§ The following Amendment stood on the Order Paper in the name of Mr. LAMB:
In page 2, line 37, after the word "milk," to insert the words
which shall, so far as such charges relate to charges in respect of licences to purchase milk in the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, and Somerset, be applied proportionately in payment to the various persons in those counties who sold milk to such licensees by way of increase in the price of the milk sold over and above the maximum price fixed by the Food Controller by the (Summer Prices) Order, 1919, for milk in the said counties.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This Amendment is out of order, as, if carried, it would impose a charge on the taxpayer.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Webb)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 38, after the word "proceedings," to insert the words(not being proceedings the institution of which was barred by the Indemnity Act, 1920, or any other Act).The Amendment relates merely to costs. I gave an undertaking on a previous stage of the Bill that the Crown would indemnify the costs of those people, as I understood it, whose claims were quashed 176 by the Bill. The Amendment as already inserted in the Bill carried it out, but it was pointed out that possibly it was not in the most generous terms, and my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General undertook on the Report stage to see whether it could not be put in terms more generous. There is one question with regard to the date up to which costs should be paid. Our original proposal was that costs should be paid up to the date of the 1st September, 1922, that being the date given in the Indemnity Act, but in order to satisfy all possible grievances, it is proposed to pay costs with regard to suits that were instituted before 7th April, 1924, that is to say, last month. That is the date on which this House in Committee adopted the Money Resolution authorising the Bill, and I venture to think that that is a date which is very generous. Any suits which were instituted after. the date of that Money Resolution must have been instituted with full knowledge, not merely that the House would carry out the pledge given by the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) a long time ago—in 1922, I think—but that at any rate the House had already actually adopted, by passing a Money Resolution, the policy then outlined. If my Amendments are carried, the paragraph will read as follows:Where any such proceedings (not being proceedings the institution of which was barred by the Indemnity Act, 1920, or any other Act) were instituted before the seventh day of April, nineteen hundred and twenty-four, any order made therein for the payment of costs to the person by whom the proceedings were instituted shall continue to have effect and shall be treated as being an order for payment of all costs, charges, and expenses as between solicitor and own client of and incidental to the proceedings, and where any such proceedings so instituted are pending at the date of the passing of this Act, the person by whom the proceedings were instituted shall, unless the Court or a Judge of the Court or the tribunal dealing with the case thinks just to order otherwise, be entitled to an order directing payment and, if necessary, taxation of his costs, charges, and expenses of and incidental to the proceedings, other than any such costs, charges, or expenses incurred after the sixth clay of April, nineteen hundred and twenty-four, as between solicitor and own client.I think that these words give effect in the best possible way to the object in view, and indemnify those people who took proceedings before the 7th April, 1924, not only for costs as between parties and parties, hut as between parties and own 177 solicitors, and, moreover, indemnify them of all "charges and expenses of and incidental to the proceedings." I believe these are the widest possible words.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I readily admit the right hon. Gentleman has done his best to meet the discussion which took place in Committee. I have given notice of a manuscript Amendment, but I would only like to point out to the right, hon. Gentleman that there is just one matter which, when it comes to be dealt with in the cold atmosphere of the Taxing Office, may not be quite in line with what I mean, and what, I believe, the learned Attorney-General means, and that is with regard to the preliminary expenses which are necessary before proceedings are taken. I took exception in Committee to the word "instituted," and I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for having told me of the opinion expressed to him as to the special meaning of the word in relation to the Indemnity Act, 1920. I do not find in that Act any express definition, but I am now glad to be assured by the right hon. Gentleman that it is intended to give a complete indemnity against costs to those people who brought their claims and have taken proceedings on them to show that they were really in earnest with regard to the enforcement of them. If it be clearly understood that the preliminary costs in relation to these matters will be dealt with. I have nothing more to say. I hold in my hand a letter from a very distinguished firm of solicitors and Parliamentary agents, who write:There are, however, a fair number of cases in which the only steps taken have been to prepare and print a Petition of Right, obtain H.M.'s fiat, and serve same on the Solicitor to the Board of Trade, with whom we have made an arrangement that no further step shall he taken on either side, pending the present proceedings in Parliament, and this to be without prejudice to either party.I take it the intention is to include these costs, and if I have the assurance, as I am quite sure I have, from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, then I shall certainly not attempt to move the manuscript Amendment, and I am perfectly prepared to accept the 7th April, as I believe that will cover all cases, and do justice between the parties.
§ Mr. WEBB
Perhaps I had better reply at once to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We need not quibble about the words, but I have to be careful that 178 no question arises in regard to the interval prior to or after the date of the proceedings that are covered by Clause 1, Sub-section (2), of the Indemnity Act of 1920. That is one point. Also I must point out, to be quite candid, this does not apply to any costs in the case of anyone who may have instituted a claim which is barred by the Indemnity Act to which I have just referred. The intention is that the Act should cover in the fullest possible sense all reasonable charges incurred in connection with proceedings. We have done our utmost to cover all the points in the best possible way which could be done. I should just like to point out, with the permission of the House, that in proceedings instituted during the last 10 days—it must be obvious to the House—the people who started their suits within that time will not be included, though costs will go to the other suitors not already barred by the Indemnity Act.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, who has relied upon the definition in Subsection (2) of Clause 1 of the Indemnity Act. The introduction of the words, "incidental to" will, I apprehend, cover all the preliminaries in counsel's opinion, the drawing up of petitions, and so forth. I am quite agreeable to the statement that has just been made by the silt lion Gentleman.
§ Sir THOMAS INSKIP
Before the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman is made. I should like to ask, concerning the wards that are in parentheses:—not being proceedings the institution of which was barred by die indemnity Act, 1920, or other Act.The Attorney-General knows very well that it is a matter of some difficulty, upon which opinions can very well differ, as to whether particular proceedings are barred by the Indemnity Act or riot. It is a matter of very great complication and involves considerations upon which the arguments may be very nicely balanced. I should like to inquire as to the tribunal or person who will decide whether particular proceedings are or are not barred by the Indemnity Act of 1920. It appears to me to be a matter of some slight difficulty as to how an unfortunate litigant may proceed without involving costs which he may not recover. Suppose someone started proceedings which are not barred by the Indemnity Act and he 179 gets an order for the payment of the costs which may be interpreted in the large way which will he his right if the proceedings are not barred. Supposing in this case the Government authorities differ and say that the proceedings are barred. Under these circumstances, what has the litigant to do?
It is no good going on with the proceedings because his case is either barred by the Indemnity Act or the War Charges (Validity) Act, and therefore it becomes a purely academic question and this may make the greatest possible difference as to the costs. Under these circumstances is it intended that the litigant should continue his proceedings for the mere purpose of finding out how much costs he is entitled to in order that some Court may say whether his action is barred or not by the Indemnity Act. I think these words are not really necessary, because all that is involved here is an order for the payment of the costs of the plaintiff or the petitioner, and therefore you are not dealing de novo with the costs, but with a position in which the costs order has already been made. I respectfully suggest, in view of the difficulties raised as to the tribunal to decide whether proceedings are barred or not, and as this sub-section only deals with costs already made, the insertion of those words is hardly necessary and I should like the Attorney-General's opinion on this point.
§ Mr. WEBB
I do not quite follow the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman, but the latter part deals with persons who are entitled to an order. The intention is that it shall apply to people who have not got an order, and any person in doubt who thinks he is entitled to costs is authorised to apply for an order giving him his costs. We must, however, put upon the Court the duty of deciding whether he is entitled or not. I must point out that, in endeavouring to meet the wishes that were expressed for costs up to a late date instead of 1922, we had to protect ourselves in this way. It is impossible to give costs to everyone who has brought a suit against the Crown right up to the 6th April, unless you do bar out those people who have brought suits against the Crown after the latest date to which they were entitled under the Indemnity Act. You cannot 180 have it both ways. In answer to many objections, we are now prepared to give costs right up to the 6th April 1924, and, therefore, we must bar out those people who had no right to bring an action after the 1st September, 1922, and whose right to bring an action has, in fact, been negatived by the case already decided by a Judge of the High Court. You cannot have the two points—both the late date and the opportunity for everyone to bring suits against the Crown—and I venture to think that this is the larger interpretation, on the whole, of the two.
§ Sir MALCOLM MACNAGHTEN
I regret very much that the right hon. Gentleman has not thought fit to reply to the objection raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Central Bristol (Sir T. Inskip), because it may he that the insertion of the wordsnot being proceedings the institution of which was barred by the Indemnity Act, 1920,will involve the parties in a good deal of difficulty, and really, if the right hon. Gentleman were not so pressed by the officials, of his Department, I think he would say that they are unnecessary. He must, I feel, concede that it is difficult to say whether the proceedings are or are not barred by the Act of Indemnity. I am sure that his colleague, the Attorney-General, will not dispute that this is a problem which tests the ingenuity of a great many people concerned in the law, and it is very difficult to slay what the answer would be. I would point out what. I do not think my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Central Bristol did point out, namely, that the Government, really, are amply protected by the provisions of the Bill as reported from the Committee, because he will observe, if he looks at paragraph (ii) of the proviso to Clause 1, that the party applying for his costs is only to get his costs unless the Court or tribunal dealing with the case thinks it just to order otherwise. What T want to put to the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope it will commend itself to him, is this: Of course, if a person has brought a petition of right in a case where the proceedings are clearly barred by the Indemnity Act, and if the proceedings are futile proceedings, which obviously would be barred, then I think you may trust the Court or tribunal to say that if a person has 181 brought a purely speculative action, or one which he must have known, or which any counsel or solicitor could have told him, is barred, it is not just that he should have his costs; and, therefore, trusting to the Court or tribunal, you may be sure he will be deprived of his costs. But if there were a case where really there is a matter of doubt, where it is ambiguous, and where really a person might think that his claim was not barred by the Indemnity Act, then, in that case, I do submit., and I think probably it is the intention of the right hon. Gentleman, that he ought to get his costs, and that, therefore, the insertion of these words is unnecessary. They defeat the person who ought to get his costs. They are not necessary in the cases where the party bringing the proceedings ought to be deprived of his costs.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment proposed: On page 2, lines 39 and 40, leave out the words "first day of September, nineteen hundred and twenty-two," and insert instead thereof the words "seventh day of April, nineteen hundred and twenty-four."—[Mr. Webb.]
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
This is a very large change. Whereas the date fixed in the Bill was 1st September, 1922, the right hon. Gentleman is now proposing to bring that date right forward till 7th April, 1924, the date on which the Financial Resolution was taken. I should have been in a little doubt as to whether this was, strictly speaking, in order because I should have thought it might be open to doubt whether it was not an increased charge upon the taxpayer because it is obvious that under the Amendment the taxpayer is going to be called upon to find possibly a larger sum of money than he would have under the Bill as originally introduced. It is a very debatable point of order, however, and I understand there is good ground for thinking there is a balance of authority in favour of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal. I do not in any sense take the point of order, but I wish to ask this question. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any estimate at all as to what the extra sum likely to be involved in this alteration of the date is? He must have set aside some sort of sum of money as being likely to be involved by the alteration of the date.
§ Mr. WEBB
Frankly I cannot, and for a very good reason. The date was put in merely to limit the number of suits. It does not limit the amount of costs incurred by them. By altering the date to 7th April we appear to be letting in some more suits, but in return we are excluding those suits which are barred by the Indemnity Act, and consequently we do not think we are increasing the charge at all. At least it is very doubtful whether we are increasing the charge. But we are providing for the possible hard cases to which our attention was drawn on the previous occasion. In order to make sure that we are not inflicting any hardship we have, in response to requests of hon. Members, made this arrangement admitting potential suits. My hon. Friend asks whether this Amendment is in Order. The Money Resolution authorises this Bill as a charge upon the Exchequer, but really the Bill cuts down the amount of the total charge on the Exchequer, so that the question of Order does not arise. I hope the House will now let me get this Clause, because it is the fruit of the combined wisdom of the House.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment made: In page 3, lines 3 and 4, leave out the words "costs as between solicitor and own client," and insert instead thereof the words
all costs, charges, and expenses Os between solicitor and own client of and incidental to the proceedings."—[Mr. Webb.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have a manuscript Amendment from the hon. Member for Ealing (Sir H. Nield), but I understand that it is not now required.
§ Further Amendment made: In page 3, line 5, after the word "any" insert the word "such."—[Mr. Webb.]
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made: In page 3, line 11, after the word "payment," insert the words "and, if necessary, taxation."183
In lines 11 and 12, leave out the words "of the proceedings" and insert instead thereof the words
charges and expenses of and incidental to the proceedings, other than any such costs, charges, or expenses incurred after the sixth day of April, nineteen hundred and twentyfour."—[Mr. Webb.]
§ Bill to be read the Third time upon Wednesday.