HC Deb 14 August 1919 vol 119 cc1784-7

(1) Section one of the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act, 1917, which confers on the Court power to suspend and annul certain contracts shall have effect as if— (a) For Sub-section (1) thereof the following Sub-section were substituted: Where, upon an application by any party to a contract (including a contract confirmed by Act of Parliament or Order having the force of an Act)entered into before the first day of January, nineteen hundred and seven- teen, the Court is satisfied that, owing to the prevention of restriction of, or the delay in, the supply or delivery of materials, or the diversion or insufficiency of labour, or the shortage of shipping, or the alteration of trade conditions occasioned by the present War, the contract cannot be enforced according to its terms without serious hardship, the Court may, after considering all the circumstances of the case and the position of all the parties to the contract and any offer which may have been made by any party for a variation of the contract, suspend or annul, or with the consent of the parties amend as from such date as the Court may think fit, or stay any proceedings for the enforcement of, the contract or any term thereof or any rights arising there under on such conditions (if any) as the Court may think fit:


I bog to move in Subsection (1, a), after the word "fit"["as the Court may think fit"], to insert the words: For the purpose of this Sub-section where a contract has been entered into before the first day of January, nineteen hundred and seventeen, and there have been deliveries of foods and other material under such contract, or the contract has been ratified or acknowledged in writing by the party sought to be charged there with subsequent to such date, then such contract shall be deemed excluded from the operation of this Act. The reason I move this Amendment is that the trade peculiar to Lancashire this Bill will affect adversely is in that position because of the splendid Lancashire patriotism which has been shown to increase exports during war-time, and which will be penalised if the Bill as presented is allowed to pass unamended. We all know that the cry was "Business as usual" and "Increase your exports," in order to make equal somewhat the adverse state of exchange which was then prevailing between the United States of America and this country, and it was considered that cotton manufactures would be the best method of doing so. Let us for a moment see what has resulted. The cotton trade is an export trade. A is a Lancashire cotton spinner who sells to B, a French merchant in Manchester, and the latter then to C, a fellow countryman in France. If the occasion arises, as it very frequently does, and will arise more frequently in the future, for an English Court to adjudicate as to what is reasonable in the consideration of a contract, where there is an arrangement between the resident Frenchman and the Lancashire manufacturer all will be well, but he will not be able to deal with the third party in France. A is the purchaser, B is the merchant salesman, and C the final recipient and distributor, and thus the French Manchester merchant will be put out of Court, and will, in fact, be ruined. That is how it affects the sale. Take the cotton trade again. It is affected by the machinery supplier also. Whereas the plant which the cotton manufacturer must use may have been placed by the supplier on account of patriotism to the production of munitions, and by the manufacturer, at the Government's request, has been put on other work, as a result there comes a question of how the loss shall be proportioned which a Court will have extreme difficulty to adjudicate upon fairly. It may be said that my choice of words will not fulfil the obligation which the Government must accept, but I am willing to accept any other words to secure my object. If we are to be fair to these men who acted so patriotically and put on one side their just rights the Government should not penalise them.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I quite.appreciate the anxiety of the hon. Member who has moved this Amendment, but I think it would work a great injustice. Although it would give a small measure of protection, it would do a great amount of injury in a great many other cases.


(Department of Oversea Trade) I quite appreciate what my hon. Friend has said, but it is impossible to accept this Amendment. It falls into two parts. The first part proposes to exempt from the application of the Bill contracts in which there have been deliveries of goods and other material. It would obviously be an injustice in the fulfilment of the contract. The second point is that if the contract is acknowledged in writing by the party sought to be charged therewith subsequent to such date then such contract shall be deemed excluded from the operation of this Act. The ratification of the contract will be a matter for the judge before whom these questions come, and if the judge holds that any correspondence amounts to a new contract, then naturally such new contract does not fall within the scope of this Bill. For these reasons it is impossible to accept this Amendment, because the object of the Bill would be destroyed, and it would prove a serious hardship to those who have entered into contracts which they cannot fulfil through circumstances arising out of the War.

Amendment negatived.

Bill read the third time, and passed.