HC Deb 15 July 1931 vol 255 cc469-72

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1906. In 1906 there was a Bill passed called the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1906, commonly called "The Secret Commission Act." It was meant to prevent corrup- tion, but it only stimulated it, because it secured that commissions should be secret from that time onwards. It was the foundation of a great system of graft, for this unfortunate Bill provided in its first Clause that not only the man who receives a bribe shall be liable but that the man who gave the bribe should also be equally liable. The consequence was that the Act became a dead letter, for naturally there are only two people who know whether or not a bribe has been given and received and they are the one who gives and the one who receives. Americans generally believe this Act was passed by Parliament in its unwisdom for the purpose of making corruption safe and undiscoverable, and that is the natural view that anyone would take, that a Bill that provided that both parties must be in the dock must have that intention. If anything of that kind happens, it is almost impossible to discover it, and the only cases that come about are occasionally when a motorist in a hurry offers a policeman £1 to save him the bother of going to court and the policeman, who is looking for promotion and thinks the sum is not large enough, naturally declines it and reports him to the head authority, and then the man is brought before a virtuous magistrate and prosecuted. All the large cases of corruption can never come to light.

Only the other day I met a man who told me he had offered 4,000 machines at a certain price to a certain large body of consumers, and he was promptly waited on by a man who introduced himself as a commission collector for the heads of that particular body, and who told him to raise the price by 30 or 35 per cent. and give him commission for that amount. He was shocked by it, but he compromised by raising his price moderately and giving him a note for a very much smaller sum. These cases are always going on and you can never discover them under the present state of the law. Between the man who takes the bribe and the man who gives it there is not much to choose; but if there is any choice, the latter, the man who is breaking his trust to his employer, the buyer, is the more blameable. The man who gives the bribe is generally the man who has had it put up to him to give it to get the business. It is often just a form of blackmail of the man who in ordinary circumstances has to pay or lose the order. I said to the man in question, "Why did you not report the matter? "He said," I was not going to stand in the dock alongside him. If I had known that I could go to the Attorney-General, as the Act provides, and get this man properly prosecuted, I should certainly have done so, but I am not going to rely on the clemency of the Crown that I may be allowed off by King's evidence." The result is that our so-called Secret Commission Act is simply making commissions secret, and the coercion to bribe, especially in the motor trade, is very considerable. In one of the motor journals the other day reference was made to the difficulty of placing large orders with municipalities for omnibuses, and that, without entertaining the members of the town council a number of times, they could not get orders. You have got to make your choice between one or the other. You must either take one wrongdoer or the other, and the man most likely to give the game away is the man who has had to pay the bribe. You will at least get at some cases of this particular form of corruption if you free him from the fear of prosecution, and the receiver would be in fear of him and might refrain. But as the law stands at present it simply makes it impossible to get a conviction. Someone said that it takes all the time and the efforts of the wise to undo the mischief done by the good. The good people passed this absurd Act of Parliament, with the result that corruption now stalks undetected throughout the land. The object of my Bill is to strike out that part of Section 1 of the Act of 1906 which makes the donor punishable and to leave punishable the man who has betrayed his trust in the confident expectation that he will go in fear of detection and therefore cease to err and if he does there will be evidence against him and some chance of detecting him. At present there is none.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Macquisten and Sir William Davison.