HC Deb 10 October 1916 vol 86 cc65-9

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

This is a Bill to consolidate the Statute Law so far as it relates to larceny triable on indictment, and also to codify the common law relating to larceny. It is a similar Bill to the Perjury Act of last year, which codified the law of perjury. It has been very carefully considered, not only in another place, but by a Committee representing both Houses. On that Committee we had the advantage of being advised by experts in this matter. We had evidence on the Bill, and the greatest care was taken so to frame the Bill as to embody the law as it at present stands. That is the custom of the Codification Committee, on which I have served for many years. In substance we always endeavour to ensure that the Bills shall represent the existing law; but, of course, in codifying or consolidating the law you often come across matters of detail in regard to which it is absurd to keep up distinctions embodied in a series of Statutes. We have made it our practice to put Amendments dealing with these small matters in a separate Schedule and to recommend their adoption, in order to make the Bill workable, while still leaving it essentially a statement of the law of the land. These small Amendments were inserted in another place, and subject to that observation the Bill represents the existing law. I may say that we should not bring forward this Bill at the present time if we thought that it required anything like prolonged consideration in Committee, but in view of the fact that the Bill has already been considered by a Committee upon which this House was represented, we think the House will be willing not to interrupt the process of codification which has gone on for so many years.


I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and to add at the end of the Question the words, "upon this day three months."

It is rather difficult for me to say a word against the Committee of which the Solicior-General was a member, or to deny the care which they no doubt bestowed on the Bill. But obviously there is no particular urgency for this Bill. It certainly is not a war measure. The Larceny Act has been in existence a considerable time, and probably one year one way or the other would make very little difference to the Bill. The Bill does not merely alter the law of larceny from the criminal point of view. Very important distinctions are determined by the question whether a particular act amounts to larceny or not. Our Courts are full of such cases. For instance, if property is stolen from me and dealt with dishonestly by the person stealing it, I am entitled to recover it from the pawnbroker or the person to whom it is given. That is a matter of great importance to pawnbrokers. On the other hand, if a person obtains goods from me by false pretences and then disposes of them to a pawnbroker, I cannot recover. In both cases it is assumed that the pawnbroker has accepted the goods honestly. Therefore it is often a most vital matter to determine whether a particular case is one of larceny or stealing or one of obtaining money by false pretences. That is dealt with in a particular way by this Bill. I am not criticising the effect of it; all I say is that it is a matter affecting a large portion of the mercantile community, and one with which this House ought to have an opportunity of dealing.

Further, this is not a convenient time for dealing with a codifying Bill of this kind. The Solicitor-General says that this is a Bill codifying the law relating to larceny, triable on indictment. Practically the whole of the law dealng with larceny is dealt with in the Act of 1861. That is a. very long Act, and it deals with both embezzlement and obtaining goods by fraud. This Bill, for some reason, deals with only half the subject. According to figures given to me, sixty-four Sections of the Larceny Act of 1861 are repealed and about the same number are left unrepealed. Therefore this Bill, which is nominally a Consolidation Bill of the whole subject, is not a Consolidation Bill of the whole subject at all. We are told that it is intended to deal with the unrepealed Sections of the Act of 1861 in a subsequent Bill dealing with fraud generally. The distinction between fraud and larceny is so exceedingly subtle that it would seem to me to be better to deal with the whole matter in one Consolidation Bill. If this Bill were allowed to stand over the Consolidation Committee would be able to bring up a Bill dealing with the other half of the subject. The right hon. Gentleman said that this Bill had been prepared with the greatest care. I am sure that some matters must have been overlooked. I have had certain particulars given me. Since the Act of 1861 there have been one or two other Larceny Acts? There is the Act of 1868, consisting of two Sections only. This Bill repeals the first and leaver the second. Other statutes are treated in a somewhat similar way. The Larceny Act of 1896 consists of one Section only, part of which is repealed and a part left in existence. That is not very good consolidation work, and I think we might be able to effect some Amendments if we had time. It would not be right to go into details on the Second Reading. I simply put it to the Government whether they think it wise to press this Bill, having regard to the interests affected and to the incomplete state of the measure


I beg to second the Amendment.

6.0 P.M.

I cannot speak with the authority and the experience of the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University, but I have looked into this Bill and anticipated most of the points so well put by him. I do not think that a Bill of this sort ought to be brought in, especially at this time, unless it is a complete Consolidation Bill. This is admittedly only a partial consolidation of the law. It consolidates the law of larceny, triable on indictment. The law of larceny, triable on summary conviction, is not consolidated or simplified at all. To the ordinary layman and the ordinary working lawyer that is a very undesirable line to go upon. Consolidation Bills are now always brought down as being Consolidation Bills and not amending Bills. The Joint Committee which considered this Bill reported as follows:— The Committee feel that the terms of reference do not justify them in making Amendments to the Bill, but they strongly recommend that the Amendments should be made before the Bill is passed. Therefore the Bill when first introduced in another place had no amendments of the law. Those Amendments were inserted in another place, so that the Bill comes down to us containing a large number of Amend- ments of the law, although its title is "An Act to Consolidate and Simplify the Law." I believe that if those Amendments had been brought forward here, under the usual restrictive powers of the Chairman they would have been ruled out of order. I have nothing to say against those Amendments generally. In many cases they do not go far enough. There are many anomalous, severe, and cruel punishments in the law of larceny, some of which have been modified or removed in another place. I should like to see that process of amendment taken much farther. If I were to follow that line I should have to ask the Committee to consider a large number of Amendments. At this period of the Session, and with the public business before us, that is impracticable. But it is obviously very inconvenient to bring in a Consolidation Bill, and then, as an afterthought, to allow Amendments which were not originally intended. What will be the attitude of the Government if Amendments are put on the Paper? Will not the Solicitor-General say that this is not the place for Amendments, and point to the title of the Bill? These are some of the points which make me say that this Bill, if it is given a Second Reading to-night, ought not to be pressed forward too hurriedly. There might be conferences between those interested and the Solicitor-General, as a result of which a certain number of Amendments might be allowed. I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will indicate his intention not to proceed with this Bill without allowing some consideration to the points put forward, otherwise I am afraid I shall have to put down a number of Amendments on the Paper. However, I do not want to carry out even so mild and harmless a threat unless it is absolutely necessary, and I have great pleasure in seconding my hon. and learned Friend's Motion.


Perhaps I may be allowed a few words in answer to the criticisms which have been made by the hon. Gentleman opposite. It is quite true, as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University says, that the Bill only consolidates part of the Statute Laws relating to larceny, namely, that relating to larceny triable on indictment. I said so in introducing it. The Acts of 1861, 1868, and 1896, which he referred to, continue to be operative in so far as the offence can be dealt with summarily. We are quite properly leaving out that part of the Statute Law to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred. In a very snort time we hope to introduce a Bill bringing all these other points into one compass. To a certain extent all our codification and consolidation of the law is partial work: the ground to be covered is so great that we must proceed by instalments. Therefore we think it right to take the matter so far this year, and we hope to take it further next year. The other point was raised by the hon. Member for North Somerset. What he says is perfectly true. Some Amendments of the law were introduced in another place, and I said so in introducing the Bill, but they are minor Amendments and intended to remove glaring anomalies. For instance, there is a particular class of larceny for which two years imprisonment has been prescribed, and another class punishable by three years imprisonment. Imprisonment for three years is a thing that is practically obsolete, and is now never imposed. Therefore we have cut it out and prescribed a maximum period of two years for both. Little things like that, which were so obvious as to be glaring, have been put right. They are not really Amendments, but bring the law into manageable shape. We did not think it right to include Amendments of a wider kind. The Bill follows on the lines of the work of the Committee presided over by Lord Loreburn.


I should like to ask the Solicitor-General two questions. I understand that the Bill does not make any increase of penalties in the existing law, and also that it does not affect any existing jurisdictions for dealing with particular offences?




I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.