HC Deb 14 November 1939 vol 353 cc599-602

Lords Amendment: In page 9, line 1, leave out lines 1 and 2 and insert:

"(1) Where a prosecution has been instituted in respect of a sale of, or an agreement or offer to sell, any price-regulated goods in the course of any business at a particular price, and the person charged has been found guilty, then—

  1. (a) if the prosecution was in respect of a sale or agreement, the buyer under that sale or agreement, and
  2. (b) whether the prosecution was in respect of a sale or agreement or of an offer, the buyer under any sale of similar goods, or under any agreement to sell simi- 600 lar goods, effected at the same or a higher price in the course of that business in contravention of Section one of this Act before the date of the finding."

The Solicitor-General

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

The House may remember that this Clause has suffered various sea-changes in the course of its passage. On the Second Reading, the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) was anxious to give all persons, in certain circumstances, the power of recovering our charges in the Police Court where there had been transactions which infringed the Act. His Amendment, for reasons which I then explained, was not very workable, but we promised to look into the matter, and to try to deal with it on the Committee stage. We then produced an Amendment, the disadvantage of which was as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) that it laid open many people to civil proceedings in a way which was not contemplated when the Bill was introduced. A desire was expressed on all sides of the House that civil proceedings should be linked up with cases in which there had been a successful prosecution. I gave an undertaking that that would be looked into, and, if possible, given effect to in another place. This Amendment does give effect to that undertaking. The House will see that the matter is now tied up with the fact of criminal proceedings having been taken. Where criminal proceedings have been taken, not only the person who was a party to the transaction in respect of which those proceedings were brought but any other people who are interested in similar transactions, will be able to bring proceedings for the remedies that the Clause gives.

4.52 p.m.

Mr. Kinģsley Griffith

I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for fulfilling, as I think completely, the undertaking which he gave on the Report stage. I think that the procedure now provided by the Lords Amendment, although it looks rather complicated, has several merits. It fulfils the object of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), that is to say, it gives a right of restitution in addition to the penal Clauses of the Bill; it fulfils, I think, the object of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor- General, in not wishing to lay the burden on the magistrates; and it fulfils my object, which is that any proceedings under the Act shall be undertaken only where there has been an investigation with regard to the seller and the line of goods concerned, by the specially skilled investigators provided for under the Act. Once the door has been opened for restitution, that door should be open not only to the person who made the complaint, but to every similarly aggrieved person.

4.54 p.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies

My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) will be back shortly, and I do not know whether he will then wish to say a few words. It was not his intention, I believe, to make possible under this Bill anything in the way of malicious and frivolous prosecutions. That is obvious. What has startled me is that here we have a Minister of the Crown accepting the legal advice of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrouģh (Mr. K. Griffith). I should have thought that it would have been the other way about. But the House of Commons is a very strange place, and nothing surprises us. I think I may say, on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham, that this meets his case, except that we do not understand all the complications of the law; and, certainly, we do not understand the minds of the lawyers when they interpret the law.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 9, line 25, at the end, insert: (5) The rights conferred by this section shall not be exercisable by a person who is himself liable to punishment by reason of his having aided, abetted, counselled or procured, the contravention in question.

4.56 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

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

The object of this Amendment is to withdraw any right to take proceedings to recover any losses by persons who are themselves parties to the contravention. The Board of Trade has at the present moment knowledge of cases in which persons are offering totally exorbitant prices in order to get command of goods. In future, if such persons make such offers after price regulation has occurred, they will not be able to avail themselves —and they ought not to be able to— of the remedies provided in this Clause.

Question put, and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendment in page 10, line 38, agreed to.