HC Deb 11 April 1934 vol 288 cc434-7

Before I call upon the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) to move his Amendment—in page 3, line 29, after "exceeding," insert "on a first conviction"—I must point out that that Amendment is merely preliminary to the one standing in the name of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirk wood)—in page 3, line 30, at the end, to add: on a second conviction one hundred pounds or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, and on a third or subsequent conviction two hundred pounds and imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months. The discussion will be taken on the first Amendment.

10.19 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 29, after "exceeding," to insert "on a first conviction."

Clause 2 provides for the penalty for contravention of regulations regarding registering, lettering and numbering of sea fishing boats, and it is proposed, by this first Amendment, to interpose the words "on a first conviction." We look upon this Clause as one which does not permit of the arguments that have been entered into of necessity on the first Clause, because there was the element of doubt. Inadvertence has been talked about to a considerable extent, and there have been other elements of doubt which it is clear to everyone would have to be settled in court. We are dealing in this Clause with something which, to my mind, appears to point to conscious desire on the part of someone in altering the lettering or numbering of a British fishing boat, and, because of that, I think the tendency towards strict and heavy penalties to be much more potent in this Clause than in Clause 1. For that reason we suggest that it should be strengthened as proposed in these Amendments.

10.22 p.m.


The hon. Member is perfectly correct in saying that we are here dealing with deliberate acts of wrong doing, and it cannot be said that we are penalising persons who have sinned through negligence or carelessness. We are only penalising those who have deliberately chosen to go wrong in order to obstruct the course of justice and to defy the law. I have considered the Amendment, and, I suggest that without going as far as the Amendment proposes, we might insert the words: or, where such conviction is a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding £100 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three months. I would ask the hon. Member to consider whether he could not accept that and withdraw his Amendment.

10.24 p.m.


This is the first concession that the Lord Advocate has given us. It is a serious business, because the fishermen at the Butt of Lewis have told me on several occasions that, when they went out to find the number of the trawler, it was covered up and stones were thrown at the small boat that they were in in an attempt to sink it. So you can see the length these men were pro-pared to go in order to get away. The concession which the Lord Advocate has given to us will strengthen the Bill on the lines we desire, and if my hon. Friend will accept the alteration suggested by the Lord Advocate it will suit my purpose.

10.26 p.m.


I am not at all pleased with the Government in following at the heels of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), although they are doing it in a half-hearted way. The Government have become much more reasonable during the last hour or two, and now there is backsliding on the Government Front Bench, and they are going a third or a quarter of the way the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs desires them to go. I regret that the Government should take this opportunity of turning away from the path they have been following by making these penalties harder. In the original provision, which it is now proposed to leave out, there is a very heavy fine indeed for the trawler people, who are poor people who, as the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett), any hon. Members representing the great trawler interests, and the Secretary for Mines know, are having a very heavy time. Yet here are the Government, having brought forward a Bill, imposing immense penalties upon these men who are suffering under such great difficulties, and who would rarely, if ever, infringe the law if they could possibly help it, going some way towards accepting the Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs. I hope that if there are any Members who support moderation in this House, they will get up and express their regret, and ask the Government to stick to the original terms of the Bill as far as this matter is concerned, as the penalties seem to be severe enough. I admit that the proposed Amendment of the Government is better than that which we have before us at the present time, but it would be very much better if the Government would stick to the Bill in this case in its original form. I would entreat them even now to see if they could not reconsider their decision, as I know every one representing the great fishing industry would wish them to do, and to keep the provision in its original form.


I do not see any necessity for continuing the discussion, but I would like to say that we are very much indebted to the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) for the able assistance that he renders on all these questions.

Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE

Nobody could defend the action of deliberately covering up the letters, but in so far as they may be obscured by accident or rubbed out, I would ask the Government whether they cannot see that the skipper is not prejudiced thereby.


Is it the wish of the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) to withdraw his Amendment?


I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 30, at the end, to add: or where such conviction is a second or a subsequent conviction to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three months.

10.29 p.m.


I wonder if my right hon. and learned Friend could reduce the period of three months to two months. I know that he has not gone as far as he has been asked to go, but I think that the alternative of three months' imprisonment is going a little too far. None of us wishes to defend an illegal practice, but there are great difficulties experienced by men working at sea, and I do not think it is fair that at the present time we should weigh the law so much against them. I would suggest that the three months should be reduced to two. Cannot the Government make some concession to us on this point?

10.30 p.m.


I do not know whether the hon. Member realises that three months is the maximum. The sheriff is entitled to take all the circumstances into account, and he may give such a sentence as he considers fits the crime. I would remind the hon. Member that under the Summary Jurisdiction (Scotland) Act and many Acts where a fine of £100 is the appropriate penalty, and the term of imprisonment corresponds, the term is invariably three months.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.