HC Deb 23 January 1918 vol 101 cc1038-42

(1) If any person carries on the business of winning, extracting, smelting, dressing, refining, or dealing in any metal or metallic ore in contravention of this Act without a licence, he shall on an information being laid by or on behalf of the Board of Trade be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding three months, or to a fine of one hundred pounds, or to both such imprisonment and fine:

Amendment made: In Sub-section (1) leave out the word "of" ["a fine of 2100 "], and insert instead thereof the words "not exceeding."—[Sir A. Stanley.]


I beg to move, in Subsection (1), after the word "pounds," to insert the words "for each day during which the offence continues."


This is a very large change in regard to penalties provided by the Bill. Originally the penalty was £100, and by the Amendment now proposed it is provided that the penalty shall be "not exceeding £100 for each day during which the offence continues." This may involve a very large sum of money, and if the Board of Trade is convinced that £100 is insufficient as a maximum pecuniary penalty, instead of making it an indefinite penalty, I think it would be much better to increase the amount of the maximum. In these circumstances I think we should have a reply from the Government on this point.


I should like to say a word in support of what has just been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire. During the Committee stage I pointed out the difficulty with regard to this penalty, and I suggested that if the fine had to be £100 there would certainly be cases in which that sum was in excess of the penalty which ought to be inflicted. Whereupon my right hon. Friend in a jocular way said, "By all means we will make it £100 a day." I did not raise the matter at the time again, and I decided to wait to see what would be put down on the Paper. I think this amount ought to have been increased from £100 to a sum not exceeding £1,000. Under this proposal for what might be almost a technical offence the Court might inflict a penalty out of all proportion to the offence committed. My hon. Friend's suggestion is almost identical with what I put forward on Monday last, when I suggested that the penalty might he increased to £1,000.


I think it might be better to keep the fine at £100 with a maximum not exceeding £1,000. Like my right hon. Friend who has just spoken, I thought the President of the Board of Trade's suggestion was a jocular remark. It would be very unusual in a Statute fixing the term of imprisonment at not exceeding three months to have a fine of £1,000, which would certainly be rather disproportionate as far as it compares with other Statutes. A sum of £1,000 is very high as compared with the amount of imprisonment, and I should have thought that £500 would have been nearer the mark.


I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has considered this matter very carefully. When you look at the Schedule you find there disqualifications which might not be disclosed for months. There is the disqualification with regard to hearer shares. Certain Amendments which have been embodied in the Bill enabled companies to call in bearer shares and issue certificates. All this might take time, and it might even fake twelve months or 300 days, and imagine in such a case a fine of £230,000! I know there are fines in some cases of £50 a day for not filling up certain papers, but that provision is a dead letter, and the only time in which maximum penalties are inflicted applies to hon. Members who come here and vote when they are not entitled to do so. The offences provided for here are not those that a man will do deliberately, and he may be disqualified for something of which he was quite unaware, but which is provided for in the Schedule. It might take weeks to find this out, and a man might go on quite innocently for five or six months. I suggest that the penalty should be £100 a day and not exceeding in all £500. I do not like the proposal for each day, because there may be a great many days in which a man may not know that he is doing wrong


I think this Amendment ought to be accepted. I would ask the House to put itself in imagination in the position of a Court which has to deal with an offence of this kind. There are two possible penalties. One is the penalty of imprisonment, and the other is the penalty of a fine. No doubt in a proper case there might be both imprisonment and fine. The fine which is stated in the Bill is the maximum fine. There is nothing to prevent a Court in a proper case from imposing a penalty of 40s. It appeared in the course of the discussions in Committee that it was desired and was desirable that in the case of a continuing offence there should be a money penalty calculated per day. It follows from that, if the House is so far with the Government, that there ought to be as an alternative to imprisonment in the case of a continuous offence a fine which is increased per day as the offence continues; but it is said that there ought to be a maximum of £1,000, or, as I think my hon. Friend said, £500. I would ask the House to consider the effect of inserting that maximum. It would simply be this: If there were a gross and a long-continued offence upon the part of a rich company, firm, or individual, unless the Court were satisfied that a money penalty of £500 would meet the case, there would be no further punishment except the punishment of imprisonment. I submit that it is not desirable that the hands of the Court should be fettered in that way. The House is not saying what penalty should be imposed. It is only prescribing the limits within which the penalty may be imposed. No exception is taken to the figure of £100 in the first place, and, if that is right, I submit that there is no reason why it should not also be the cumulative daily penalty. The objections to the insertion of a maximum are very strong, and I submit that this Amendment should be accepted.


I do not profess to be a lawyer, and perhaps my reading of this Section is quite incorrect. The penalty is to be imposed after summary conviction has taken place, and there is to be a penalty for each day during which the offence continues. I imagine that any offence previous to that conviction would be purged by the conviction, and that any offence which took place after conviction would become a new offence for which the person might be brought to book. Would not that be so?


It does not follow that the offence is purged if there is a conviction subsequent to it. It would depend on whether the offence was charged in the information leading to the conviction.


The original offence would be purged by the conviction, and a fresh offence would take place, for which there might be, and probably would be, a fresh conviction. Supposing you have an obstinate person who, at the end of ten days, had not discharged his offence by obtaining or trying to obtain a licence. He could be brought to book for a fresh offence and he could be fined a fresh £1,000. Therefore, if you put a limit of £1,000 to this penalty, it would really im- pose upon him a heavy and maximum penalty for every fresh offence that he commits. At the same time, I think you ought to limit the sum to £1,000.

Amendment agreed to.