HC Deb 28 May 1936 vol 312 cc2373-6

Lords Amendment: In page 14, line 33, leave out from the first "person" to "in" in line 38 and insert: knowingly or recklessly makes in any return required by this sub-section to be sent to the Board a statement false.


I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

12.18 a.m.


We come now to the point I wish to raise. The hon. Gentleman said a few moments ago that the word "recklessly" had appeared in a previous Act of Parliament. Frankly, the word is new to me so far as I remember Acts of Parliament. I am wondering what is the reason for the insertion of this word in the Bill. It is only about 20 minutes ago that we passed a Clause in another Bill where such words are not used at all—I refer to Clause 68 of the Air Navigation Bill. I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether the insertion of these words will make it easier for a person who offends against the spindles Act to commit the offence than would have been the case with the words that were sent to the Lords in the first place? That is a point which I think ought to be cleared up. I would add that while we want to put this point on record to-night, it is not our intention to carry our protest to a Division.

12.20 a.m.


As one who in Committee suggested some alteration on the lines of what has been done by another place, I regard the Amendment as a great improvement. In Committee I protested against manufacturers being looked upon, as criminals because a simple error had been made, and I think the word "recklessly," is quite clear. If a man gave instructions that a form was to be filled up on the principle of "Think of a number and put it in," that would be reckless, but if a clerk merely makes an error the manufacturer ought not to be punished for it. I do not think this alteration will lead to greater mistakes. It is not right to assume that even textile manufacturers are prepared recklessly to make statements; they ought to be treated as human beings, and if an error is made they ought not to be punished if it is an excusable error.

12.22 a.m.


It is unfair to the House that this Measure should have to be considered at this time of night, and that we should be called upon to consider an Amendment made by another place. We had put into the Clause a form of words which would have sufficiently protected any textile manufacturers—the words "could reasonably be expected." Now it has to be proved that the manufacturer has done this thing not only "knowingly" but "recklessly." I can imagine the great play the Courts will make with that word "recklessly" It seems to be something put in to protect certain people, whether or not it be to the advantage of the industry, and I hope the House will divide against the Amendment.

12.23 a.m.


The hon. Member is entirely in error in suggesting that these new words which are to be inserted are difficult to prove. On the contrary they are far easier to prove. "Reckless" is an expression well known to the English law. "Reckless driving" is an instance which must occur to every hon. Member. "Reckless" means done with a degree of positive commission which it is easy to determine. What is "reasonably possible to be known" or "reasonably expected to be known" is much more indefinite. This charge will render the task of the prosecution easier in proving a case.

12.24 a.m.


It is news to me, as one who has to listen to arguments about the word "reckless," that it is easily capable of definition. I spend a great part of two mornings each week hearing all sorts of arguments about driving "recklessly" and driving "without due care and attention." From what the hon. Gentleman said first in explaining the change I thought that he wanted to cover the case of a form which had been filled in "without due care and attention," which is regarded, at any rate in the example he chose, as being something less than reckless. Those who had to determine a question concerning one of these forms might well say, having the analogy mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary before them "This is not a case of recklessness; it only shows carelessness." I suggest that the words now to be inserted might provide a wider loophole than the Minister seemed to realise.

12.25 a.m.


I am sorry to find myself in disagreement with my hon. Friend on this side of the House, but in this case I think the Treasury bench are submitting to us a change which is an improvement. I venture to think that the analogy given in explaining the word "reckless" was not perhaps the best one, because reckless driving is a thing ex- tremely difficult to defile; but in this case we are dealing with reports to some authority which have to be made out on a form, and while, of course, lay magistrates do not understand that sort of thing, in the case of a, form—


Nor counsel either, judging by their contradictory arguments.


We who are practised in the law know that the word "reckless" is a word that has constant application when a man makes a statement on a piece of paper. The new word has a narrowing effect, but it will make something more definite, which is desirable in all legislation.


The Amendment leaves out also the words "acting on behalf of". Is that not rather a weakness of the newer drafting?


It does not matter on whose behalf a person acts; if any person makes a return, there is a liability.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to.