statement. If you send in a statement which is incomplete, or which contains some mistake or error, you may be liable. I doubt very much myself whether forgetfulness is a reasonable excuse. That is a point which has often bean considered, as some of my hon. and learned Friends know. It has been held that forgetfulness is no answer. That being so, it is obvious that there is a risk of proceedings being taken against the firm or individual who, although liable to a penalty, is not morally to blame. It was for that reason that this proviso was inserted. It was certainly not put in without consideration, because in another place the Bill was not only discussed but referred to a Select Committee, which took evidence, including that of representatives of the chambers of commerce, and, after hearing that evidence, they put in protective words a good deal stronger than these are.

I would only add that it is well known to many of us that there are similar provisions in the Companies Acts, and as a result of those provisions, which can be enforced without the sanction of any Department, there was a gentleman whom many of us have known and seen who made a regular living out of prosecutions for defaults committed under those Acts. He spent his whole time in taking out summonses against companies or directors for default in not complying with similar provisions. He used to make an affidavit in support of his summons and would then supply the other side with a copy of that affidavit upon the usual terms. The affidavit being very long, the sum paid was considerable, and in that way, I will not say he made an honest living, but he made a certain amount of profit out of a provision of this kind. Of course that sort of thing ought to be stopped. It was stopped in the end as regards that individual, but it ought to be impossible. It was for that reason that this sort of protective Clause was inserted. However, it has been shown that there is a strong opinion on both sides of the Committee in favour of this Amendment, and my hon. Friend authorises me to say that if the matter is allowed to stand over he will consider the point before Report and see whether he can meet it.


It is most unsatisfactory to me that every point that has been raised upon this Bill is to be referred to the Report stage, when things come with a rush and there is not the same opportunity that we have now and here of settling such matters. Every point of importance raised upon this Bill is to be considered on Report. I view this method of dealing with Amendments to a Bill in Committee with the gravest suspicion. None of us want to be unreasonable, but surely the Government has a mind of its own about these things. The fact is that the President of the Board of Trade is not here himself to take charge of this Bill. He ought to be, or, if he cannot be here, the hon. Gentleman ought to take the responsibility upon himself. It is most unsatisfactory on a matter of this importance that one point after another has to be shelved till a later occasion. It is just like the policy of the Government in dealing with the War. No doubt many of these things will be overlooked or forgotten."


That is not fair.


I am not going to withdraw that, because I object on principle to these matters being shelved till the Report stage. That is not the proper way of dealing with a Bill. The hon. Gentleman gave as the reason why he did not like to accept the Amendment that it laid firms open to blackmail. That may have some element of truth, but it seems to me that if any firm is going to lay itself open to blackmail and to fall under the threat, it must have some pretty good reason for doing so, because if there is no suggestion that a firm who has not registered may have some foreign element in it, then it is surely in the interest of that firm that it should register and let the whole world know that it is British. But there is another point of view that I take with regard to these two lines. I would not suggest that the Government or the Board of Trade is sheltering German interests, but the inclusion of these words leaves the opportunity to future Governments if they were minded to protect German interests to make it impossible for anyone to get their consent. I do not think that is at all a desirable power, so far as taking proceedings is concerned. I allow that Clause 17 is quite different, but in this case I do not think that is a power which ought to be given, not to this Government and this Board of Trade, but to any future Board of Trade or any Minister who may hold that responsible position. I hope my hon. and learned Friend will persist in his Amendment.


Anyone who, like myself, comes across a good many secrets of individuals and companies in the capacity of an auditor must know perfectly well that the number of petty offences committed unintentionally is large. I think the risk of blackmail and trickery of various sorts is too serious for the Board of Trade to overlook, and I hope the Solicitor-General will stick to his proviso.


I wish to say a word to the same effect. I am very glad the Government is not going to give way. The penalty is £5 a day, which is a very heavy penalty indeed. The temptation might not arise in many cases, but it would arise in some among a certain class of traders who might desire to injure their competitors, and I think an honest trader, in the case of some small clerical error in his return, ought to have the protection of this provision.


I think I have heard the objection of possible blackmail raised to every proposal to amend the criminal law that I have ever seen made in this House since I have been a Member of it. Secondly, it is not very desirable to add to the quasi-judicial duties of an executive Department. There is a constant tendency in all Departments to add to that kind of duty. The remedy is probably not to add to these quasi-judicial duties, but to have a little more confidence in your Courts of Justice. We have a very fine body of stipendiary and other magistrates administering summary justice, and these are cases of summary proceeding. The probable remedy is, if necessary—and I do not say it is necessary—to increase and improve the power of awarding costs against a frivolous applicant who sets going legal machinery against a man who has excusably broken the law.


The Government having promised to reconsider the matter between now and Report stage, that is something. I am personally aware that there is a great demand for the powers proposed to be given by this Bill outside, and I hope, therefore, the Government will seriously consider the whole matter before they allow anything to appear in the Bill which would damage it or make it useless. We are all anxious to get the Bill passed and improved as much as possible, but I hope the Government will reconsider the matter and allow these particular words with regard to the consent of the Board of Trade to be left out.


I do not think there is any difference of opinion in the Committee as to the end to be attained, and it is purely a question of what is the best way in which to proceed. I should be very glad for one reason in particular to see these words left out. I have no objection whatever to the Board of Trade dealing with this matter if it would deal with it in a prompt and efficient way, as if left to itself I have no doubt whatever that it would. But it seems to me that the general procedure in cases of this kind is that the Board of Trade as a Department does not deal with a question of this kind when it comes before it at all, but refers it to one of the Law Officers of the Crown. We have had cases before the Public Accounts Committee where, in the opinion of many of its members, prosecutions ought to have taken place by Government Departments, but we have been given the invariable answer, when the question was raised as to why no prosecution has taken place, that the matter was referred to the Law Officers of the Crown, and in their opinion there was not sufficient evidence to sustain a prosecution. So far as I can gather, what will happen if this proviso is left in will be this: These cases when they come before the Board of Trade will be referred to the Law Officers of the Crown. They have a great deal of work to do. They will not necessarily have before them the full facts and documents to come to a proper decision, because it is only really in a Court of Law that these full facts and documents can be brought out. Therefore, I think, there is a great danger, first of all, of delay, and secondly, of that happening which so often happens to my mind in similar cases to this, that the Law Officers, on the facts put before them, which may not be the full facts at all, may decide that there is not sufficient ground for a prosecution; but if that danger is guarded against, I do not believe there is any other serious objection to the Board of Trade being consulted before these transactions take place.


I think we may reasonably accept the proposal of the Solicitor-General that this matter should be further considered before the Report stage. Having been in the legal profession for I do not know how many years, I think all this talk about blackmail is moonshine. So far as legal proceedings are concerned, there is really very little in the nature of blackmail that goes on, for the simple reason that the blackmailer has to come before the Court and to suffer the consequences of his blackmail if it is blackmail. But why talk about blackmail in a case like this? It would be no disgrace for a trader to come up and say, "The reason I did not register was so and so," if it was held by the magistrate to be a reasonable excuse. It is quite a short procedure, and is defended easily and without any very great expense. On the other hand, if he has not a reasonable excuse, surely anyone who puts the law in motion as against him is helping to carry out the Act of Parliament passed by this House, and I do not see why, because he does that, he is to be accused of doing anything whatsoever that is improper. If I wanted to take proceedings against a man for breach of this Act, I should certainly think a long time before I entered into a protracted correspondence with the Board of Trade. I think I would rather leave it alone. I am not saying that as any adverse criticism of the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade has a very-great number of things to do. I know the way these things are done in the public offices perfectly well.


This has not to go to the Law Officers.


How do I know? I have had many cases from the Board of Trade.


Yes, but not like this.


This Act was not passed before, but let us test it upon that. I think that that adds to my argument. Supposing the Board of Trade is doubtful whether it comes within the law or not, will they do it off their own bat or ask the Law Officers?


I explained that it is usual in cases rather more important than this that the reference should be to a commission and the sanction required should not be the sanction of a public Department, which I agree is rather objectionable, but to the proper authority, namely, the Attorney-General, and the only reason why the Attorney-General was not put into this was because the case was not regarded as of sufficient importance with which to trouble the Attorney-General on a point which the Board of Trade considered would not be a point of law. That would be left for the Court. It is not a question of ousting or replacing the jurisdiction of the Court, but merely that the Board of Trade should be satisfied that there was a primâ facie case to go before the Court. The only way blackmailing could come in is that people do not like to be dragged into a Police Court, particularly small people, who are very jealous of their good name. There have been such cases as that named by the hon. and learned Gentleman of a man who found it possible to make a living by trivial blackmailing acts. That is the reason for it. But strong feeling has been expressed on the point and I will consider it before Report.


I also am pleased that the Government is going to consider this before Report. I do not think they will be able to carry it exactly as it stands, because we must remember that the Board of Trade did not take the initiative in this matter at all. This is not a Board of Trade Bill. They never recognised it or really took any initiative themselves. We should never have heard of it but for the action of an individual Member in another place. Therefore it is too much to ask us, now that the Government has been forced to take up the matter, to exhibit the enthusiasm which we ought to have in order to make the Bill a success. My own candid view is that if the Bill is passed with this paragraph in it it will practically be a dead letter, because no action can be taken under this Clause unless the Board of Trade gives it their approval. The Solicitor-General made play with what had happened in a previous Bill, and insinuated that some member of his profession had been practically making money under a frivolous pretext.


I did not say a member of my profession.


Then an individual outside. I rather thought that that helped the case very much for the position we have taken up against the proposal, for there would have been no field of operation for that particular gentleman, whoever he was, if the Board of Trade had themselves taken the initiative. Therefore it seems to me the very statement makes our case complete. The plain truth is that, even if it is left where it is, the Board of Trade will not have the information which is necessary in order to take action. You cannot have the Board of Trade scouring all over the country looking up registers and that sort of thing. The information will be by a private individual. In view of our experience of the Board of Trade in winding up enemy firms and in other matters, I have absolutely no confidence that they will be able to carry this out. I think they are greatly overworked, and they are also anxious to keep everything in their own hands. I hope they will consider it fully before the Report stage. I will suggest to the Solicitor-General whether he cannot go the whole way and take it put altogether. Would it not be worthy of consideration whether the Clause might be altered so as to give permission, say, to the police magistrate or to some other person in a similar capacity, who should be satisfied that the action was not frivolous and was not blackmailing, and was founded upon reasonable business grounds? If action is not taken people are going to suffer from the want of information that has not been provided. I suggest that some middle course of that kind might be taken, because the whole thing is whether we are going to have the machinery in motion or whether it is going to be allowed to stop dead until a certain time after the Board of Trade has decided to take action.


I should be glad to know from the Government how this particular Section—the last few lines—is to be applied to Scotland?

6.0 P.M.


I propose to put down later on an Amendment which will exclude the application of this particular provision to Scotland. The reason for this proviso is, I think, that in England a private individual from some improper motive might start a prosecution against a rival trader. There is no such possibility in Scotland as my Scottish colleagues know. All prosecutions in Scotland are of a public character and under my control and direction, and accordingly the possibility of a blackmailing or oppressive prosecution may be left out of question. Accordingly, when we come to the Scottish Clause I propose to put an Amendment which will have the effect of omitting this proviso.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to propose, after the word "that"["provided that"], to insert the words "(a) the maximum total fine imposed shall not exceed fifty pounds; and (b)."

It is quite obvious that a moderate fine ought to suffice for an offence under this Bill, and I suggest £50. It is very possible that a man may commit an offence something of this character. Suppose that the daughter of a former owner of a firm is a partner, and she goes abroad and marries a foreigner, then, unless her change of nationality is registered, an offence is committed That may go on for months, and there may be danger of a huge fine being imposed.


I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment, because there might be very grave consequences following a breach of this act. It is quite true that the offence might be very trivial, but we must leave that to the judgment of the Court. In the case such as my hon. Friend suggests the Court would not impose a penalty totally out of proportion to the character of the offence, but it is quite conceivable that a firm might enter into contracts of great importance which they would not have obtained had a certain registration of particulars been available, and such a firm might stand to lose by registration a much larger sum than £50. A further point is that there would be no object in registration after a certain number of days had expired and the penalty of £50 had accumulated, for then they could not be fined any more no matter how long they had been without registration.


In reference to this question of the amount of the fine, among the particulars required are changes in the name and constitution of firms abroad for whom firms here act as agents. It is not possible to know within fourteen days changes which may take place in the heart of South America, and there should be some provision to deal with cases such as that. The Court might fine a man £5 a day, though it might be six months before he knew of the change taking place.


That is not so, because Clause 6 says, "within fourteen days after such change or such longer period as the Board of Trade may in any particular case, whether before or after the expiration of such fourteen days, allow." That is exactly the case which we had in our mind in inserting that provision.


I think that the case which my hon. Friend opposite put is also met by the words in Clause 7, "shall without reasonable excuse." If the information cannot be got in time that would be a reasonable excuse. I am glad that my hon. Friend has not accepted this Amendment. The Court will have the fullest power to do justice, and it is quite plain that there may be very aggravated cases in which it is necessary to impose very severe fines.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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


There is an Amendment standing in the name of the hon. and learned Member for York and myself, among others.


That is consequential.


It is consequential on some Section which the hon. Gentleman opposite has undertaken to consider, and I hope we may take it that, in the event of his accepting our Sub-section or a Subsection substantially the same, he will also consider this consequential Amendment as part of it.


Certainly. Question put, and agreed to.