HC Deb 27 July 1944 vol 402 cc987-9
The Attorney-General

I beg to move, in page 3, line 34, after "war," to insert "or."

This and the next two Amendments are designed to meet a point raised on the Second Reading by hon. Members for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes), Ashford (Mr. Smith) and Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed). The point was that under the Bill as originally introduced there was a provision that, if you found these words, the presumption was that it meant the whole war, including the war with Japan. That presumption could be rebutted by anything in the agreement or any evidence admissible under the ordinary rules but that was the presumption. It was pointed out with considerable force that probably, though not in all cases, in agreements entered into, at any rate before Pearl Harbour, the parties had in mind the European war, and we have accepted that view in this Amendment. We have also, under the third Amendment, widened the discretion of the court as to the evidence that is to be produced and we have said: The court by whom any such agreement is construed may admit any evidence which in the opinion of the court may throw light on the intentions of the parties as to the meaning of the said expression. It may well be that this Amendment, which alters the presumption in the case of agreements made before a certain date, does not really make a great change. It may well be that without this Amendment parties would have been able to go to the court and say, "This expression 'the duration of the war is ambiguous. Look at the date when we made our agreement. What was the war then?" It is possible that that would have been rebutting evidence but, on the whole, we accept the view put forward in the Second Reading Debate and we think it better to make that the presumption. Of course, as I said on Second Reading, we shall not please everybody in the result, because so many different intentions and circumstances may have entered into people's minds, but we have thought it right slightly to widen the rule as to the admissibility of evidence so that the court, if it thinks proper, could allow in the special case what it might not otherwise consider admissible, such as some correspondence or negotiations between the parties, which made it clear that it was the whole war, or the period of service, or whatever it might be. I hope the Committee will feel that in this matter we have given careful consideration to the views which were expressed and that the Amendments which I am moving meet the points which were put by hon. Members.

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

I want to thank the Attorney-General for these Amendments. As one who pressed very hard for an Amendment on these lines, I feel deeply grateful. I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) who supported me is not here. He feels as I do about the matter and would have liked to say a few words, but unfortunately he has been detained. I think that it will be much simpler now for people who made agreements to know whether they apply only to the European war. This Bill was meant among other things to relieve hardship and injustice, and was the result of the recent decision in the Court of Appeal, and these Amendments will definitely be beneficial to those who entered into agreements in the earlier part of the war before the war with Japan began. They will not now have to bring in extraneous evidence to support their contentions. Like many other hon. Members, I am greatly obliged to my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

I was more concerned in the Debate on Second Reading to press for the general Amendment with regard to the admissibility of evidence than the point with which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Dr. Thomas) is concerned. I ventured to agree with the Solicitor-General that in all probability most courts would have regarded the date on which the agreement was entered into as being a relevant and, in most cases, a determining factor in deciding whether the whole war or the war with Germany was meant. I was particularly concerned with the general question of the intention of the parties and the rather strict rules of evidence which bound the courts in the methods by which they might ascertain that intention. Under the terms of these Amendments the court is left with a wide discretion as to the evidence which they may look to in order to ascertain the true intention of the parties. This is as wide as I could have hoped for, and as wide as I would have drafted it myself if I were seeking to put an Amendment on the Paper. I am, therefore, grateful to the Attorney-General for having moved the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made:

In page 3, line 35, leave out from the beginning to "that," in line 36, and insert: as respects those States with which His Majesty was at war at the date when the agreement was made, or, as the case may be, to the emergency occasioned thereby, unless it is shown that the parties intended. In line 37, at the end, insert: The court by whom any such agreement is construed may admit any evidence which in the opinion of the court may throw light on the intention of the parties as to the meaning of the said expression. In page 4, line II, leave out "creating," and insert "granting or providing for the grant of."—[The Attorney-General.]

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