§ It is hereby declared that where the fulfilment by any person of any contract is interfered with by the necessity on the part of himself or any other person of complying with any requirement, regulation, or restriction of any Government Department, that necessity is a good defence to any action or proceeding taken against that person in respect of the non-fulfilment of the contract so far as it is due to that interference.—[Mr. Pollock.]
§ Clause brought up, and read the first time.
I do not know what the hon. and learned Gentleman may have to say as to whether the proposition contained in this Clause is disposed of by the Clause already added to the Bill in the name of the Solicitor-General.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time.
This is the Clause which the Solicitor-General undertook to accept last night, subject to a slight variation which he intends to propose.
§ Sir G. HEWART
I suggest the addition of the words "or of a competent naval or military authority," so that the relief would be granted to a person whose contract was interfered with by the necessity of complying with any requirement, regulation, or restriction of any Government Department or of a competent naval or militarj authority.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for suggesting those words, because my object in moving the Clause was twofold: in the first place, to make it very simple, and, in the second, to include the power which the naval authori- 1232 ties have, and which the Admiralty has from time to time exercised, of using what I may call the prerogative rights that they possess quite apart from what may be called the Departmental rights which have been given under the various special Acts passed in time of war.
§ Mr. SALTER
I desire to ask the Solicitor-General to consider whether the Words "interfered with" should not be restricted? If not, this is certainly a Clause of a very wide kind.
§ Mr. SALTER
Is it intended that this Clause shall be limited to emergency matters arising out of the War?
§ Mr. POLLOCK
As the Clause stood in the Bill it said:Sub-section (2) of Section one of the Defence of the Realm (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, of 1915, shall apply in the case of the fulfilment of a contract being interfered with by a requirement, regulation, or restriction of a Government Department, other than the Admiralty or the Army Council, in like manner as it applies in the case where such interference is due to a requirement, regulation, or restriction of the Admiralty or Army Council.In the Defence of the Realm (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, of 1915, power was given to the Admiralty and to the Army Council, and this Clause was intended to give similar powers to other Departments, and the words in that Act are the words which have been moulded and brought up in the Clause that I have moved. The intention of my Clause was to avoid having to go back to the Act of 1915 and those fifty-eight Regulations which have been passed under that Act and which were incorporated with it, and to bring the matter forward and make a simple Clause, and the. words are "interfered with."
§ Colonel GRETTON
I wish to bring to the notice of the Solicitor-General two clases of cases which will necessarily arise and for which some provision may be reasonably asked. There is the case of a contract to provide certain food which is interfered with by the action of the Food 1233 Controller. Does the word contract cover a contract of that kind? I take it, it does, and that there is no doubt that if the Food Controller took certain action preventing the production of certain classes of food that would be a good defence to plead in case of action taken for non-fulfilment of such a contract. Then there is another class of case of a wider kind as to which considerable apprehension exists in the minds of the people affected. Recent Regulations have restricted the use of beer, spirits, wines and so forth, and in the course of these restrictions it is anticipated that many licensed houses will have to be closed and the licences temporarily suspended. In fact, the owners of such licences are told the Government expects them to take that course, although there is no absolute injunction or Order to close any licence for that reason as yet. There is a further case. It is intimated to owners of breweries that the Government desires, for the purpose of obtaining further labour for National Service and economising production and transport and so forth, that a scheme should be made for the amalgamation of breweries during the period of the restriction. Breweries and licensed houses sometimes form the security given to trustees for debenture holders, and the Solicitor-General knows the leading case which protects trustees who are debenture holders if they consider their security jeopardised, even though payment is continuing to be made. There is great apprehension that cases of this kind may arise if certain breweries are closed owing to amalgamation, and licences are temporarily suspended. It may be contended that a brewery which is not at work is not of the same value as a brewery which is at work. The point I desire to put is whether a covenant in a debentured trust deed to maintain breweries and licences, which might be interpreted to maintain them at work, would be a contract within the meaning of this Clause, and whether the necessity of complying with the restrictions of the Food Controller would be a good defence and delay till the end of the War, debenture holders proceeding to enforce their rights pending the solution of this question and the resumption of work by the brewery? If not, it would involve very great hardship, and the ordinary shareholders might lose the whole of their interest and the company be handed over to the debenture holders.
§ Sir G. HEWART
My hon. Friend asks me to say whether a certain thing is or is not a contract within the meaning of this Clause. I should think that there would be no difficulty in deciding whether that which is taken to be a contract was a contract or not. I do not quite follow whether my hon. Friend desires to extend or to limit the application of this new Clause. I rather think he desires to extend it, and his illustration was mentioned for the purpose of showing a case of hardship which might arise if the Clause were not extended to that which he believed was a contract. I thought that was my hon. Friend's view. I desire only to say that this new Clause relates to any contract whatsoever, and provided that there is a contract and that there is interference from the source mentioned in this Clause, then, of course, there would be relief from liability within the provisions of the Clause.
§ Clause read a second time.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
I beg to move, after the word "Department" ["restriction of any Government Department"], to insert the words "or of a competent naval or military authority."
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to be added to the Bill.
§ Mr. BOYTON
I beg to move the new Clause (Variation of Wages) standing in the name of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto).
It is not open to the hon. Member to do that now. He can move it after we have got through the Clauses on the Paper and the manuscript Amendments already in. The new Clause (Members Receiving Public Money,) standing in the name of the hon. Member for Herts (Mr. Billing), goes beyond the scope of the Bill.