HC Deb 22 January 1918 vol 101 cc939-42

The duty of a person to cause himself to be registered under the principal Act or when so registered to notify any change of his profession or occupation or of his place of residence or the loss of his certificate of registration shall be a continuing duty, and shall not be deemed to be extinguished by reason only that he has failed so to do before the appointed date or within the time allowed for the purpose and has thereby incurred a penalty.


I beg to move to leave out the words "or when so registered to notify any change of his profession or occupation or of his place of residence or the loss of his certificate of registration shall be a continuing duty, and."

The object of the Clause is to make certain offences continuing offences and to pile up the fines by daily additions. The object of my Amendment is to make the continuing offence apply only in one matter, but where an employer fails to register. That is a really important matter, but where an employer fails to register a man who comes and does a day's work and then possibly leaves without giving his proper name or address, or where there has been some slight neglect which has led to an infringement of the Act, it would be very hard indeed to impose continuing penalties. In such a case as I have mentioned if the employer could not get the information the penalty must go on till absolutely the end of the War. It is quite possible legally. If there is to be a continuing penalty, the case which I imagine would be a due and proper case would be the case of a person who fails to register himself and refuses to do so. Then you might say, "You shall pay a £5 fine, and £1 for every day you continue to be obstructive to the law and negligent of your duty." But where it is an offence which you cannot rectify, it would obviously be most unfair and undesirable to make the offence a continuing offence.


What the hon. Gentleman means is that it shall not be a. continuing duty to notify change of address or occupation. One of the objects of the Bill is that it shall be a continuing duty, and that you shall not be exonerated from performing that duty by the mere fact that you are outside the limits of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, and that six months having elapsed puts you outside the obligation to notify. We desire that that shall be a continuing duty. Half the value of the register would be destroyed if it was not a continuing duty. Therefore, I cannot accept the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

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


I must draw attention to this Clause. It means that a person who fails to register may not only be brought up and fined six months after, or any period after, but that there is to be a continuing fine imposed from day to day. In certain cases, like nuisances, something which is an offence against the health of a district, or which means loss or injury to some person, it is quite right that there should be a continuing offence in the sense of an additional fine for every day, but in a matter like this it is not necessary or desirable. I am not going to go to a Division against the Clause, but I hope my point is appreciated and that it will be considered. As the Clause stands it may well lead to injustice.


We ought to be told whether it is the intention that there should be these very heavy penalties upon discharged sailors and soldiers who fail to register. Is there any reason why the ordinary law should not be enough, and that a man should not be punished for each offence—not merely by a fine of £5, but by a continuing fine of £1 per day? That seems to me to be undue severity. I wish hon. Members who take an interest in discharged sailors and soldiers, and who resent Members on this side interfering on their behalf, would consider the hardship to which these men are being subjected. I will give you a concrete example. You may have a man who has been a very gallant soldier, but who may have very peculiar views about what the right hon. Gentleman calls his public duties. He may be an Irishman who objects to all Government interference of any sort. I have a great deal of sympathy with a man of that sort, especially in view of what I have seen of right hon. Gentlemen on that bench. Such a man, who may be a wounded soldier, may say, "There may be a chance that I shall be had as other men have been had before, and that I shall be taken under the Review of Exceptions Act." He may be perfectly wrong-headed, but he is liable to be brought before the magistrates and ordered to fill up the forms. If he refuses to do so, is he to be liable not merely to a penalty of £5, but to a penalty of £1 a day? It is said that magistrates will act reasonably. We cannot tell that. This is an unnecessarily severe provision. Considering that your register can in no circumstances he complete, and that this is merely registering for the duration of the War, there is a great deal of unnecessary harshness about the Bill, and this is one of the harshest provisions. I hope that we may have some reply from the Treasury Bench on this point.


I would ask the Government to consider between now and Report stage whether some action cannot be taken with reference to these continuing penalties. Take the case of the seafaring man who was not in the country at the time that this was done, and becomes liable to these penalties. It is possible that magistrates might take a reasonable view of such cases, but I have in mind cases which have occurred recently. Take the variations in penalty which occur in eases of exposing lights. In one part of London £5 is considered a proper fine, and in other parts of London £50 is considered a proper fine. I do not wish to leave the matter entirely to the discretion of magistrates, knowing the differences of view that prevail. A man who breaks the law should be punished, but I do not want the man to be punished simply according to the view of the magistrate. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he might very well consider some new provision on this point.


As I have said, we intend to consider before the Report stage the whole subject of penalties. Our whole object in this Clause is not to punish anybody, but to get our register as complete as possible. We cannot do so if there is a constant refusal on the part of people who may say, "I do not mind paying a fine of 5s., 10s., or £1. When the fine is paid they no longer have power to compel me to be registered." Our object is not to inflict fines, but to get a complete register. I will look into the matter from the point of view of not in the least desiring to exercise any vindictive action against any obstinate or stupid person who objects to register, but with a view to obtaining the most complete register that is possible.