§ Order for Second Beading read.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Pretyman)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
This is not a Government Bill in the sense that it was prepared in a Government Department. It is a Bill which has been introduced in another place, passed through all its stages there, and has been sent down to this House. The Board of Trade have for a long time been sympathetic towards the general principle of this Bill, namely, that a person who trades should disclose who he is. Many Bills similar to that now before the House have been introduced in the House of Commons and the House of Lords during recent years, and it might be as well to shortly state the history of this subject. In the year 1900 a Bill was introduced in the House of Commons, and referred to a Select Committee. They took evidence and made a special report in which they stated that it had been established before the Committee that it was desirable to obtain public disclosures of all individuals who, at a fixed place, employ for the purposes of trade, names or styles of companies or partnerships or any form of plural designation, and that an effective register of this information would not only tend to facilitate commerce, but would secure identification of persons liable to legal proceedings or amenable to local government and other requirements. The report stated, however, that there were grave departmental difficulties in carrying out the scheme of the Bill, and the Committee were of the opinion that the principle of the Bill should only be accepted in a measure more complete and practicable than that referred to the Committee. So that the principle of the Bill was fully approved by that Committee, but it was considered that the difficulties of details were insuperable. I may say that there has always been a considerable opposition to this Bill, and no doubt the House is aware when this measure was originally introduced into the House of Lords last January, the opposition was then sufficiently strong to 1598 defeat the Second Beading, and it failed to obtain a Second Beading in the House of Lords. Subsequently it was reintroduced, referred to a Select Committee, and passed through all its stages. I mention that fact to show that the Bill has never been regarded as non-contentious, as originally proposed. Perhaps I may also mention on behalf of the Board of Trade that I made inquiries last year, because we were rather desirous of introducing a Bill of this character in this House in order to ascertain if a measure-on these lines would be regarded as non-contentious. I found that it would not be so regarded, and, having regard to the pledges as to non-contentious legislation, the Board of Trade did not feel justified last year in introducing this Bill. Opinion has now changed, and I gather that there will be no objection raised, or, at any rate, no strong objection to the principle of this Bill. I think one consideration will be present to everybody's mind, namely, that the case for this Bill has been very much strengthened by circumstances arising out of the War. I think the original object in the minds of those who advocated this registration system was mainly to protect sellers, and those who sold goods to other traders such as wholesale dealers, particularly in the matter of credit. That was the main object originally in the minds of those who advocated registration, because no doubt there were a great many cases where dealers in a large way of business had sold goods to traders whose real identity was concealed, and they would not have given those persons credit if their real identity had been disclosed.
I think our experience during the War has pretty well convinced us that it is not only sellers, but buyers who require to be protected, and that not only the man who sells to any business firm or any person engaged in business, but also anyone who buys from such a person should also have the right to know with whom he really is dealing, both as to individuality and nationality, and in some senses to the past business history of the persons with whom he is dealing. Of course, we are all aware that companies are already subject to registration, and that persons who really wish to do trade with a company can go to the registrar of companies and can there obtain full particulars as to the shareholders of the company, the directorate, its capital, and also as to' any debt to which that company is liable.
1599 There are no such protections or safeguards at present in the case of dealing with firms or with persons, but apart from that there is also the national purpose to be served which the War has suddenly forced upon our attention. We are now engaged in a national war, and although this is not a war measure, it clearly would have been very useful to the State to have known when the War broke out the nationality of all who had businesses trading with the enemy; and, further, it would also be useful to have this knowledge when we come to deal with the situation at the end of the War. Perhaps I may quote a few words from the last paragraph of the Report of the Select Committee which considered this Bill before it came to this House. They say:Events have shown how desirable it would have been to have had at the beginning of the War and still would be to have ready to hand, such information as this Bill provides, and without entering' upon any controversial matter relating to trade after the War, it may be generally accepted that the identity of those concerned with trade will be in the future an element of the greatest importance.I believe the House will generally agree with that view. That, I think, pretty clearly states briefly the history of this question, and the reasons which make it desirable that this Bill should now be considered and, I hope, passed into law. The Bill may be divided into three parts. First of all, who is to be registered; secondly, how registration is to be effected; and thirdly, the penalties for not registering. With regard to the question of who is to be registered, shortly stated, it means all firms and persons trading in this country in names other than their own, and that question is dealt with by Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill. I think that practically covers the ground.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
They are already registered, and there is already a registrar of companies. This Bill deals not with companies but with persons and firms, and they are not registered at present. It deals with all persons and firms trading in this country in names other than their own. At this stage perhaps I might be allowed to say that this Bill has not been drafted in a Government Department, but I do not think that this is the important stage of the measure. The Committee stage is the important stage, and if the House thinks the measure is good enough to receive a Second Reading without very much discussion, I hope 1600 some little time may be allowed to elapse before we take the further stages of the Bill in order that there may be time for hon. Members to put down Amendments. I desire myself to suggest considerable Amendments which my Department think are necessary, and I hope we shall have a full opportunity of considering Amendments which may be put down by hon. Members, who will no doubt take a very great interest in this Bill. I thought I had better make that announcement at this stage. Then we come to Clauses 3 to 6, and Clauses 9 to 11, which provide the machinery for registration, and those Clauses indicate that there will be offices in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin, for the respective countries, and every person or firm liable to register will have to deliver a form to those offices respectively showing, first of all, the business name; secondly, the general nature of the business; thirdly, the principal place or places of the business; fourthly, where registration is effected by a firm, the full name, nationality, usual residence, and other occupation, if any, of each of the individuals who are partners; and fifthly, where registration is effected by a person, the full name, nationality, usual residence, and other occupation of such person.
If the business is commenced after the commencement of this Act, they must give the date of the commencement of the business; and where a business is carried on under two or more business names, each of those business names must be stated. It is provided by later Clauses that three months is to be allowed for the registering of firms or persons who have carried on business before the commencement of this Act, but, if not, registration must take place within fourteen days after commencing business. In this Bill no person is designated as registrar, and that is a matter which will have to be finally decided when we ascertain the volume of business that may have to be dealt with. Of course, the natural proceeding would be that the Registrar of Companies should also deal with this matter, but that has not yet been definitely decided. The Registrar of Companies naturally feels that the amount of business thrown upon him may be beyond his capacity, but that matter has not yet been settled. This Bill has not been drafted by us, and we have taken it up from another place. The remaining features of the Bill are the penalties which are dealt with in Clauses 1601 7 and 8. First of all, there is a fine of £1 per day under Clause 7; and secondly, under Clause 8, the rights of a defaulter will not be enforceable by action at law. These penalty Clauses certainly require some strengthening. The penalty under Clause 7 is only enforceable after the Board of Trade have required compliance. Obviously, the Board of Trade cannot require compliance until they have knowledge of the particular case. That, therefore, appears to be an extremely weak point, and it will certainly have to be dealt with in Committee. I understand that this particular point was very carefully considered by the Select Committee in another place, and that they were impressed with the danger of blackmail. The House will observe that any person may lay information under this Bill. It is a matter which we shall be able to discuss in Committee, but I understand that was the point of view from which this Clause was framed. It seems to me, if we leave the Clause as it stands requiring initiative on the part of the Board of Trade to secure compliance with the Act, and imposing no penalty until the Board of Trade had found out the defaulter and ordered him to register, that nobody, or very few people, will register until the Board of Trade have required them to do so. The penalty under Clause 8 also requires strengthening. It is a contingent liability. Nobody would suffer by it unless they brought an action at law. No penalty would be enforceable for non-compliance until some other action were taken. That is not a satisfactory state of things. Both Clauses will have to be considered in Committee. An important point, involving rather a matter of principle, is raised by the Definition Clause, Clause 15, taken together with Clause 1. The Definition Clause says:
"True surname shall mean the surname under which an individual is for the time being known, not including a surname adopted or assumed for business purposes."
The true surname under which an individual is for the time being known obviously may be a name which he has only recently assumed. That is very unsatisfactory and is not at all what we require. There again the Bill will have to be very much strengthened. I am inclined to suggest that it will be best dealt with by having some period of time within which any changes that have occurred 1602 must be stated on the form. That is certainly one suggestion which appears to have considerable weight. We shall have to consider in Committee what that period shall be. The House will notice that one question which has to be answered is that of nationality. Experience rather points to the desirability of any change of nationality being recorded however long ago it might have taken place. That again will have to be dealt with in Committee. I may say that the Home Office have communicated with the Board of Trade on the subject, and they are strongly of that opinion, which we on our own account had also arrived at. The Bill will require considerable strengthening on the question of nationality and on the point of the true surname. I have now shortly stated the three matters contained in the Bill, namely, who is to be registered, how they are to be registered, and what are to be the penalties for not registering, and I have indicated that the Bill may require considerable amendment in Committee.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Not this week. I do not think that it would be fair to take it this week. It is not as if it were a Bill prepared in the Department, which we had, so to speak, built up brick by brick, and in regard to which, if we required to amend it, we should know how to begin. It is obviously more difficult to deal with a Bill which has not originated in the Department itself. I shall therefore be glad if the further stage of the Bill can be deferred until next week. There are two matters which may be considered matters of principle on which I shall certainly propose Amendments and on which I have no doubt that hon. Members will also propose Amendments, namely, the question of surname and of nationality and the question of penalties. There is a third point on which I am not so sure that agreement may be quite so easily reached, but on which there will have to be some amendment, and that is the date on which the Bill can be brought into operation. We are all agreed that the sooner we can bring it into operation the better. I feel very strongly about that, but the number of firms and persons, to be dealt with must be enormous and the machinery will be very considerable. It is the opinion of those who will have to do the work and who will be responsible that, under present conditions, it will certainly be impossible to 1603 bring the Bill into operation next January as is indicated in the Bill as printed here. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It will be physically impossible to 'bring the Bill effectively into operation next January, and I am sure that it will not be the wish of the House that the Bill should be brought into operation until it can be effectively done. If the Bill is strengthened, as we hope, it will clearly make it all the more necessary that it should be properly administered. I am not prepared now to indicate what time we shall have to ask for, but I am afraid it will not be possible to bring it into operation on a date quite so early as that indicated in the Bill itself. I hope that the House will now give the Bill a Second Reading and that when we get to the Committee stage we shall have a full opportunity of making it a real Bill, which will be of use not only for the purpose for which it was originally designed, so that any Englishman, Scotsman, or Irishman who wishes to do business in the course of ordinary trade between one man and another, may know with whom he is really doing business, but that it may also be of value to the nation, so that the State or any Government Department may have a register available for State purposes giving the real identity of any individual who docs business within the jurisdiction of this country.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I must say that, while in many respects I welcome the statement of the right hon. Gentleman who has proposed this Bill to the House, I think in other respects it was a very extraordinary speech, because he gave us to understand that in the view of his Department the Bill is of an entirely unsatisfactory character, and, in point of fact, will have to be amended almost out of recognition if it is to be of the slightest use in this country I entirely agree with the view the right hon. Gentleman put forward, but having stated that it is a Bill which may have a very important effect in assisting loyal traders in this country and those who deal with them, it strikes me that the proper course for the Government would have been to have drawn their own Bill in a satisfactory way. They received this Bill from the House of Lords as far back as 9th August, and I think it was before the House of Lords nearly a whole year from the time it was first printed. Now we are told that so much amendment will it require and so drastic will it be neces- 1604 sary to make the alteration in the law, that although we have been over two years engaged in this War we cannot hope to carry its beneficent operations into force even as soon as 1st January next. That is a commentary on the way in which the Government conduct the business, the importance of which anybody can see. The truth of the matter is that the Bill as it at present stands is no good. I admit that it may be amended, but the reason the right hon. Gentleman gave for it being in this form was the history of the Bill. I wonder when people will begin to remember the great difference between peace and war? It seems only now, after two years and more, to be dawning on some people that laws that were very good for times of peace are not only useless, but absolutely harmful, in times of war. Looking back and taking this as an example, I think the House will agree, and 1 am sure that the country will agree, that it was a great pity that in times of peace we never contemplated what it would be necessary to do in times of war. There has been an outcry in this country ever since this War broke out that there ought to be something done to eliminate that German and other enemy influence from trading, financial and commercial, in this country which they have set up, and which they have set up not only here but in every other country, not merely as a commercial matter, but as part of the general war which they were going to wage.
One of my chief complaints against this Government is that up to this they have really done nothing, indeed, in many cases they have thwarted others doing something, to enable us to eliminate, as we ought to eliminate, enemy influence in any quarter in trading and commercial relations in this country. The whole of this mischief, I think, will be found to arise from the little attention which we gave to our naturalisation laws. I am not going to discuss them now, but I am perfectly certain that one of the great difficulties of tracing enemy influence in this country has been that we made no provision when war broke out for dealing with those on whom we had conferred the full benefits of British citizens, although at the time their sympathies might be, and probably would be, with the enemy who were trying to overthrow the British Empire. There ought to have been a law—I do not understand even now why the Government did not include it in 1605 a, Bill of this kind—giving the Government power to review every certificate of naturalisation which had been given in times of peace when war broke out. Mind you, this question of nationality to which my hon. Friend briefly referred is one of the most vital importance, and it is only when you consider it that you see the difficulty of dealing with it. Take this case: A man is described as a British subject. He may have been born in this country of German parents, and that makes him a British subject. Although he may never have lived here for a single moment of his life after the time of growing up, you cannot treat him otherwise than as a British subject. But in addition to that—and after all this is a most important and difficult point—a man may go and register himself a national in America, and under their Naturalisation Laws he may become an American subject and come back here and pose as such, and not as a German, though he may have naturalised for the very object of gaining a footing in this country and carrying out operations damaging to our trade.
I wish the Government had taken that matter up and had incorporated something in the Bill dealing with it. I do not believe it is impossible to deal with either of the cases I have mentioned. It will be seen that this Bill, even with the Amendments that may be made under the title, unless my hon. Friend proposes to alter the title of the Bill, will really be very insufficient for the purpose of doing what the public are asking for every day—eliminating German and other alien influences. There are one or two matters in the Bill to which I should like shortly to refer. The Bill, as at present framed, does not go back on nationality at all. If a man was naturalised, or had assumed for a year or so, or, I suppose, even when the war broke out, a particular name, under the Bill, as framed, he is not bound to disclose his original name. I understand the hon. Gentleman will be sympathetic towards proposed Amendments in that respect. That, of course, is absolutely necessary, and I was glad to hear there will be no limit as to time. We must not go back merely to the date of the War, or five years previously, but we must go back to the real nationality of the man. I may say I entirely approve of that. It is one of the defects of this Bill which I am glad to think will be remedied.
1606 There is another matter to which I hope my hon. Friend will direct his attention. I hope he will see that these registrations do not merely lie in the offices in Somerset House, but that they shall be published broadcast, so that the public themselves may judge as to whether or not they ought to deal with particular firms. The hon. Gentleman reminds us that companies are already registered. But how does that work? If I want to know about a company I have to go to Somesset House, wade through a file until I get the latest return, which may be a year old, and then I may be able to ferret out the names of the manager and directors. I hope there will be nothing so unsatisfactory in this particular case, and that my hon. Friend will assist us in devising a plan by which, in every representation that these people make, they shall only be allowed to represent themselves as what they really are and not what they pretend to be. There is another matter, I do not know whether or not it will come within the scope of this Bill, but it is a matter I would be sincerely glad, and I am sure the public also would be glad, if it can be brought into the Bill. It is the question of allowing foreigners, whether they be enemies or neutrals, to usurp British titles, so as to put a fraudulent pretence before the public. There are many instances in which companies call themselves "British So-and-so Company," and when you come to look into them you will find there is nothing British about them, but that they are companies to promote German trade. Is not that a scandal? They use the word "Imperial" or "British Imperial" or "London and Liverpool," or "London" and some other place, or "the United Kingdom." Surely that is a matter to which the Government might very well direct their attention!
There is a great deal of feeling as to the laxity of the Government in eliminating German and enemy influence generally in this country. Let us not care about what was done in peace time. We have our eyes open now. Let us do what is necessary. I got a letter the other day from a firm enclosing me an account which they had paid. The money was paid to a firm which had a very large business, and with which they had had very large transactions, and until they saw the receipt' to one of the accounts signed on behalf of the controller they had not the faintest idea that they were dealing with 1607 a German firm. These were people who had lost their only sons in fighting against the Germans, and all the time they had been paying money and the controller was collecting it, so that it might be handed back to their enemy. The sooner the Government devote their attention to this matter, not in a pettifogging Bill like this, the sooner they realise that we expect a Bill really dealing with enemy influence of this kind, the better it will be for this House and for the country.
§ Mr. GLANVILLE
As far as I am concerned, I am very pleased, indeed, that this Bill is before the House at the present moment. I followed the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) in his criticisms. No doubt many of them were well founded, but they varied so much—sometimes he censured and sometimes he commended—that it was really difficult to know where he was. At any rate, he was very distinct in saying that the Government was doing everything wrong in every possible way. That may or may not be the case, but it does not advance the Bill, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman to remember that the traders all over this country have been waiting for a Bill of this kind for years, and now one is before the House, one which has passed the House of Lords, and in support of which public meetings have been held all over the country. No doubt, as the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill pointed out, it is susceptible of considerable amendment. But I hope that, in the general discussion on the Bill, we are not going to allow the head of Charles I. to quite obscure from our view every other part of the body.
There is something in this question outside the question of nationality. Seven million sterling is lost in this country every year through bankruptcies alone, 3rd a considerable amount of other money is also lost, information as to which never reaches the Bankruptcy Court, and all these losses are incurred because the creditor does not know the debtor to whom he is supplying his goods. That certainly is a thing which ought to be prevented. I quite realise that the Bill does not go far enough. Registration in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin would be insufficient, as well as inconvenient to large trading firms. I fully believe a very large number of firms will have to register under this Bill, if it is to be a 1608 proper Bill, and it must be obvious that between the end of October and the 1st January next it will be impossible to get the proper machinery in working order. It would therefore be better for the Bill to come into force a few months later, and then be worked under proper conditions, rather than that it should be now hurried through and be productive of further complaints of inconvenience and inadequacy throughout the country. I come next to the question of penalties. The proposed penalty of £1 is, in my opinion, absolutely ridiculous.
There is another part of the Bill which requires amendment. We want to know exactly who a man is, and under this Bill men not trading under their own names should be forced to disclose their real names, so that the public may know with whom they are dealing. Under the proposed method of registration in London and the two other cities, the provisions for securing that will prove absolutely insufficient. What we want is that if a man is trading, say, under the name of "Smith" when his real name is "Brown," that fact should be set forth not only on his business premises, but on the notepaper which he uses in his business and on his order forms. If a man goes to a Court and obtains a licence for a public-house, he has to have his name printed on his premises within a few days. A man who has a vehicle plying along the streets has to have his name painted in letters an inch long on that vehicle. Why should a man trading in business, if it is an honest business, wish to conceal his real name? We all understand the necessity for preserving old-established firms, but that is no reason why the members of the firm should withhold their names. There are, of course, firms which have been in existence many years, firms with adequate capital, firms well reputed. The owner may leave the business or die; some financial changes may take place. I submit that the new owners should be forced to disclose their names, and that those names should appear on the premises and on all their business papers. By registration only that end cannot be secured. You cannot expect a trading firm to keep a clerk to run to the London Registry several times a week to search the names of those who have registered a change in order to find one among the thousand or five thousand customers with whom they are in the 1609 habit of dealing. That difficulty, however, could be easily got over if the firm's registered name appeared on the business premises and on the business paper and material issued to the general public. In addition, there ought to be an adequate fine—not to go to the common informer but an adequate fine enforceable under the ordinary law by the Department represented by the hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill. Such a provision would largely meet the case. No doubt before the Bill gets into Committee a large number of Amendments of all kinds will be placed on the Notice Paper. But I have not the slightest doubt that the House, if it chooses, can place the measure on the Statute Book in two or three weeks, and, if hon. Members are willing, we shall be able to get an Act which will be for the benefit of the community generally without injury to ourselves.
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."
The objects of this Bill, as indicated by the hon. Gentleman who brought it forward, are in every respect excellent, and those objects have been approved by various trading bodies all over the country. But the Bill itself has not been so approved, in fact, upon being considered by two or three business men, defects of such magnitude were immediately pointed out, that when one comes to look at the Bill itself, he finds there is hardly a Clause in it from beginning to end that would not require such drastic alterations that the question really arises whether the advice, given with all the experience and force of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Trinity College, Dublin (Sir E. Carson), ought not to be followed by the Government oh this occasion, and they ought not to withdraw from this House a Bill which will be seen on examination to be so obviously unsatisfactory and insufficient, and that the Board of Trade should take the trouble to deal with this very important subject in a proper manner by introducing a proper Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out that there is no word in this Bill on the important question of naturalisation. There is nothing here to enable the trading community to 1610 spot the enemy—the German-who has been intriguing and has been guilty of all kinds of trickery in connection with matters of commerce as well as in matters of war in recent years. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Glanville) also called attention to the fact that there is nothing in this Bill insisting upon people who are using names other than their own for business purposes putting those names prominently upon their business premises, and also upon their notepaper, invoices, and other trading papers. That is another important point. I do not know whether, as a matter of order, it would be possible to put those two points, or either of them, into this Bill. The Bill as at present brought forward is so worded and constructed that it does not cover either of those two important points to any extent whatever, and I doubt very much whether, as a matter of order, the drastic Amendments which the hon. Gentleman himself has indicated on behalf of the Government and the Board of Trade he would require to propose would be capable of dealing with either of those two subjects in any shape or form.
The first point in connection with the inadequacy of this Bill and its general scope is that if you are to catch by registration the dishonest trader or the trader who is endeavouring under the cloak of another name to conceal his identity, it is not sufficient to bring in a Bill saying that these particular people are to register. They have tried that in other countries, and found that it failed. They did not get the results which were anticipated from it, therefore, they adopted for instance, in "Germany, France, and other countries—a system under which all traders must be registered. The first thing to be done is to register all traders. Then you will find out at once whether the names under which the businesses are being carried on are correct. As a matter of fact, if we were to pass this Bill in its present shape, simply saying that those who are using names other than their own are to be registered, there would be thousands of people who are doing that whom you would never get to register at all, and at whom you would never be able to get. The invitation here to the common informer, which opens a wide door to blackmail, would be such as to make it almost impossible. Besides that, it must be remembered that a good many firms will be carrying on perfectly legitimate 1611 businesses in names which are not exactly their own now, who are first-rate people, too. If you are going to make this registration a sort of pillory of firms, why should you inflict a prejudice upon the perfectly legitimate trader, which would be involved by simply picking out one class? The simple thing to do is what Germany determined to do twenty-five years ago, what France determined to do some twenty years ago, and what other countries have also adopted, that is, to insist upon all traders being registered, and, in cases where the exact names of the partners do not appear in the trading name, to insist upon full particulars being given upon registration, so that anybody can be traced, and one can ascertain not only what firms are not trading in their own names, but also what firms are so trading. In order to catch those people whom this Bill is designed to catch, I respectfully suggest that you would require to have the registration of all traders.
In the next place—and this goes to the root of the whole Bill—there is the question of its machinery. The suggestion is that the registration should be somewhat similar to that of public companies, that the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies should be the registrar, and that there should be three offices, one in London, one in Dublin, and one in Edinburgh. We have to-day in the trading community of this country all the machinery for carrying out this Bill without creating three new enormous offices, and without practically taking up a building the size of Somerset House to do the work for England. We do not want another army of officials. We do not want this enormous change forced upon the country in this official way. No, Sir, the machinery is here already, if the Government would only use it. In France the registrations are all done by the Chambers of Commerce. There are chambers of commerce there all over the country. They have certain judicial functions, one of which is to keep a register of every trader in the district. If the trader is only in a small way of business, such as a small shop, the fee is only one franc, but if the business is a merchant's business, or a larger one, the fee for registration is larger. The effect of that is that every one of these chambers of commerce takes a position far superior, having regard to their judicial and registration functions, than any- 1612 thing we have in the way of chambers of commerce in this country. Our chambers of commerce have their secretaries and offices. I do not know whether they cover the whole area of the country, but it would be comparatively simple to bring the boundaries of one chamber up to and make them co-terminous with the boundaries of another. Chambers of commerce are the right people to keep these registers. They would receive comparatively small fees, although they would be larger in the case of larger businesses, and they would be self-supporting. That would prevent the idea which is in this Bill, which every Member of this House who knows anything of business ought certainly to have at heart, that is, the establishment and enrolment among us of three enormous new offices with three new sets of Civil Service clerks.
I am very much afraid that this Bill cannot be amended so as to cover naturalisation. I will not delay the House today upon that question because the subject has been dealt with so effectively by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Trinity College. Neither will I elaborate the other very important point about the names of all partners in the firms whose names are concealed in the names of the firm being upon the note-paper, because that has been dealt with by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Granville). But there are these two other points which go to the root of the Bill-first, that we ought to register all traders, and secondly, that we ought to put the working and machinery of this matter into the hands of those splendid chambers of commerce we already have, and who have a large portion of the registration work already done among their members. If the Bill is to be so amended as to include these points and also the points which have been left out, by means of the drastic alterations that have been indicated, the only way to achieve our object—we want something of this kind and as soon as possible—would be to have a clean, new Bill brought in by the Board of Trade dealing with the subject in the way they want to deal with it. What is the use of the hon. Gentleman introducing a Bill of this kind and telling us in every other sentence, "It is not my Bill; it is not my Department's Bill. We would have done it in a different way. We are going to introduce a lot of Amendments of our own." In an important matter of this sort the right 1613 thing for the Government to do is to study the question for themselves and bring in their own Bill after proper consideration. Then we should be able to understand what it was and try to deal with it. I ask the House, how are we in Committee as Members of Parliament, some of us with considerable business experience, to deal with a Bill when we have notice from the Government that they are going to propose a whole lot of Amendments of their own? What would be the utility of our proposing Amendments when we do not know exactly what Amendments the Government are going to bring forward? While I welcome the objects of this Bill, I cannot think it would serve any useful purpose for us to discuss it in its present form, and for that reason I desire to move its rejection.
§ Amendment not seconded.
§ Sir ARCHIBALD WILLIAMSON
As a business man I should like to offer a few observations to the House upon this Bill. Those of us who have had a good deal of experience of trading, especially with foreign countries, must welcome anything that makes it clear with whom we are doing business. For my part, I do not think that merchants and business people in this country would have any objection at all to the whole world knowing who were the partners in the business. That, at any rate, is the point of view of the Briton. When you come to the point of view of the foreigner or the foreigner who has recently become naturalised, I am afraid the Bill will not do all the House would like, in connection with him, because he has a very simple remedy, that is, although his name may be Schmidt, Strauss, or Schloss, or any other name, he has only to form his business into a small company. Then he can take the most British name he likes, and very few people will know from the name with whom they are really doing business. They would have to go to Somerset House and find out who are the shareholders in the company. Therefore, I am rather afraid the Bill will not achieve all that most of us would like in regard to disclosing, to the person who is trading with this undertaking, who the people behind it really are.
The other observation I should like to address to the Board of Trade is as to the difficulty it will have in defining what is the carrying on of business in 1614 this country. It is a very difficult point in law, and I think the Board of Trade will find it is up against a good deal of difficulty when it comes to deciding who is carrying on business in this country and who is not. One of the main difficulties I see in this proposal is with regard to the persons who are acting in this country as agents for persons abroad. Take a case of this sort. My firm has recently been selling, for the purposes of the War, a good deal of a commodity, not probably well known, called antimony ore. It is consigned to us here from a number of miners who have small mines up in the mountains of Bolivia. Apparently in this Bill it would be the duty of a firm here to declare who the partners are in this Bolivian firm, which is consigning ore here for sale. That is a perfectly impossible proposition, and, moreover, when you come to consider what disclosures have to be made, the general nature of these people's business, the principal places of their business, who the partners are, and within seven days every change of partnership that takes place in that foreign firm, it would be perfectly unworkable. The persons in this country who are acting as agents for foreign firms in all parts of the world and selling the produce for them could never possibly undertake to keep a record of all the changes of partnership of these people, and, indeed, in some cases, as business is done by cable, they would not know who is consigning the goods for sale here, and the transaction would be finished long before we knew who were really the firms offering it here for sale, and the conditions of the Bill under Clause 2 would be perfectly impossible. It would be all very well to disclose who the firm was for which you are acting as agent if it was in this country and you could find out all about it, but it is preposterous to suggest that a firm in Bogota consigning coffee, or in La Paz consigning silver ore, or offering by cable to sell it, must give the particulars which are asked for under Clauses 2, 3, 5, and 6.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
It is the duty of a British firm which is acting as agent to disclose the names of the partners of the firm for which it is acting as agent.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
In no place do I find words limiting it to a British firm in a foreign country. It may be any firm in a foreign country for which a firm here is acting as agent. It is perfectly impossible to put that duty on British merchants or British consignees. But, apart from that, if we could arrive at a Bill which would do what the Government have in mind, namely, let us know who, at any rate in Great Britain, the people really are who constitute firms, I do not think there would be any objection from the trading community at all. No Briton would object to giving the names of his partners, and with regard to the foreigner who was trading here and pretending to be British it would be very desirable to have that disclosed, if possible; but I am afraid if he found it adverse to his business that it should be disclosed he would then adopt the very easy device of becoming a company.
§ Mr. MACLEOD
While wholly in favour of the principle of the Bill, there is one question which it is necessary to put to my hon. Friend. Is it intended to include under this Bill partnerships which exist in connection with the working and labouring classes? I refer especially to partnerships in connection with fishing and also in connection with squads at engineering and shipbuilding work. There are many other businesses of a similar character, and they all really come under the partnership law, and if it is intended that all the different partners should be registered, it opens up an enormous field and will necessitate an enormous amount of work. There are other businesses whose inclusion in the Bill would cause great difficulty. I refer especially to underwriters. We know that each particular business or risk has its own underwriters, who are really partners in that risk. They are always changing, and therefore it would be very difficult indeed were they always to be registered. I should like my hon. Friend to consider whether it will not be necessary to have some limitation and exemption of trades and businesses under the Bill.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I think the House ought to be grateful to my hon. Friend (Mr. Macleod) for having drawn attention to the matter, which is quite deserving of attention in Committee, because it would be a disaster if one were by this Bill to interfere with the carrying on of these fishing partnerships, for instance, or with 1616 underwriting, which may be regarded from one point of view as a partnership. That is, however, a Committee point. I think the House is in enthusiastic general agreement with the principle of the Bill. The only regret I feel, and I think it is" shared by many others, is that it was not brought in a long time ago, because many of the evils which are aimed at in the Bill have been in existence in continually increasing force since the commencement of the War, even if not before. I was a little alarmed when my hon. Friend (Mr. Pretyman) said the Bill would not come into operation before 1st January. There is no reason whatever why the process of registration should not be commenced within a fortnight after the Bill has passed. In other words, they should be compelled within a fortnight after the passing of the Bill to register in the form prescribed, though I have no doubt some further time will be required for making up the register properly. There were and are two evils which require to be dealt with by this Bill. Let me give one illustration of a practice which has been going on, I believe, since the commencement of the War, and which is of the most pernicious character to my mind. German firms which were in existence at the beginning of the War knew that if they retained their names no one would deal with them, even if they were not locked up themselves. By some secret agreement, sometimes in writing, sometimes not, they transferred their businesses to A, B and C, some clerks of theirs with good English names, so that Schmidt and Company became Brown, Jones and Robinson, and the unsuspecting public went on dealing with Brown, Jones and Robinson, not having the remotest idea that behind these apparently simple British subjects were German principals. In other words, the British subjects are mere trustees for the Germans. I think that has gone on to a considerable extent, and I am glad there is a Clause in the Bill which will compel a firm carrying on its business as trustees for someone else to disclose their names, and I think we ought to add in the Bill to tell us their nationality and also their addresses, so that the public may know with whom they are dealing. That is one point on which the Bill is valuable.
There is another case which, as it stands, the Bill does not meet. That is the case of persons who ever since the War, or shortly before it, changed their German names and their German nationality into 1617 English names and English nationality, and whereas before the War, or immediately after it, they were Germans with full-blooded German names, after the War they became simply British subjects enjoying the privilege and advantage of the British name. I think this Bill ought to provide not merely that the existing surnames and Christian names of members of the firm shall be registered, but that the surnames which these gentlemen bore for some period previous to the War should also be registered, so that we should know whether the person with whom we are dealing is really the honest British subject he professes to be, or is able to pose as being by our defective naturalisation laws, or whether he is in fact the person whom we wish to crush out, but whom we are unable to discover because of his change of name. I gather that my hon. Friend will make a change in the Bill which will enable us to meet that case.
The only other point I wish to touch on is the question of penalties. The penalty prescribed by the Bill is grotesquely insufficient. The penalty for not registering is £1 a day, while the omission to register goes on. In any big business surely it would be worth these gentlemen's while to decline to register at all and to run the chance of being caught. If they are caught they would pay £1 a day, and if it extended over a year it could not come to so very much, and they no doubt would have had an ample reward for their omission to register. Therefore if we put a penalty at all, and indeed a penalty is absolutely necessary, it should be a substantial one which will force people to comply with the law, and I should not only have a fine but imprisonment as well, because there are persons to whom a fine, unless of enormous amount, is really no deterrent at all, whereas imprisonment may be a little helpful to enable people to comply with the law. I am glad my hon. Friend is going to move some Amendments. I do not agree with my hon. Friend (Mr. Rutherford) that the Bill should be withdrawn altogether. I think with proper Amendments it will be a most valuable Bill, and I do not anticipate that the discussion of those Amendments which will be necessary to make it into a useful measure will take so very long as some hon. Members seem to anticipate. I hope we shall go on with the Bill and get it through by next week, and get it into operation as soon as possible.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I hope the House will accept the Second Beading of the Bill. It is rather interesting to hear from the representative of the Government that this is a measure which should be considered from the point of view of the War issues. I understand that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pretyman) recommends this measure because it has an important war bearing. When we remember that this Bill was kicking about the House of Lords more than a year ago, that no support of any tangible character was given to it by the Government at that time, and that now we have it recommended to us in order to help us to win the War, I think it is a very pleasant commentary on the sort of action which the Government take in regard to these matters. I confess that the only attraction the Bill has for me is whether it is going to help us to kill and find out enemy influences in this country. That is the only value of the Bill at the present time if we are to pass it. This is not the time for considering the whole question of partnership, liabilities, and all that sort of thing. Every measure should be tested as to its value in regard to the winning of the war and the fighting of Germans and Germany. When we are told that we must not hold out hope that the Bill is going to be brought into operation by 1st January—and the hon. Gentleman does not know how long after that—I doubt more than ever the sincerity of the Government in the object we have in view.
At the present time we cannot get to know with what Germans we are trading. We have been told, on the other side of the House, of the consternation of a firm who did not know that they had been dealing with a German firm until they saw a document signed by the controller. What do the Government mean by screening German firms day after day and month after month? At the present time they have the names of three hundred or four hundred of these firms, but they will not give a British manufacturer the names of one of these firms which are governed by German influence and run by German money. They keep the information secret. I have sent to the Board of Trade myself, I have sent on behalf of firms in which I am interested to try to get the name of one firm that belongs to Germany and is controlled by Germans, but the Board of Trade refuse to publish any list of firms controlled by them and now in the process of liquidation. Is that sincerity? Is that vigour in killing 1619 German influence? Does that show any real desire to crush the thing which they profess they are anxious to crush? Nothing of the kind. They are halfhearted in this matter, as they are halfhearted in everything else. They only act when they are kicked into action. They are only acting now on this Bill after fifteen months. This is a private Member's Bill, and they are only doing this now out of shame because they know that if they do not do it public opinion, in a week or two, will force them to do it. I do not think we have got the driving power behind the Board of Trade to make this Bill a success. Of course, we know they are busy. They should get more help. They should appoint another Department to do this business, but because of official jealousy they will not do that. It is like it was in regard to the winding-up business, and the result is chaos and inaction. This Bill is only worth passing now if we make up our minds to entirely alter it and make it a real measure and not a shop-window measure. It is only in that hope that I shall support the Second Beading of the Bill.
I rise to support the Bill on the principle that half a loaf is better than no bread, and that if we do not use the framework of this Bill now it must be many months before a new Bill can be drafted, and we may not get a Bill at all. I am extremely glad that the Minister in charge of the Bill has said that the principle of it is no longer contentious. I know that the author of the Bill in the House of Lords (Lord Southwark) is a business man and has been a business man all his life, and that this Bill has been drafted by him in collaboration with a large number of other business men. It is by no means the unpractical measure that some hon. Members on this side of the House regard it. I agree with the right hon. Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) that it is very unfortunate that a Bill like this was not passed into an Act of Parliament before the War. If it had been passed before the War, we should have known all the enemy businesses there were in this country, and we should have had machinery for the purposes of finding all the necessary information about them. I suppose that at the present time the hon. C4entleman who has moved the Second Reading of the Bill does not really know how many enemy businesses there are in this country, and 1620 he never will be able to discover without a Bill of this description how many enemy businesses there are yet unwound up.
I do not propose to say much about the Bill, but I want to make one or two observations somewhat on the lines of the last speaker. I am extremely glad that the Government consider that this Bill is capable of amendment, and of being made a useful measure. The machinery of the Bill will be enormous. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rutherford) suggested that the chambers of commerce should undertake this work. I would point out, however, that chambers of commerce are not official bodies, and have not got official areas. It has always struck me "hat it might be possible for the Board of Trade to use the machinery of the County Courts of this country for this purpose. The County Courts map out the whole country into separate, well-defined areas; they are official bodies, and they have a registrar who is quite capable of doing this sort of work, and if the Board of Trade would only part with this branch of its work and allow the County Courts to take it up, I think the machinery would become manageable and very much more simplified. With regard to the changing of names recently by foreigners who are carrying on business in this country, I have had an Amendment sent to me from members of the London Chamber of Commerce, who want it to be put down on the Paper. It is that after a certain day, say, the 31st December, 1913, the December before the War, anyone who has changed his name or assumed any name other than that by which he has been previously known, shall be compelled to register in the original name that he had before the 31st December, 1913. I am not particular as to what the date should be, but at any rate it should be some date which will rope in all these changes of names that were made by Germans and other foreigners in anticipation of the present War. In regard to the point raised by one hon. Member as to agents in this country for foreign firms registering the names of their firms, I do not think that the Bill ought to be burdened with that. I think it would be an impossibility, and that it would overburden the Bill. So far as I can see, the Bill does not anticipate that that would be a particular function of registration at all. The Bill seems to contemplate only the registration of British firms and foreign firms trading in this country, not merely being represented here by agents.
§ Mr. D. MASON
I think the hon. Member will find that Clause 2 provides for "every such person or persons." It does not say nationality.
I have read that, but you must take that in regard to the purview of the whole Bill, and if you take the purview of the whole Bill you will see that it is not intended, for instance, that every merchant in South America who happens to have an agent in this country for the selling of goods shall be obliged to register within seven days the names of all the members of his firm and the changes in the members of his firm from time to time. The mention of seven days in the Bill shows that it is not intended to apply to such cases. I hope that no Amendments will be brought forward to try to alter the nationalisation law in a Bill of this kind, which is merely a registration of business names Bill. Any attempt of that kind must be very prejudicial to the Bill and might wreck it. If the nationalisation laws are to be altered, they must be altered as a whole in one Bill which has no other purpose at all. I know from my experience of chambers of commerce that this Bill has been very anxiously awaited by the business community in this country, and as far as I am personally concerned I shall give all the support I can in carrying it through.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
I shall only make a few observations at this stage of the Bill. I think there has been some misapprehension as to what this Bill will do. It is quite obvious that this is a Bill the object of which is simply to give information and then allow people to act upon that information when it has been obtained. When we talk about the elimination of German trade we must remember that this Bill, as such, is not intended to do that, nor will it have that effect. It will give certain information, and when people have the facts before them they will have the opportunity of dealing as they wish with regard to these German firms. There has seldom been a Bill introduced upon which there has been so much agreement, but upon which everybody has spoken in so half-hearted a manner. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading gave us the cue and, such is his influence in the House, everybody has acted upon it. Every speaker has denounced something in the Bill, and the hon. Gentleman himself said that upon three matters, what he called three leading principles of the Bill 1622 —the penalty, the definition of surnames, and the date-there would have to be Amendments. No doubt that is so. In order that the information may be such that people can act upon it, I think there ought to be, at any rate, a modification of Clause 3 in this respect, that not only shall a man put down his own nationality, but that he shall put down all his nationalities from start to finish; and secondly, that he shall not only put down his name, but all his names from start to finish, so that we shall know his history, so far as surnames and nationality are concerned. In regard to the Penalty Clause, I am sure my hon. Friend will agree with me that it will not do. It is quite ineffective, and, if I may say so, preposterous. With regard to the registration, it appears tome from the reading of the Bill that this is a Bill under which the man registers himself in a curious way. It is not that the public servant registers him, but the moment he sends his particulars to the Government Department the mere sending of those particulars is the registration, and when anybody inquires he gets a copy of what the trader has sent in in regard to all these particulars. I do not know whether it is intended that that should be so, but it is a very curious state of affairs. What the man is punished for is not false particulars, but that he is false in registering himself. That has got to be remedied.
We have gathered, more or less, the sense of the House from the Debate that has taken place, and I think the sense of the House is that something must be done upon the general lines of this Bill. We are most anxious to make it a workable Bill. Take the question of area. There is London, Dublin, and Edinburgh. I will suggest a fourth area later on. I feel certain that these areas are too big. It is almost an impossible task for London to provide registration for all the traders who will come in from all the counties of England and Wales. I do submit to the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill that he should localise this work to some extent. I know there is a difficulty in that, because the more you localise the work the more difficult it is to get information, and unless you have all the information at a central place it is very difficult to obtain it. I suggest that it would not be the 1st of January, but a much later date in 1917, before all this information could be centralised in one place. I have one appeal to make to the hon. Gentleman, 1623 and I think I shall make it with the general consent of the House. We are anxious that this Bill shall take as little time as possible in Committee. My hon. Friend (Mr. Denniss) says that half a loaf is better than no bread. I would suggest to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pretyman) that he might well consider the question whether he should not be his own baker. He has taken this half-loaf from some other Department, and I think it would be well I say this with great respect-even at this stage if he considered whether it would not save time in the end if this Bill were reframed. Of this I am quite certain, that two or three days before the Committee stage is reached we might expect and call upon the Government to put all their Amendments on the Paper beforehand. That would shorten the discussion very much. If the hon. Gentleman will give us an undertaking that that will be done, I am sure that it will expedite the passage of the Bill through the House. I make these remarks in the most friendly spirit towards the Bill, and I trust the hon. Gentleman will take them into account and that he will, even at this late hour, when he has consulted his Parliamentary draftsman, consider whether it would not really save time in the end if we had the Second Beading of a simpler, shorter, and much more workable Bill than this. It would facilitate the passage of the Bill through Committee. The hon. Gentleman knows that the more Amendments there are on the Paper the more discussion there is. We know perfectly well that this Bill will have to be amended practically Clause by Clause to a very great extent, and I think that the hon. Gentleman might consult his experts as to whether even now it would not be better to have a new Bill than to go on with this Bill.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I am glad to find that the House agrees with the principle of this Bill. As the House has accepted this principle in a very friendly spirit-certainly my right hon. Friend who spoke last has been very friendly-my Department will certainly consider the suggestion which he has made, and all the suggestions which have been made. Though this Bill will be very useful to us in connection with the War, it is not a Bill which was originally conceived, or is even now introduced, as a war measure dealing directly with war questions. I do not bring it forward on that basis, and the attacks which 1624 have been made upon the Government and my Department for the method of introducing this Bill are quite misconceived, because they attack the Bill from a wholly false standpoint. It is with great diffidence that I criticise anything said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson), who has now left the House. But I suggest to him, with his great legal experience, that to attempt to alter the nationalisation law within the compass of this Bill would be wholly foreign to its purpose. This is a Bill which was originally proposed long ago for the registration of the names of all British firms and persons who trade in names other than their own. This limitation was imposed because so far as those who trade only in their own name are concerned everybody knows already who they are, and there is, therefore, no necessity to register them. That was the simple object of the Bill. It was proposed for purely commercial purposes.
Sir H. DALZIEL
The Government, through the Prime Minister, are pledged not to introduce any measure unless it is a war measure.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
My right hon. Friend will let me make my point. Apparently he thinks that he is the only individual in this House who has any knowledge of—
Sir H. DALZIEL
On a point of Order. I submit that the hon. Gentleman is not entitled to speak at all without the indulgence of the House, and he has never asked for it. If he is going to make a controversial speech, I hope that there will be the right of reply.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Maclean)
The hon. Gentleman looked towards me in the usual way in which a Minister looks towards the Chair when sometimes he is not strictly in order, and I think that he understood that it was with the assent of the Chair that he made his remarks.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I agree entirely, and I apologise to the House for not having asked for the indulgence to speak again, which is so usually accorded to anyone in charge of a Bill. I ventured to take it too much as a matter of course. The point which I was making is not at all affected by what the right hon. Gentleman says. This registration was not originally suggested as a war measure at all. It was a matter which was regarded as controversial, and, as my hon. Friend says, and 1625 I was about to say myself, it could not be introduced now except for the fact that the War has removed the opposition to it, because it has shown that this kind of registration is very necessary, not only from the business point of view, for which it was originally proposed before the War, but in reference to the position in which we now find ourselves during the War. It-is not a war measure, in the sense in which the Enemy Trading Act is, for the direct destruction of enemy influence. If we try to make it into that, I am afraid that we shall get into a very difficult region. I think we shall be wise to confine the Bill to the purpose for which it is designed—that is, to give us a real register of the exact identity of persons who are trading in this country. That is really all that the Bill purports to do, and the speeches made in the House show clearly what a very difficult matter it would be to do more. It sounds comparatively simple, but when you come to deal with it administratively, with all the points concerned, there would be great difficulties. There are three things which this Bill sets forth: First, who are to be registered; second, how they are to be registered; and, in the third place, it states the penalties for not registering. It sounds so simple to state those three points, but when you come Co work them out administratively it is difficult.
It is comparatively easy to stand in this House and say that this, that and the other ought to be done, and to accuse the Government of want of patriotism, because they do not succeed in a very short time in destroying the roots of the whole structure of enemy influence on trade in this country. My right hon. Friend forgets that those roots are very deep, and he forgets that, for many years before the War, the whole tendency of trade not only in this country but throughout the world was to become cosmopolitan and international, and that the roots of trade are entertwined as between one country and another. If you had simply to uproot the German firms, and the roots were not intertwined with those of British firms in many cases, the Board of Trade would find no difficulty, and the speed at which this work would be done would be quick enough for the right hon. Gentleman. But the Board of Trade have responsibility to British traders as a whole, and to individuals, and I do suggest that however anxious we are—and I am as anxious as the right hon. Gentleman can possibly be—to get rid of German influence, it may be that in a particular case 1626 we may be doing more harm to British trade than to German trade in dealing with some particular case. Responsibility rests with the Board of Trade, and they have to exercise it, and it is grossly unfair to point to some individual case, and to say that because this or that particular German firm, which is sometimes very small, has not been eliminated, that shows want of patriotism on the part of the Government and the Board of Trade.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman can give us credit for fulfilling the duty which we have undertaken to this House, to the best of our ability. We are as anxious as he to eliminate the whole element of German trade, but we have to do it with regard to British traders, and we should be given some credit in a time like this for having some good reason for apparent delay in these cases where, if hasty or ill-considered action were taken, we should be doing very much more harm to some individual or class of British traders than to German enemies. This Bill will not directly effect the War purpose of destroying enemy influence, but it will assist us from that point of view, and therefore I think that we are perfectly logical now in asking the House to do what we were not entitled to ask before, to give the Bill a Second Reading, and carry it through, because it is no longer controversial. The right hon. Gentleman suggested just now that we had no right to bring this Bill forward because it was a controversial measure. I am glad that he makes that statement, because it is an absolute answer to the accusation that we should have brought in this Bill long ago.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Last year I took steps to ascertain whether, if the Bill were brought forward, it would be regarded as controversial or not. I was informed that it would be regarded as controversial. Therefore it could not then be brought forward. The Debate which has taken place has, at any rate, justified our conclusion that the principle of this Bill is no longer controversial. Therefore I have introduced the Bill, and am glad that the House accepts the principle. I agree that the Committee stage will be difficult, and anything that could be done to accelerate and simplify that stage I am sure will be done, not only by the Board of Trade, but by the House. This Bill was brought forward with the full knowledge that the view of the Board of Trade 1627 and of the House would be the same, namely, that we want to get as complete a register as we can, one which will be as valuable as possible to the public. I do not think that there is really any matter at issue between us, except the one point which has been already referred to, on which I hope hon. Members will use some care. I think that it would be a pity to overload the Bill by trying to make it into what it does not purport to be—a Bill for the destruction of enemy influence. If we can avoid that, I hope that we may, without having to introduce a new Bill, make a good Bill of this in the Committee stage. I will certainly endeavour to get the Amendments proposed by the Board of Trade put on the Paper at as early a date as possible before the Committee stage.
§ Mr. STUART-WORTLEY
(indistinctly heard): The House is still master of the decision whether it will read this Bill a second time. For my own part my consent has been very strongly conditioned by the expectation that this Bill will be, in the first place, proceeded with all due dispatch, and, in the second place, that the shortest possible methods will be taken for shaping it in the way in which the Government wish to see it presented. I wish to refer to a procedure which I have seen adopted in this House—I admit not often of late years—which is a pro forma committal immediately after the Second Reading—that is to say, the Government Amendments are put down on the Paper, the House goes into Committee, the Motion is made that these Amendments be there inserted, they are inserted en bloc, and the House goes out of Committee, and then subsequently what is the real Committee stage is taken, which is called technically a recommittal of the Bill. Then you have a full discussion of the body of Amendments so put in, and of any Amendments to them which it may be desired to make. I do not know whether it is possible to revive this old procedure or not, but I suggest that it would be a good procedure in the case of this particular Bill. I am rather uneasy about the future of this Bill. The Government say that it is not their own child, and they may not be so anxious for its vigorous life as they might be in the case of a creation of their own. In consenting to the Second Reading of this Bill, I hope that it will not be taken that I agree to inaction, or lethargy, or postponement in the matter 1628 or in reference to any of these questions which the mere sight of this Bill brings to our minds.
By this Bill you secure the minimum ascertainment of certain material facts which might be said to be necessary to be ascertained before we can proceed to other fields of legislation. What are those other fields of legislation that you cannot deal with in this Bill? I refer to the lamentable state of the naturalisation laws, and the barbarous practice followed by the German Government in exacting a double allegiance from Germans naturalised here. There is the question of the lamentable deficiency in our company registration law, which makes it possible for national and local names to be filched by those who are giving titles to limited companies that they are forming for the express purpose of giving a false representation as to the origin of their goods. Then there is the ridiculous state of the freedom which the law gives for the changes of name, under the baleful and long-forgotten shibboleth which presumes that everybody has the utmost freedom to change his name, whereas the presumption should be all the other way, and he should be called upon to give stringent reasons for any change. I hope that in the consideration of this Bill these things will not be forgotten, and that the Government will proceed with the measure with all due dispatch.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
This Bill is a very old one, and it was brought forward for many years by private Members for a totally different object from that for which it is now brought forward. The House and the country are under the opinion that the Government at last are going to do something which will prevent enemy people trading in this country and to allow Englishmen to know with whom they are dealing. This Bill will not in the least do that, and the result of it, as it is now, will inflict such a tremendous amount of work and detail upon the Board of Trade that it would be impossible to get anything like a complete register within several months. If hon. Members will only look at the Bill, they will see that every firm, however small, every blacksmith, every small grocer, many of them with trading names of their own, will have to be dealt with, and the result will be that the work will be so enormous that it will be impossible to bring the Bill into operation in anything like what may be 1629 considered a short time. What the House and the country desire is that enemy aliens should not trade in this country without everyone knowing with whom they are so trading. It would be perfectly easy for the Government to enact that no German or Austrian or enemy alien-it need only be a short Bill of one Clause-can trade in this country without disclosing on his notepaper, or his office door, that he is an alien or a naturalised alien, and that his name, originally Schmidt, was now Brown. A still simpler way would be to enact that every person trading in a name which is not his own should make that known on his invoices, notepaper, and office door, and if he did not do that there should be a penalty. A measure like that could be carried through effectively very quickly. You have brought forward a Bill which is an old one, which was not intended for a state of war, nor intended to deal with alien enemies, but was intended to deal with certain firms in this country. It will not effect the object which the country desires, while you will overload the Board of Trade with details and work, so that nothing will be done for many months. I really think it would be very much simpler to have a short Bill, something on the lines I have suggested, and that this Bill should be withdrawn. It is almost impossible in Committee to so alter a Bill formerly introduced for one purpose that it may be used for some other purpose that it was never intended to fulfil. I have no right to speak for anybody in this House, but I submit that a Bill such as I have outlined could be passed in two or three days in this House and could be put into operation, so that the desire of the House and the country could be attained.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Bea.]