HC Deb 31 October 1916 vol 86 cc1647-50

Order for Second Reading read


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

This is quite a small Departmental measure which I hope will receive the approval of the House without a long discussion. It consists of three Clauses. The first Clause arises from a procedure which has been established in connection with the War whereby it is necessary to obtain licences for two purposes. The first case deals with the obtaining of any licence, authority, or approval for any transaction or matter under or in connection with any Proclamation or Act relating to trading with the enemy, and other small matters. The second case is where it is desired to obtain a licence to export any goods, the exportation of which without a licence is prohibited mainly for contraband reasons. The purpose of the first Clause is to provide that in an application for both of those licences any false statement shall become a criminal offence—that is to say, to obtain a licence by making a false statement will be made a criminal offence. I cannot imagine that there will be any difference of opinion about that proposal. There are numerous cases in dealing with the question of sending particular goods and obtaining a licence for the export of goods the exportation of which is prohibited where certainly very reckless statements have been made and licences have been so obtained in some cases which, if the whole of the facts had been disclosed, would never have been granted.

One finds occasionally that an application has been made to export a certain article and the amount to be exported is said to be quite normal, but when the thing comes to be looked into it is found that, with other similar applications, the amount, far from being normal, is three times the amount ordinarily taken to the country to which it is proposed to export it. Another case is an application to import to a consignee in a neutral country bordering on Germany accompanied by a statement that the applicant has dealt for many years with the particular consignee. An investigation shows that the consignee is a firm which has only grown up during the War, and probably grown up for the purposes of this particular trade. Those are the kind of cases which crop up. I do not suggest that the evil to be dealt with is very extensive—in fact it is very small relatively—but still the matter is serious, and it is important that these applicants should not be allowed to get an unfair advantage over those applicants who are perfectly honest, and I am advised that this particular change in the law would strengthen very much the hands of the War Trade Department in dealing with this matter. The Bill also makes it an offence for a person knowingly to give a guarantee as to the ultimate destination of goods which to his knowledge is false. That really is the whole contention of the first Clause.

With regard to the second Clause, it is much smaller and deals with a far less important matter. Sub-section (a) is designed to remove a small difficulty which has arisen in connection with the decision given in one of the Scottish Courts. I understand that under the Customs (Exportation Restriction) Act of 1915 the penalty imposed for an exportation in breach of any Proclamation or Order was increased, I believe, from £100 to £500. It has been held in Scotland that the offence is not committed and the penalty is not incurred in a case where an exporter has brought the goods down to the quay for the purpose of being shipped for exportation and has not actually put them on board. In England the opposite has been held, and this provision is to make the law the same in both Kingdoms. I cannot doubt that a man who brings down goods to the quay for the purpose of shipping them for exportation has really committed an offence. Subsection (b) is a still smaller matter merely designed to remove a doubt as to whether a Section of the Customs Consolidation Act of 1876 which imposes a penalty upon those who try to import goods which are subject to restrictions applies to a similar offence to export such goods. It is a very small matter, but undoubtedly difficulties have arisen in this connection, and as this Bill was being brought in I was asked to include that Sub-section. That is the whole purpose of the Bill, which is merely to strengthen the machinery by which part of the blockade is being really enforced. For these reasons I appeal with some confidence to the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.


The right hon. Gentleman, in explaining the Bill just now, used the word "knowingly" which, he said, was in the Bill. I do not find that word in the Bill.


The right hon. Gentleman will find at the end of Clause 1 the words,

"unless he proves that he had taken all reasonable steps to ascertain the truth of the statement made or contained in any document so presented."


I noticed those words and I am sure my right hon. Friend will take a reasonable view of this point at a later stage. What I say is that the word "knowingly" does not occur in the Bill. With regard to paragraph (a) which provides that if any person

"makes or presents any declaration or statement or representation which is false in any material particular,"

no objection can be made to that proposal. When we come to paragraph (b) it deals with a person who

"produces a guarantee, certificate, or undertaking which is false in any material particular, or has not been given by the person by whom it purports; to have been given,"

the House ought to remember that these things are done under a scheme prepared by the Government itself. These guarantee certificates are often given by persons in a very distant country, and it is almost impossible to make full inquiries as to whether all these statements are true or false. The Consul himself would be in the best position to do that, I think it is difficult to throw the onus upon the exporter to test everything that takes place in a foreign country, With the general object of the Bill I have no fault to find, although I think that the word "knowingly" may be required, and it is really more in the interests of the Government to secure the completeness of the certificate than it is in the interests of the private individual. If my right hon. Friend will promise to look at the phraseology when we come to the Committee I have nothing else to suggest.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Rea.]