HC Deb 05 September 1939 vol 351 cc492-6

Considered in Committee.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

CLAUSE 1.—(Penalties for trading with the enemy.)

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

5.36 p.m.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

I wish to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether a person who was a Czech subject when he came to this country, say six months or more ago, will be regarded under this Bill as an enemy alien, because, since that time, the Germans have invaded Czecho-Slovakia and the people in that country are technically regarded as German citizens?

5.37.p m.

Mr. E. Smith

Sub-section (2) of this Clause contains these words: supplied any goods to or for the benefit of an enemy, or obtained any goods from an enemy, or traded in, or carried, any goods consigned to or from an enemy or destined for or coming from enemy territory. I am concerned particularly with the words "destined for." Is the Minister satisfied with the powers which are given to him by the Bill in this respect? If he is, can he give an assurance that all possible steps will be taken to prevent a repetition of what occurred during the last War? I will give two illustrations. It is well-known in this country— and a good deal of criticism has been levelled against those in power who were responsible for it during the last War—that we provided material which was used in the building of the Hindenburg line. I was one of those who had special training in the Tank Corps to enable us to deal with that line and much to our surprise we found later that a big percentage of the cement which was used in the building of that line had found its way from this country through neutral countries, to the Germans. I ask that under no consideration, should anything be done which will enable any firm or any individual to be a party to that kind of thing again.

My second illustration is this. After the War, when I was in the Army of Occupation, I went through a large mill in a place called Duren and I became very friendly with the manager. He brought out of a cupboard a quantity of the finest stationery I have ever seen. on this stationery was printed in gold and red letters, the words "Knight of the Garter." Someone in this country who had a Knighthood of the Garter had been ordering that stationery during the War and it had been coming from Germany through neutral countries and in boats across the North Sea and had found its way to Britain. In addition to that, I also had experiences which enabled me to see that certain cargoes left these shores which were, on the face of them, ordinary cargoes, but which were being shipped to neutral countries, but under a top layer of cargo was other cargo that was being sent through those neutral countries into Germany. Therefore, the House can understand my anxiety, when we are faced with a situation in which we are going to fight for our lives and which I believe this nation will pull through, that we should have an assurance from the President of the Board of Trade that he will take all possible steps to prevent a repetition of what occurred during the last War.

5.41 p.m.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Oliver Stanley)

To reply, first of all, to the question put by the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), who raised this point yesterday, I have looked into the matter as far as I could, and I am afraid, as the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) will, I think, agree, that it is not really a question on which one can give a general reply. It must depend, according to my advice, upon the circumstances of each case. There are such questions as that of the conditions under which a Czech who was left inside Czecho-Slovakia acquired German citizenship, and, therefore, it is, I am afraid, impossible to give a general reply. But I would like to repeat the assurance that I gave to the House last night, that even if it is necessary technically to regard a man who formerly held Czech nationality as now an enemy subject, it does not mean that automatically such a man has to be treated as an enemy for the purpose of this Measure.

With regard to the question put by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith), I am quite satisfied that the powers given to me under this Bill are adequate, but he will realise that we are dealing here with only one branch of the sort of difficulties to which he referred, and that this Bill, unless it was reinforced by the powers that I already have—for instance, for the control of exports in general, and the powers and functions of the new Ministry of Economic Warfare—would by itself probably not be adequate. This Bill is intended to prevent a transaction with the enemy. The other sort of powers are intended to prevent, if there has been a perfectly genuine transaction with a neutral, that neutral passing the goods on to the enemy. It is to meet that kind of situation that we have other powers besides those given in this Bill.

5.44 p.m.

Mr. Pritt

I think I may say, humbly, that the right hon. Gentleman is quite right in what he said about the different circumstances under which persons might remain or cease to be Czechs. It is always worth while remembering that under the Common Law of England, which, I understand, is faithfully followed in this Measure, an ordinary resident of this country is not an enemy at all, and, therefore, that Czechs in this country are not affected by the Bill. With regard to the question of the difficulty of passing things from neutral countries into enemy countries, one of the very few things outside the law that I know anything about is the manner in which the blockade in this country was exercised in the later stages particularly of the late war, which was magnificent. If conditions in this war are anything like those which prevailed during the late war, there will be very little to complain about.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

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

CLAUSE 4.— (Transfer of negotiable instruments and choses in action by enemies.) Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Foot

I put a question yesterday to the right hon. Gentleman arising under this Clause, and he was good enough to say that he would look at the point. Has he had time to do so?

5.46 p.m.

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Member asked whether this could be confined to assignments made after the outbreak of war. That is the case; this is confined to the kind of assignments made since the outbreak of war.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clauses 5 and 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 7.—(Collection of enemy debts and custody of enemy property.)

Mr. Stanley

I beg to move, in page 9, line 3, at the end, to insert: (7) All fees received by any custodian by virtue of an order under this Section shall be paid into the Exchequer of the United Kingdom.'' These are words which appear in the Bill in italics.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 8.— (Provisions with respect to money payable to, or received by, a Clearing Office under 24and 25 Geo. 5. c. 31.)

Amendment made: In page 10, line 18, after "fit" insert: and the amount of any commission so retained by a Clearing Office shall be paid into the Exchequer of the United Kingdom.".— [Mr. Stanley.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 9 and 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 11. — (Expenses of, and exercise of powers by, Board of Trade.)

Amendment made: In page 11, line 1, at the beginning, insert: The expenses incurred for the purposes of this Act by the Board of Trade shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament." — [Mr. Stanley.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 12 to 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 15. — (Interpretation.)

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

5.49 p.m.

Mr. Foot

I raised a point yesterday in regard to a definition, but there is one other question that I would like to ask on this Clause. In Sub-section (1, a) occur the words: an individual who, not being either a British subject or a British protected person. There does not appear to be in the Bill any definition of the words "British protected person," and I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman could give some indication of what is intended to be conveyed by those words.

Mr. Stanley

It is a phrase that I have seen in a number of Acts of Parliament. I think it may probably come under the Interpretation Act.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clauses 16 and 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered; read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.