HC Deb 01 September 1939 vol 351 cc148-51

To apply prize law to aircraft; to amend and explain the enactments relating to prize; and to provide for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid, presented, pursuant to the Order of the House this day, by the Attorney-General; supported by Mr. Shakespeare, Captain Balfour, Mr. R. S. Hudson; and ordered to be printed. [Bill 239.]

7.20 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The purpose of Clause 1 and the Schedule referred to in that Clause is to make the necessary Amendments in the relevant Statutes in order to confer on prize courts power to deal with aircraft. During the last War although military aircraft played a considerable part there had been little if any development in civil aircraft and aircraft as a means of carriage. Since the War the matter has claimed the attention of international lawyers, and there was a committee of experts at the Hague in 1923, on which sat representatives of the British Empire and of other Powers. That Committee recommended that aircraft and goods carried by aircraft should be made the subject of prize proceedings and that the principles applicable to them should be made analogous to those that had been laid down as applicable in the past in international law to vessels at sea and their cargoes. That recommendation of the Committee is embodied in Clause 1, which makes the necessary Amendment conferring jurisdiction upon the prize courts. These Amendments are in accordance with international law and a necessary development of the principles to which I have referred in their application to this new form of transport.

Clause 2 extends the existing procedure to the establishment of prize courts in Protectorates, Mandated Territories and any other country or territory in which for the time being His Majesty has jurisdiction in matters of prize. The existing legislation is confined to British territory and possessions, but it might be desirable to set up prize courts in protectorates, Mandated Territories or elsewhere where His Majesty has jurisdiction. Clause 3 removes certain doubts and makes it clear that Admiralty Courts established under the Sections set out are prize courts within the Act. Clause 4 defines the extent of the Act. It extends to the Commonwealth of Australia and the Dominion of New Zealand, at their express desire and consent.

Mr. Garro Jones

Can the Attorney-General, in a few words, give us some information as to the constitution of the Admiralty prize courts? If it be necessary to extend the law relating to prize courts in regard to aircraft, are steps being taken to see that there is on those courts someone with a special knowledge of aircraft? I do not recollect in any detail what the prize law is, but I am certain that it would be an advantage to the constitution of these courts to have sitting on them someone with specialised knowledge of aircraft.

The Attorney-General

That is a matter which can be dealt with in rules. It is not, of course, necessary for me to give an exhaustive description of prize courts, but, broadly speaking, our own Admiralty Court is a prize court. Prize courts in the colonies can be set up under the Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, 1890. It may be desirable in aircraft cases to have an aircraft assessor sitting on the court, and the suggestion is one for which I am grateful to the hon. Member. It would not be an appropriate matter to be dealt with in this Bill, but I repeat that I am grateful to the hon. Member for having drawn our attention to it.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

We have examined the Bill within the short time at our disposal, and we raise no objection to it.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and considered in Committee.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

Clauses 1, 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 4.(Extent of this Act and existing Prize Acts.)

Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Major Milner

Can the Attorney-General tell us now or later why Canada is omitted from the list? I notice that the rest of the Empire seems to have been covered. Perhaps there is some special explanation for this.

The Attorney-General

The Dominions not in the Bill are Dominions who desire to deal with the matter in their own legislation.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.


Question proposed, "That this Schedule be the Schedule to the Bill."

Mr. Garro Jones

Will the Attorney-General explain the meaning of Part II of the Schedule, which provides that the provisions of the Naval Prize Act, 1864, are inapplicable in relation to aircraft or goods carried therein taken as prize? Is it the intention to exclude from this Bill the provisions of the Naval Prize Act in relation to awards respecting aircraft?

The Attorney-General

No, Sir. The Sections referred to are inapplicable to aircraft. For instance, Section 30 is a section which enables six ships of less than 100 tons to be included in one adjudication. Obviously, that section is inapplicable to aircraft. The various sections which are not included in the Bill are not applicable.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.